Favorite Internet and computer things

Pdf995

Pdf995, available as a free download at http://www.pdf995.com/, lets you create documents in the popular Adobe Acrobat pdf format. This is immensely useful for many situations. A companion program, PdfEdit995, lets you edit some attributes of the pdf files. For basic usage, though, Pdf995 works just fine. After you download and install the software, you’ll be able to “print” any document to pdf format, and then do with it as you wish. When using Pdf995 you have to watch a small advertisement, but this is what keeps the program free.

What’s so great about pdf files? They’re a good way to send documents by email or web without worrying about viruses, compatibility, and formatting. Many people send Microsoft Word documents to one another. But what if the recipient doesn’t own Microsoft Word? Did you also know that there’s a programming language built into Word (and Excel and other Microsoft Office document types) that can transmit viruses and worms? Pdf documents retain the original formatting, which is important in many cases (but not all). Pdf documents are also a good way to save a copy of a web page.

Save as “Web archive, single file”

What if you’ve read an article on a website and you want to save it? Do you print it? You can, but then you’re stuck with paper with its attendant drawbacks. Can you save the website on your computer? If you’re using Internet Explorer, there is is the “Save as” command on the “File” menu, which will save a copy of the web page. But there’s a catch to be aware of. If you use the default value for the “Save as type” setting, which is “Web page, complete” you’ll end up with many small files on your computer. A better setting is “Web archive, single file,” which saves the web page in a single file. This is a much cleaner and neater option. Printing the web page as a pdf file (see above) is also useful.

Offline Files

How do you keep your notebook computer’s files synchronized with your desktop computer’s files? The best answer is offline files, a feature built into recent versions of Microsoft Windows. With offline files, it’s almost as if your notebook and desktop computers were acting as one, even when you’re away from home or office.

Offline files is not easy to configure and not always easy to use, but it works and performs an indispensable service. Without it, it would be much more difficult to manage using two computers.

Suspend and Hibernate

Windows has two useful features that are an alternative to turning off your computer when you’re finished using it. Suspend puts your computer in a state where it uses very little power, but will come back to life almost instantly. Hibernate saves the state of your computer to disk and turns off the computer so that it uses no (or just a little trickle) power. It takes a little longer to bring your computer to life after hibernation, but it’s still faster than starting from scratch, and as with standby, all your programs will be running as you left them.

Each of these two options can save a lot of time and electricity, too. Plus, when your computer is in standby or hibernate mode, it isn’t going to be attacked by hackers.

Google Mail

Currently my Google Mail, or gmail, account tells me that I have 2470 MB total space available for my use. I pay nothing for this space. It was not along ago that my Internet Service Provider, to which I pay $40 monthly, granted me 10 mb total space.

Google mail works very well, although it has a few quirks and peculiarities when compared to traditional email services. I use gmail to receive email newsletter subscriptions and other similar email.

Google Alerts

Google Alerts let you “save” a Google search and have the results emailed to you as new web pages that match your searches are found. This is an invaluable way to keep up-to-date on topics you are interested in.

Your Own Cheap Website

For less than $50 a year plus about $8 for a domain name, you can have your own web site with perhaps 2,000 mb of storage and a lot of bandwidth. What can you do with all this? For one thing, you can host a website like wichitaliberty.org. Some other things: Create email addresses, manage a mailing list, store backups of your personal data offsite (with cautions), host a blog, host a website using any number of content management systems such as Drupal that runs wichitaliberty.org, host a discussion forum, use image gallery systems for photo albums, use project management systems to coordinate a project, host a wiki for collaboration, and many other things. Most of these systems make use of open source software and work very well. But, a lot of these things are not for the inexperienced computer user. There are times I have had to manually edit various Linux configuration files and mySQL databases to make things work. But it’s a lot of fun to learn, and some of the open source software is amazing in its capability and quality.

Online Newspapers and Magazines

Did you know that you can read the content of many of our nation’s important newspapers for free? Each day I read (well, at least I have the potential to read) the New York Times, Washington Post, Washington Times, Chicago Tribune, Christian Science Monitor, and Los Angeles Times. Around the state of Kansas, The Wichita Eagle, Wichita Business Journal, Topeka Capital-Journal, Lawrence Journal-World, and The Kansas City Star are available for free. I pay to subscribe to The Wall Street Journal, but that newspaper stands out as an exception.

Many national and local magazines have all or some of their content available on their websites for free, too. Furthermore, many of these publications will send me an email about each issue.

Strunk: The Elements of Style

This important reference work is at http://www.bartleby.com/141/. Strunk is a little old-fashioned in some ways, such as advocating the use of the Oxford comma, but I think that’s good.

AVG Anti-Virus

I became disenchanted with several commercial anti-virus program because they seemed to be doing too much, integrating firewall and other protections, and they seemed to be making my computers run slower than they should. So at home I investigated AVG anti-virus, from grisoft.com. It works just fine, and for home users, there is the “Free Edition.” You have to look pretty hard on the website to find it, but it’s there. For work I use the professional edition, which I pay for, but it is less expensive than many competing products, and is less intrusive.

ZoneAlarm

I recommend a firewall in addition to anti-virus software. Recent versions of Windows have a built-in firewall. For older versions of Windows, of if you want to use something else, I recommend ZoneAlarm, from zonelabs.com. You have to look pretty hard on the website for the free edition, but it’s there.

Sbybot — Search & Destroy

Besides anti-virus and a firewall, I recommend an anti-spyware program. Sbybot — Search & Destroy, available for free at http://www.safer-networking.org works very well.

Skype

Skype is free Internet telephony that works very well. You need a broadband or high-speed Internet connection, but after that it’s free, and the quality of voice call is usually much better than that of regular telephone service.

Audacity

Audacity, available at http://audacity.sourceforge.net, is an open source software product that provides you with many of the features of a professional recording studio. At the minimum, you could make a recording of your voice, edit it, and save it, perhaps as an mp3 file. With additional effort, you can alter recording to remove noise, add enhancements, and other tricks.

