Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Monday December 27, 2010

This week at Wichita City Council. This week, as is the usual practice for the fourth Tuesday of each month, the agenda for the Wichita City Council features only consent items. These consent items are thought — at least by someone — to be of routine and non-controversial nature, and the council votes on them in bulk as a single item, unless a council member wishes to “pull” an item for discussion and possibly a separate vote. One such consent item is “Payment for Settlement of Claim — Estate of Christopher Perkins.” As Brent Wistrom reports in the Wichita Eagle’s, Wichitopekington blog, “A police car en route to an emergency call smashed into a Saturn coup last December, killing the coup’s 30-year-old driver, Christopher Perkins. Perkins’ family filed a negligence claim, and, on Tuesday, Wichita City Council members will vote to settle the case for $300,000.” The agenda packet is at Wichita City Council, December 28, 2010. … Also, the city will vote whether to spend $400,000 for an analysis of nine aging fire stations and what repairs and upgrades they might require. Whatever work is found to be necessary would cost much more, presumably. The cost of the analysis is being paid for by borrowing money through general obligation bonds. … Usually these “fourth Tuesday” meetings are followed by a workshop, but as of this moment, no agenda is available. … The Sedgwick County Commission will not meet this week.

Kansas schools’ unspent funds. Perhaps this will be the year in which Kansas schools — along with other state agencies — will publicly confront the reality of their budgets and unspent funds. Kansas Watchdog takes a look on Truth Emerging on Unencumbered K-12 Education Funds .

Which Brownback will govern? The Lawrence Journal-World looks at the future of incoming Kansas Governor Sam Brownback and wonders how he will govern. Perhaps the most telling observation is that of Wichita State University professor H. Edward Flentje: “Then Brownback got elected to Congress as a budget-taming conservative, Flentje said. But the budget couldn’t be tamed, and Brownback morphed into the social conservative for which he is most well-known, or, as Flentje describes it, ‘wearing his faith in the public square.'” So now I’m wondering: Can this year’s Kansas budget be tamed? … On the role of national politics: “Kansas University political science professor Burdett Loomis said that although Brownback is known for his social conservative views, he may be moderated somewhat by national aspirations.”

Rapidly rising costs at Kansas Universities criticized. Tuition at our state’s two flagship universities — The University of Kansas and Kansas State University have risen much faster than inflation, writes John R. LaPlante, educational policy fellow the Kansas Policy Institute in a letter to the Topeka Capital-Journal. Rapidly rising administrative costs are one reason, he writes. But costs can be controlled: “Cutting administrative expenses isn’t just a nice thing to do, it is possible. Iowa State, Texas A&M and the University of Missouri actually reduced their administrative expenses. It should be no surprise that they had smaller tuition increases than every other university in the conference, save Texas Tech.”

States and their pension problems. George Will in the Washington Post writing on the problem with under-funded state employee pension plans: “The nation’s menu of crises caused by governmental malpractice may soon include states coming to Congress as mendicants, seeking relief from the consequences of their choices. Congress should forestall this by passing a bill with a bland title but explosive potential.” Will goes on to describe a bill in Congress that would mandate transaprency of just how bad the problem is: H.R. 6484: Public Employee Pension Transparency Act. … In Kansas, efforts to merely describe the severity of the problem result in attacks on the messenger. In Wichita, the head of Service Employees International Union Local (SEIU) 513 appeared before the board of USD 259, the Wichita public school district, in order to denounce the reports and what he claimed where the political motives behind it. See video at KPERS report sparks backlash from Wichita SEIU.

Airport security found lacking. From the ABC News report Gaping Holes in Airline Security: Loaded Gun Slips Past TSA Screeners: “But the TSA did miss [the loaded gun], and despite what most people believe about the painstaking effort to screen airline passengers and their luggage before they enter the terminal, it was not that unusual. Experts tell ABC News that every year since the September 11 terror attacks, federal agencies have conducted random, covert “red team tests,” where undercover agents try to see just how much they can get past security checks at major U.S. airports. And while the Department of Homeland Security closely guards the results as classified, those that have leaked in media reports have been shocking.”

Compact strategy against Obamacare outlined. From the Weekly Standard: “An issue of interest to two or more states can lead to a compact. It works this way: State legislatures approve a proposal, the states agree on the parts of mutual concern (such as buying insurance across state lines), then the compact is dispatched to Washington for ratification by Congress and the president (though the need for White House assent isn’t spelled out in the Constitution). Ratification turns the compact into federal law. However, there’s a bigger reason for forming a compact against Obamacare. By banding together, states would have far more political clout in Washington.”

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