Book Review: Basic Economics: A Citizen’s Guide to the Economy

Basic Economics: A Citizen’s Guide to the Economy
Revised and Expanded Edition
Thomas Sowell
Basic Books, 2004

This book is a general introduction to economics written in a non-technical way. It provides excellent coverage of many introductory topics in economics, and you don’t have to be a mathematical sophisticate to understand it. It is very readable by anyone who is interested in this topic.

One of the best things the author does in this book is to distinguish between what politicians want to happen and say they are doing when they implement economic policies, and what incentives are actually created. Often there is a big difference between the two.

One of the most important things to learn from this book is the importance of prices, and what goes wrong when governments interfere with prices. As the author says: “Prices play a crucial role in determining how much of each resource gets used where. Yet this role is seldom understood by the public and it is often disregarded entirely by politicians.” As an example: “The last premiere of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, is said to have asked British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher: How do you see to it that people get food? The answer was that she didn’t. Prices did that. And the British people were better fed than those in the Soviet Union, even though the British have never grown enough food to feed themselves in more than a century. Prices bring them food from other countries.”

The example of rent control illustrates how what politicians intend to do may not be what actually happens: “In short, a policy intended to make housing affordable for the poor has had the net effect of shifting resources towards housing affordable only by the affluent or rich, since luxury housing is often exempt from rent control.” What lower-priced housing that remains is in short supply (since less is supplied at a lower price), is in high demand (because more is demanded at a lower price), and is in poorer condition than it would be otherwise (since housing is in a shortage, landlords have an easy time finding tenants, and there is little incentive to maintain their housing stock). In fact, rent control often leads to rental housing being taken off the market, or, especially in New York City, entire buildings being abandoned when the (artificially low) rent that comes in isn’t sufficient to provide city-required services to the tenants.

But because there are more tenants than landlords, Dr. Sowell explains, rent control is often a political success. It is easier for the average person to look at the situation superficially, to see that politicians are looking out for them by protecting them from landlords who would otherwise gouge them on rent.

You can learn all this and more just by reading through page 40 of this nearly 400 page book. I highly recommend this book.

Governor Claims Growth While Jobs Disappear

Governor Claims Growth While Jobs Disappear
By Karl Peterjohn, Executive Director Kansas Taxpayers Network

Governor Sebelius’ press office issued a news release headlined, “Kansas economy continues to grow under Governor’s leadership,” August 4. The same day the Wichita Eagle headlined the layoffs in Winfield as 1/3 of the 600 employees at Rubbermaid Inc. were laid off.

Is the Kansas economy growing or are the layoffs plaguing the private sector in Kansas aberrations? Recently, the Kansas branch of Americans for Prosperity has been reporting that for every new state and local government jobs that have been created in Kansas in the last five years, a larger number of private sector jobs have disappeared.

This is a distressing trend when Kansas state and local government employment is measured. Kansas is already one of the top states for government employment as a percentage of the workforce when census figures compare the Sunflower state to our neighbors.

Despite the shrinking private sector in Kansas, it is certainly true that state revenues are growing. If there had been any limits on fiscal spending, there would have been plenty of money to start making the Kansas tax climate competitive. Instead, the money was spent by profligate “moderates” from both major political parties that dominate the statehouse. Governor Sebelius, a very liberal “moderate,” happily signed this increased spending into law.

State revenues for the fiscal year that ended June 30 were 7.1 percent, or $322.5 million, above the previous year’s total. This is good news and the governor deserves the credit, right? Well, you need to look at the rest of the country. The Wall Street Journal reported July 12 that federal tax revenues were 14.6%, or $204 billion, above the same level as last year.

So, Kansas is actually growing its tax base at less than half the national rate. Governor Sebelius claimed, “Kansas businesses are hiring more employees, Kansas workers are earning more, and Kansas consumers are spending more.” The governor went on to cite additional public school “investment,” the most popular euphemism for increased government spending, as a reason for this growth.

The actual reason for the growing revenues is the 2003 federal tax cuts passed by Congress and President Bush and the economic stimulus that federal tax cuts are generating. The positive economic impact of this tax cut is covering the entire country. Even Kansas is getting some benefit from the federal tax cut that was opposed by almost every Democrat in Congress. Ironically, these cuts may improve the Kansas economy enough to help Governor Sebelius win a second term in office next year.

What is clear about this data is that Kansas is lagging behind the rest of the country. Many Kansans, including our governor, do not even realize this fact. This situation is going to get worse even before the activist Kansas Supreme Court can expand their fiscal damage with more edicts in 2006.

Oklahoma recently enacted personal income tax cuts that will lower that state’s top income tax rate to below Kansas’ top rate beginning in 2006. Instead of spending their fiscal windfall like Kansas, Oklahoma is investing it in their people in the form of a six percent personal income tax cut. In Kansas, the only growth industry is bigger government and rising prospects for future tax hikes.

The misplaced morality of public officials

In Wichita some public officials, particularly mayor Carlos Mayans, are seeking to eliminate adult businesses and stores selling pornography. This focus on private morality lies in sharp contrast with government’s large-scale acts of public immorality.

If government allows people to gamble, look at nude dancers, or buy pornography and sex toys, it is not government that is “sinning” or acting immorally. Government is not requiring that we do these things. Government is merely allowing those who wish to do so to engage in these activities.

But when government — say the Wichita City Council — takes the property of one person and gives it to another person to whom it does not belong, government is actively and purposefully committing an immoral act.

How do we know that it is immoral when government takes money from one person and gives it to someone else? We can learn from the insight of Frederic Bastiat (1801 – 1850), writing in his short book The Law:

But how is this legal plunder [theft] to be identified? Quite simply. See if the law takes from some persons what belongs to them, and gives it to other persons to whom it does not belong. See if the law benefits one citizen at the expense of another by doing what the citizen himself cannot do without committing a crime.

It doesn’t matter to whom the money is given: poor people, homeless people, airlines, farmers, banks, artists, downtown developers, problem gamblers, nonprofit organizations, students, schools, civic groups, museums, sick people, children, public amenities, or businesses under the guise of economic development. It doesn’t matter how much they need it, or how deserving they may be. It’s simply wrong for a private person or government to take money from one person and give it to another. The economist Walter E. Williams also makes this case succinctly:

Can a moral case be made for taking the rightful property of one American and giving it to another to whom it does not belong? I think not. That’s why socialism is evil. It uses evil means (coercion) to achieve what are seen as good ends (helping people). We might also note that an act that is inherently evil does not become moral simply because there’s a majority consensus.

This is not to say that we should not support some of the people or groups mentioned earlier. We should do so voluntarily, however. To help someone through an act of charity is noble. There is nothing good or moral happening when governments tax one person and give the proceeds to someone else.

So when government officials want to control private morality, remember government’s large-scale acts of public immorality.

The ethics case against Justice Lawton R. Nuss

I have filed an ethics complaint with the Kansas Commission on Judicial Qualifications against Kansas Supreme Court Justice Lawton R. Nuss.

I happen to disagree with the ruling the Kansas Supreme Court made in the case cited in my complaint. I have been asked whether I would have filed the same complaint if I had agreed with the court’s ruling. The answer to that question is probably not. My level of interest would probably not be what it is. That troubles me, as we as citizens need to be watchful for these types of judicial transgressions, no matter what our political beliefs are, and not mattering whether we benefit from the judge’s rulings.

The form I filed with the Commission asks for a twenty-five word statement of what the judge did that was unethical. This is what I wrote:

Justice Nuss was a member of the law firm representing a party whose case is now before his court.

For the details of the complaint, I wrote this:

In the case Montoy v. State, the Salina School District is a lead plaintiff. Justice Nuss’s former law firm previously represented and may still represent this plaintiff.

In the Kansas Rules Relating to Judicial Conduct, Canon 3E(1)(b) states that a judge shall disqualify himself or herself where “the judge served as a lawyer in the matter in controversy, or a lawyer with whom the judge previously practiced law served during such association as a lawyer concerning the matter …” This seems to apply to Justice Nuss in this case.

Furthermore, Justice Nuss’s involvement in this case raises questions of impartiality and appearance of impropriety.

Canon 2, paragraph A states: A judge shall respect and comply with the law and shall act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.

In the commentary: A judge must avoid all impropriety and appearance of impropriety. The test for appearance of impropriety is whether the conduct would create in reasonable minds a perception that the judge’s ability to carry out judicial responsibilities with integrity, impartiality and competence is impaired.

Because of Justice Nuss’s close association with this case, a reasonable person could conclude that the judge cannot carry out his duties with impartiality.

Privatization is good for Century II and Wichita

Opponents of privatization of Century II, including the website www.savecenturyii.org, seem to think that the operating procedure of a profit-making business is to place so many restrictions on the use of their product, and to raise the price so high, that no one uses it anymore. The reality is quite the opposite. For a business to make a profit and survive, it must provide a product or service that people want to pay for, and provide it with costs less than its price. What could be wrong with that?

A few examples from www.savecenturyii.org illustrate common misperceptions: “These private management companies charge rental and service rates so they can make a profit.” This is true. But underlying this sentence I sense two unspoken assumptions: First, that the rates the private management companies would be higher than the present rates. Might it not be possible that the new rates would be lower, if new management is more efficient or achieves greater volume? Second, the sentence implies that profit is evil. Compare that “evil” with the evil of supporting Century II users with taxpayer subsidies.

Profit is the motivating factor that businesses have that governments don’t have. Consider again how companies earn a profit. It’s by pleasing the customer, not driving them away. If they do this job well, they get to have a reward.

“In addition to paying rent, users are required to purchase services from the management company such as for box office systems and staffing, front of house personnel, security, etc., whether or not the user can provide them or does not need them at all.” This implies that the management company can set whatever policies they want, and that customers are forced to “take it or leave it.” But this is the way governments operate. Businesses sell to customers who have a choice. They have other sources to buy from, or they can refuse to buy at all. This applies, I think, in almost all cases to the customers of Century II, too.

“There are many examples throughout the country where privatization has created hardships for local users and ill will throughout communities.” Paying taxes to subsidize Century II events, so that people can attend events for less than their true costs, also creates hardship and ill will.

Privatization might lead to other benefits. I have heard complaints that it is impossible to schedule some types of events simultaneously because of lack of soundproofing. A private company might find it in their interest to invest in soundproofing so that there can be more events. Wouldn’t that be good?

What supporters of the status quo seem to forget is that when Century II requires a subsidy, it means that the public has to pay taxes so that the people using Century II can use it for less than the its full cost. Or, perhaps the users know this, but think it is good government policy. It is quite ridiculous for everyone to pay taxes so that symphony and music theater tickets can be cheaper than they might otherwise be. (On the other hand, the relatively well-to-do patrons of these events are used to paying taxes to support others, so maybe this is a way for them to get back a little.)

Here’s a quote from a Wichita Eagle story: “‘Typically, private companies, when they come in… make their money off the backs of local users,’ said Mitch Berman, executive director of the Wichita Symphony.” Remember that those who wish to use Century II presumably do so voluntarily, and even if Century II was private, using it would be voluntary. Currently, however, we all pay taxes, taxes we have little choice but to pay, to subsidize the rent Mr. Berman’s organization pays. This is taking money “off the backs” of local taxpayers, and it is absurdly hypocritical for Mr. Berman to compare voluntarily transactions with the power of government to tax.

Who lost in the school finance bill?

Today (July 20, 2005) Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius signed the school finance bill. This bill gives Kansas public schools a lot more money to spend this school year.

This, contrary to almost every news story you will likely read, is a sad day for Kansas schoolchildren. How can this be, you may be asking. How can spending so much more money on Kansas schools not be good? The answer is that all this money will do little to improve educational outcomes.

Most people assume that the increased spending is great for children. What passes as common sense leads people to assume that throwing more money on a problem will solve it. Unfortunately, this false assumption that the problem has been addressed will put off meaningful discussion about useful reform until next year. Realistically, reform is probably put off even longer, as it seems the attention next year will be on the legislature vs. court struggle, as it was this year. Who is left out? Kansas schoolchildren. But they’re being told they’re the winners.

Kansas schoolchildren lose because most of the money will be spent to reduce class size. I have written in the past on how smaller class sizes produce little or no improvement in educational outcomes. (See An Enlightening Encounter with The Wichita Eagle, How Children Lose in the Kansas Legislature’s Special Session, The School Productivity Crisis, and Base School Funding on Research, Not Feelings.)

To reprise just one quotation, consider Harvard economist Caroline M. Hoxby’s research titled “The effects of class size on student achievement: New evidence from population variation”, The Quarterly Journal of Economics 115:4 (2000), 1239-1285, which can be read here: http://www.economics.harvard.edu/faculty/hoxby/papers/effects.pdf. The conclusion to this paper states, in part: “Using both methods, I find that reductions in class size have no effect on student achievement. The estimates are sufficiently precise that, if a 10 percent reduction in class size improved achievement by just 2 to 4 percent of a standard deviation, I would have found statistically significant effects in math, reading, and writing. I find no evidence that class size reductions are more efficacious in schools that contain high concentrations of low income students or African-American students.”

The irony is that the education establishment and teacher unions do not want to hear about the research on class size. You would think that our education leaders would be interested in hearing what an esteemed researcher from one of our nation’s leading universities has found from observing natural variations in class size. That they are not interested gives us a clue as to who their true constituency is.

Today’s hollow victory by the education establishment, the teacher unions, and politicians who believe they are protecting children allows them to take credit for “saving” our children. The sad fact is that it is pretty much status quo for another year or two, except with a permanently higher base of spending on schools, spending which is a drag on our state’s economy. This does not help the state of Kansas.

Untold and Under Reported Stories From the Kansas Special Session

KANSAS TAXPAYERS NETWORK
P.O. Box 20050
Wichita, KS 67208
316-684-0082 FAX 316-684-7527
www.kansastaxpayers.com

July 19, 2005

Untold and Under Reported Stories From the Kansas Special Session
By Karl Peterjohn

The Kansas legislature abjectly surrendered their fiscal powers to the demands of the Kansas Supreme Court at the end of their special session in July. This victory for this liberal activist court and Governor Sebelius has generated a lot of news articles and positive editorial commentary for all of them in the Kansas press. Sadly, a significant part of the story behind this constitutional and spending battle has either been totally ignored or under reported. Here are some important pieces of information that should not be overlooked in the wake of these transformational changes in Kansas government.

First, let’s begin with the basics. Kansas’ General Fund will now officially top $5 billion for the first time. This is an important milestone when you consider that the state had its first $1 billion budget only 25 years ago in 1980. This spending growth is more than three times faster than Kansans’ wages and is over $1,850 for every Kansan each year.

In addition, the special session means that the state’s All Funds budget that includes highway, Medicaid, and a variety of other non General Fund spending will now top $11.5 billion for the first time. This budget passed the $10 billion spending milestone only a couple of years ago in 2003 but is growing rapidly as welfare and medical spending is included.

Despite all of the inaccurate information about “tight budgets” and even “budget cuts,” the growth of state government in Kansas is rapid and continuing. Many spending proponents were pleased to see the growth in state revenues during the first 11 months of the 2005 fiscal year. This 6.9 percent increase appears impressive until you consider the fact that this is well below the average growth in the other 49 states.

The Wall Street Journal reported July 12 that federal revenues are 14.6 percent or $204 billion above the previous year’s level. Besides showing the success of President Bush’s 2003 tax cuts, this data is important to Kansans. This data clearly shows that the relative decline of Kansas compared to the rest of the country is continuing. This data warns Kansans about the economic peril they now face if they want their children to find jobs in the Sunflower state after graduation.

The decline in Kansas is also showing up in the continued small declines in public school enrollment. In the last seven years there has been a small and continuing decline in student enrollment. That decline is a factor that is largely ignored in the debate over “budget cuts for schools,” while the reality is the exact opposite.

The $290 million state spending increase in schools is going to mean a huge windfall for spending in Kansas public schools. Since the enrollment has declined to less than 442,000 FTE students, this is going to mean over $650 per pupil or over $13,000 per classroom with 20 students in it. This figure does not include additional local or federal tax dollars that are likely to increase too.

This spending spree is the tip of the spending iceberg from the very liberal and appointed Kansas Supreme Court. The plaintiff school districts that funded the school finance lawsuit can begin their spending spree. The less visible balance for this spending spree is another $600 million this Sebelius and Democrat dominated court is demanding that will become vividly visible in six months. Hang onto your wallets or you can join the line of people, like former Governor Bill Graves, who used to be Kansans and now have moved to fiscally sane parts of the country where legislators vote on budgets and judges don’t legislate from the bench.

The wrong canon; the wrong Allegrucci

In May 2005, Karl Peterjohn, Executive Director of the Kansas Taxpayers Network, wrote an editorial that explained how Kansas Supreme Court Justice Donald L. Allegrucci needed to recuse himself from matters involving the Kansas school finance lawsuit. That’s because his wife, Joyce Allegrucci, is Governor Kathleen Sebelius’s chief of staff, and the governor has taken a public position on the case.

After reading Peterjohn’s editorial, I decided that more action was necessary. I found out that the Kansas Commission on Judicial Qualifications might be a forum that could deal with ethical lapses like Justice Allegrucci’s. I filed a complaint against Justice Allegrucci, and so did Peterjohn. You can read the details of my case in the article The Ethics Case Against Justice Donald L. Allegrucci published on The Voice for Liberty in Wichita. The basis of the case is the Kansas Rules Relating to Judicial Conduct, Canon 2, paragraph B, which states: “A judge shall not allow family, social, political or other relationships to influence the judge’s judicial conduct or judgment.” Furthermore, in the commentary to Canon 2, paragraph A: “A judge must avoid all impropriety and appearance of impropriety. The test for appearance of impropriety is whether the conduct would create in reasonable minds a perception that the judge’s ability to carry out judicial responsibilities with integrity, impartiality and competence is impaired.”

I thought that a judge ruling on a matter of importance to his wife’s boss qualified as the appearance of impropriety, if not actual impropriety.

My complaint was considered on July 1, 2005. In a letter dated July 12, 2005, the commission informed me that based on Canon 3E(1)(d)(iii), there was no case. This is curious, as I did not cite this canon. It says:

E. Disqualification.
(1) A judge shall disqualify himself or herself in a proceeding in which the judge’s impartiality might reasonably be questioned, including but not limited to instances where:

(d) the judge or the judge’s spouse, or a person within the third degree of relationship to either of them, or the spouse of such a person:

(iii) is known by the judge to have a more than de minimis interest that could be substantially affected by the proceeding;

“De minimis” denotes an insignificant interest that could not raise reasonable question as to a judge’s impartiality.

I do not know whether the commission did any fact-finding, but evidently they concluded that Joyce Allegrucci, who is the governor’s top employee and who has managed all her political campaigns, doesn’t care very much about the outcome of a case that the governor cares very much about. This is not reasonable. It is laughable.

There is still the issue of the Canon 2 appearance of impropriety, which was not addressed by the commission. I think that Joyce Allegrucci’s resignation speaks volumes about that. I’m sorry that she resigned. I didn’t file a complaint against her. To my knowledge, she has committed no infraction. It is her husband, Justice Allegrucci, who had the responsibility to disqualify himself.

(By the way, I happen to disagree with the court’s ruling, but that is beside the point. The point is that we don’t know whether Justice Allegrucci’s rulings are affected by his family relationship. It may be that the Allegruccis are not getting along very well, and the judge might rule to spite his wife. Or, perhaps he is capable of making a ruling without letting the family relationship influence his judgment. But we don’t know, and we probably can’t ever know. That is why this is the appearance of impropriety.)

I believe that press coverage of this matter is missing this point. Politicians are missing it, too. Consider this, as reported by The Wichita Eagle: “‘There’s no conflict of interest, absolutely none,’ said Sen. John Vratil, R-Leawood. ‘Many people don’t understand what conflict of interest is. They perceive it as any situation they don’t like.’ He said Allegrucci wasn’t involved in the school finance discussions between legislative leaders and the governor’s office during the special session.”

Sen. Vratil seems to think that we accused Joyce Allegrucci of committing an ethical violation. Instead, we accused her husband, Justice Donald L. Allegrucci, as it is he who violated the Kansas Rules Relating to Judicial Conduct.

Further in the same article: “Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt, R-Independence, called Allegrucci’s departure a loss of a ‘talented staff member,’ but noted the governor won’t have to deal with the criticism of her staff being too close to the court in an [sic] re-election year.”

Sen. Schmidt treats this matter as merely “inside politics.” It is true that people probably won’t remember this matter by the time of next year’s elections. Again, I don’t believe that Governor Sebelius or Joyce Allegrucci committed any ethical violations. It is Justice Allegrucci who should have recognized the impropriety of the situation and disqualified himself.

In summary, we have a Kansas Supreme Court Justice who has committed an ethical violation. The Kansas Commission on Judicial Qualifications didn’t agree, and didn’t consider an applicable canon when making its ruling. The press and some Kansas politicians fail to understand the importance of this matter. Instead of our state using this situation as an opportunity to reinforce the importance of ethics through a careful review and discussion of “impropriety” and the “appearance of impropriety,” the wrong person has resigned and the issue appears to have been resolved. A scapegoat isn’t what Kansas needs to increase confidence in our government. We need a press that sees the issue as vital and a group of representatives that realize confidence is their ticket not only to reelection, but to respect.

Let profits save (or sink) Exploration Place

What must a business do to make a profit? It must deliver something that people want at a price they are willing to pay. It must deliver that product or service with costs lower than revenues, if it is to survive beyond the short-term.

If a business fails to do this it will become immediately aware, as it will be generating losses instead of profits. Since losses can’t be continued for very long before the business goes bankrupt, management has a very powerful motive to make corrections.

There are some who believe that making a profit is evil or immoral, that to make a profit you must be ripping off the customer. But profits are a signal that the business is doing something right. It must be satisfying customers’ desires, and doing it efficiently.

Governments, bureaucrats, and politicians, on the other hand, don’t have such a powerful motivating factor. They have, at least in their minds, a deep well of public money to spend. Through their power to tax they have the ability to keep money-losing institutions in place, no matter how inefficiently the institution operates, or how little demand there is for its product.

The simple fact is, and there is really no way to sugarcoat this, the people of Sedgwick County do not value the product that Exploration Place offers enough to pay what it costs to produce it.

Now if Exploration Place was privately owned, its owners would have the right to keep it in business and operating at a loss as long as they wanted or could afford to. But Exploration Place is asking the government to pay for its losses and keep it operating. That means that you and I — probably the very same people who thought Exploration Place didn’t provide a product we were willing to pay for — are asked to keep it in business.

Examine the incentives in place. Exploration Place operates at a loss. Instead of confronting the urgent and undeniable need to change, they receive a handout from the government. Considering the recent history of our local governments and other money-losing institutions, this is likely the first of a series of payments to be made.

Yes, I am aware that consultants are being dispatched to figure out how Exploration Place can change to avoid future losses, but I don’t have a lot of confidence that the right changes will be made. That’s because after changes are made — whatever they may be — Exploration Place will still undoubtedly lack the feedback mechanism of market signals that guide business managers to provide products and services that people actually value enough to buy.

Government leaders and newspaper editorial writers tell us that we cannot afford to lose such a wonderful place. But if it’s so wonderful, why won’t its customers pay what it really costs?

An enlightening encounter with The Wichita Eagle

Writing from Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

I recently had an issue with an article published in The Wichita Eagle, and my encounter with this newspaper was quite revealing.

In a story titled “Schools get shopping lists ready” in the June 20, 2005 Wichita Eagle, reporter Josh Funk wrote this: “Research shows that having 15 students per class gives teachers time to offer individual help and fosters academic success, especially among low-income kids, said Mary Ellen Isaac, the district’s chief academic officer.” I believe that the quoted person is misinformed, but aside from that, this is reporting. Someone said it, the reporter quoted the source, and also identified the source.

What I have trouble with is the second sentence of the article, where Mr. Funk wrote, in a single paragraph all by itself: “Proven reforms, such as reducing the number of kids in a classroom, top the list of things Wichita area school districts plan to invest in.”

This statement is presented as an indisputable fact, when there are many distinguished researchers who would disagree with it. I don’t think that anyone Mr. Funk quoted in this article would disagree with it, and that, perhaps, is the biggest problem with this story: its unbalanced coverage of this topic.

There is definitely no consensus that small class sizes produce better educational outcomes. You don’t have to look very far to find reputable evidence of this. For example, consider research by Eric A. Hanushek of Stanford University. His paper “Evidence, politics, and the class size debate” is available at this link: http://edpro.stanford.edu/eah/papers/EPI.class%20size.publication.pdf. This article provides reasoned criticism of the Tennessee STAR experiment, which may be the evidence that Mr. Funk relied upon for his story. (We don’t know the source of Mr. Funk’s evidence, of course, as he doesn’t tell us, but that experiment is evidence often relied on by the educational establishment.)

Or, consider Harvard economist Caroline M. Hoxby’s research titled “The effects of class size on student achievement: New evidence from population variation”, The Quarterly Journal of Economics 115:4 (2000), 1239-1285, which can be read here: http://www.economics.harvard.edu/faculty/hoxby/papers/effects.pdf. The conclusion to this paper states, in part: “Using both methods, I find that reductions in class size have no effect on student achievement. The estimates are sufficiently precise that, if a 10 percent reduction in class size improved achievement by just 2 to 4 percent of a standard deviation, I would have found statistically significant effects in math, reading, and writing. I find no evidence that class size reductions are more efficacious in schools that contain high concentrations of low income students or African-American students.”

Failing to mention, even in passing, that spending huge sums to reduce class size may provide little or no benefit to schoolchildren makes this news article read like a press release authored by Winston Brooks, the superintendent of the Wichita public schools.

I attempted to contact Mr. Funk about this article, as I wanted to learn the source of his statement about class size. I emailed twice and left voicemail messages twice. Finally, after the third email, Mr. Funk called me. He listened to what I had to say about the problems with the article, but he disagreed. I did not learn the source of the claim made in the second sentence of the article.

What is revealing about this encounter is that the last email I sent to Mr. Funk was also sent to a Mr. Kevin McGrath, whom I thought might be Mr. Funk’s editor. (I hate to complain to someone’s boss, but I was getting no response from Mr. Funk.)

Mr. McGrath forwarded my email, along with a few remarks of his own, to Mr. Funk, but he also, I presume by accident, sent it to me.

The most revealing part of Mr. McGrath’s letter that I inadvertently received is how he implied that my criticism of Mr. Funk’s article would be based on my belief that he is a “no-good liberal elitist so-and-so.” I do not know Mr. Funk, and I know nothing about his political beliefs or elitist background, if in fact that is the type of personal history he has. Furthermore, if my criticism of Mr. Funk’s article was based on his personal characteristics or political beliefs, it wouldn’t be very compelling or valid criticism.

My criticism, instead, is based on defects in his reporting and the editing of the newspaper he works for.

It is also enlightening to note that The Eagle brushes off criticism of their reporting and editing by discounting the beliefs of their critics. As long as they believe this about their readers and critics, we will never have a newspaper that gives the public the information they really need.

Report from Topeka, July 3, 2005

Thanks again for this report from Karl Peterjohn, Executive Director Kansas Taxpayers Network


It was a hard, long slog for the 11 days of the Kansas legislative session that began June 22. Using the phrase, “hard, long slog,” is one that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld had used in describing the war in Iraq.

The hard, long slog of the Kansas constitutional crisis continues with a break for legislators until Wednesday July 6. By then, the final FY 2005 revenue figures should be in.

Yet there is a phrase from the Vietnam war that is quite descriptive for the situation in Kansas.

“We had to destroy the village to save it.”

This phrase has been attributed to various sources and most seem to (dis)credit it to left-wing flak Peter Arnett who was last seen generating excuses for Saddam Hussein’s regime. Yet that phrase accurately describes what the Kansas Supreme Court’s latest edict: “We have to destroy public schools in order to save it.”

The court’s July 2 edict threatens the closure of the state’s public schools unless its spending mandate is met. This edict represented a judicial hissy fit because the divided Kansas legislature did not meet the court’s July 1 date for increasing spending. The court issued an unusual Saturday afternoon ruling while the legislature continued to meet.

This edict is odd because it will hurt the court’s position in this constitutional crisis. This is despite the fact that increasing spending by $143 million seems to be a goal which the bulk of the legislature is quite willing to meet, and then wants to spend more! Since the state does not have the revenues any increase in funding to these levels leads to a fiscal/gambling meltdown.

The state does not have the capability to fund any increase in K-12 spending above about $86 million for the fiscal year that began last Friday (unless there is a surprise among the last tax collections coming in for the fiscal year). To increase funding to the $143 million (court’s level) or $147 million (house’s last offer) or $149 million (senate’s last offer) will require increasing taxes/fees/whatever or expanded gambling (the governor’s preferred option). All three of these options destroys the ability of Attorney General Kline to take a case into federal court’s concerning this state court’s outrageous edict since the legislature is on track to surrender their fiscal powers to the court. If the legislature succumbs this year they will have no basis for challenging the court’s $568 million in increased public school spending (the court’s figures, its actually a lot more) for next year.

If the legislature approved a funding bill of only $11 million in additional spending, like the house’s initial offer last week, would have provided AG Kline with plenty of room to argue the legal case against the Kansas Supreme Court in federal court. Sadly, tax and spenders RINO’s like senators Jean Schodorf and John Vratil passed out of the senate with all ten Democrats and half of the GOP senators supporting a $160 million spending increase. This is fiscal follies that only the federal government, with their unlimited ability to print money, could even contemplate following.

Sen. Vratil bragged to reporters last Friday that the senate had “compromised” by offering to cut the spending increase to $149.9 million and came “2/3” of the way down to the house’s last offer of $145 million in increased public school spending (this would be on top of the $142 million approved last April for a total that is now approaching $300 million or about a 10% increase). This was misleading to the press and public extended to other remarks he made in the conference committee. Sadly, the legislators who came to Topeka threatening to vote against a penny more for public schools have steadily retreated with the overwhelming vote supporting the school spending lobby in the senate and the very narrow majority that fiscal conservatives and constitutionally concerned house members have been able to maintain within the GOP caucus in the house as the final opposition to fiscal insanity. Eroding away the house Republicans are at least 17 GOP house members who are voting with all 42 house Democrats for any and all opportunities for higher spending.

In the school finance conference committee Vratil said that the senate opposed any hard trigger that would require passage of a constitutional amendment for voters before the additional spending would occur. This was the opposite of what he had told his GOP colleagues in the senate a couple of hours earlier. This is a key for fiscal and constitutional conservatives in both houses. This statement generated outraged comments within his own senate caucus. Conservative Sen. Kay O’Connor, R-Olathe went public calling him and the rest of the GOP senate leadership as “liars” in press interviews she conducted Friday night.

Fiscally responsible Kansans need to inform their legislators how they feel about the constitutional usurpation that is continuing in Kansas. Please feel free to forward or quote from this article.

The decline and fall of Kansas and this state’s economy continues as Governor Sebelius, the Sebelius dominated Kansas Supreme Court, a majority of the state seem to trip over each trying to destroy the private sector in this state by irresponsible fiscal policies.

Today, the Kansas press predictably blamed this impasse on conservative house speaker Doug Mays and the legislature. The liberal and left-wing editorial pages in this state are already starting to target legislators who are trying to prevent fiscal insanity at the statehouse. Today’s Wichita Eagle editorial (July 3) is a good indication of the nonsense being distributed to among the Kansas press. Sadly, there is a strong chance that portions of this editorial will end up in the news coverage of the Kansas press too.

Karl Peterjohn
KS Taxpayers Network
www.kansastaxpayers.com

Report from Topeka, July 2, 2005

Thanks again for this report from Karl Peterjohn, Executive Director Kansas Taxpayers Network


The Kansas constitutional crisis expanded Saturday afternoon as the Kansas Supreme Court issued their latest school finance edict that threatened to shut down the public schools in this state because the legislature is not behaving properly under the court’s instructions.

This is a sad day for the people of Kansas and their elected representatives when the appointed officials on this court, including apparently (the order was only signed by the chief justice and no other members of the court) two justices who have conflicts of interest in this case, continue to their assault on representative government and the separation of powers in this state. Kansas is truly in a constitutional crisis that is unique in this state’s history.

What makes this situation fascinating is the continuing legislative special session. The legislature is deadlocked. At the moment there aren’t 63 house members who are willing to surrender their fiscal authority to the court so the school finance bills and test votes have failed there. The most recent failure was a 63-to-59 procedural vote conducted in the wee hours of Saturday morning.

The house is in recess until 4 PM and the senate, which has easily and regularly surrendered their fiscal authority by usually 25 of its members, watches and waits for the house. The flip side of this stalemate are the constitutional amendments to limit the court’s activism and usurpation in this case. A 2/3 vote is needed to pass any constitutional amendment and the Democrats have the ability to block any amendment with a unified caucus. However, there are about a dozen GOP liberals house members lead by Tim Owens, Jim Yonally, and Ward Loyd in the house who are voting with the Democrats to prevent any amendments limiting the court’s usurpation from getting to Kansas voters. Nine of ten Democrat senators voted against the constitutional amendment defining legislative appropriation powers in the senate a week ago.

The court order today will schedule another hearing July 8 in Topeka with the court threatening an injunction to close the schools. Someone might inform the court that it is now summer and even many summer school programs are finished until the middle of next month. What is fascinating is the reports that Governor Sebelius (who called this special session following the court’s June 3 interrim edict in this case) was aware of the court’s actions yesterday and this was mentioned by her to the various legislative leaders who met in her office late on Friday night according to various legislators. Legislators are talking among themselves about this violation of judicial decorum by someone on the court who shared this information that somehow reached the governor before the official announcement.

The governor’s chief of staff, Joyce Allegrucci, is married to one of the justices, and this family connection has raised questions about Justice Donald Allegrucci’s participation in this case in light of the canon of ethics for Kansas courts which states in part, “A judge shall not allow familly, social, political or other relationships to influence the judge’s judicial conduct or judgment.” Multiple complaints have been filed with the commission responsible for handling complaints against judicial misconduct concerning Justice Allegrucci. A closed door hearing was held in Topeka on July 1, 2005. Complaints have been filed by Robert Weeks of Wichita (see www.wichitaliberty.org) and myself. Allegrucci is a former Democratic legislator and unsuccessful congressional candidate and party activist prior to joining the court in the 1980’s.

A second ethics complaint was filed against Justice Lawton Nuss who represented the Salina public schools. The Salina public school district is the lead school district financing the Montoy (school finance) lawsuit. Nuss joined the court in 2002 after being appointed by then Governor Bill Graves. The Montoy case goes back to the late 1990’s. No one would like to go to court and face a judge who used to represent the person who is now suing them. Justice Nuss should have recused himself and not participated in this lawsuit to avoid any appearance of “improper conduct” and “impropriety,” as called out in this canon of ethics.

The improprieties of these two members of the court are significant but not as sizable as the constitutional and fiscal dimensions of this latest edict. The court is trying to mandate additional state spending of over $640 per pupil in addition to the roughly $6,000 a year the state is now spending for each of the 445,000 FTE public school students in Kansas this year alone. Passage of this edict requires a dramatic increase in state revenues and many legislators point out that this judicial edict fits nicely into the governor’s proposal for expanded gambling in Kansas. However, that is only for this year and this court’s edict for next year is roughly twice as large as this year’s!

However, the usual battles over school funding and expansion of gambling are being overshadowed by the separation of powers and judicial usurpation of legislative powers by this court. Ultimately, the court will be dominating the state’s educational appropriations despite the fact that the legislature was never a party to the Montoy lawsuit. The public school portion of the state’s budget is already well over half of the state’s entire General Fund budget. The court has denied the legislature any ability to even appear before it. Ditto for citizens of the state who are expected to pay the bill for the court’s fiscal profligacy.

After the court’s spokesman issued the order this afternoon, several legislators like Rep. Eric Carter, a lawyer from Johnson County, spoke about the court’s destruction of the constitutional and historic power of the legislature. Sen. Karin Brownlee, a Johnson County Republican agreed with Carter’s grim prognosis for representative government in this state. Instead of getting legislators to appropriate funds, a quick district court decision followed by a supreme court verdict has now become a viable path for government school spending.

Sadly, no one on this Alice in Wonderland court has bothered to notice that the latest federal figures from the 2005 Statistical Abstract show that Kansas is already spending more per pupil than all of the surrounding states; that Kansas is spending more than the U.S. average; and that Kansans are paying for this spending with lower than average incomes compared to the U.S. national average. The court did not notice that Kansas school district employees are now regularly retiring in their 50’s under the “85 and out” provisions while workers in the private sector must work at least a decade longer for a normal retirement.

National news attention is showing up concerning this crisis. There are several reasons for this national attention. Texas is having a special session on school finance right now in Austin. These school finance lawsuits are part of a national trend occurring in states as disparate as New York, Arkansas, Montana, as well as Kansas and Texas. If legislative authority is surrendered to activist courts, and the Kansas court has gone well beyond any ground that the U.S. Supreme court, despite its egregious and recent activism, has dared to tread, then the future of representative government is now in jeopardy by these appointed officials at the state level.

So the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Times, and National Review are just three of the non Kansas publications who have spoken out about the Kansas constitutional crisis. The Kansas: “Closed for Business,” sign has been posted since the massive spending edicts issued by the courts are being followed by the governor and her legislative supporters. Why would any business person with a lick of common sense come to crazy Kansas where the court’s rule and fiscal responsiblity in government is an oxymoron?

Massive tax hikes will be needed to finance just the Montoy edict of June 3, 2005. The exodus of productive Kansans and the firms that employed them was already underway because of the already high property taxes and overall hostile fiscal climate across this state prior to the court’s decision. This state is facing a fiscal implosion of economic contraction and stagnation once the fiscal burden ordered by the court is placed upon the 2.7 million Kansans.

Interesting enough there is a model for this type of mess. It occurred in the early 1970’s in Ohio when that state enacted its state income tax and began a policy of state fiscal expansion under the leadership of the liberal Democratic governor named John Gilligan. The private sector in Ohio shrunk and jobs disappeared under the tax and spend policies of Governor Gilligan. Ohio faltered and stagnated and that state has continued to lose congressional seats as Ohioans, like myself who initially left in 1973, departed for more economically competitive parts of the country. People can, and do, vote with their feet, regardless of the edicts and fiscal profligacy of the courts.

There is a Kansas connection here. John Gilligan is Kathleen Sebelius’ father. Like father like daughter and those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it. In addition, like Kansas, Ohio has been burdened with school finance lawsuits.

Sadly, the litigating for government spending model will not improve the public schools in Kansas. In the 1980’s a federal judge imposed his will upon the citizens of the Kansas City Missouri school district trying to improve their public schools. He made a hash out of that school district at a cost of over a $1 billion to taxpayers. Sadly, the Kansas court has forgotten this disaster and seems intent upon helping Governor Sebelius and the other tax and spend officials from both major political parties in Kansas, to repeat it.

Please feel free to forward, post, or quote this article.

Karl Peterjohn, Executive Director
Kansas Taxpayers Network
www.kansastaxpayers.com

Karl Peterjohn

Report from Topeka, July 1, 2005

Thank you again, Karl Peterjohn of the Kansas Taxpayers Network, for your insights into the Kansas Legislature’s special session.


The Kansas house begins their 10:30 AM session with a constitutional amendment to reassert their fiscal powers in a key vote for this special session. Last Sunday a similar amendment failed getting only 73 of the 84 (2/3) votes needed to be submitted to voters.

Yesterday’s house vote on school finance tied the $140 million in additional funding to the passage of an amendment in the constitutional battle between the court and the other two branches of Kansas government. Yesterday, the governor declined to state her position on the constitutional amendment proposals but many legislators believe that she is holding house democrats away from any amendment.

The vote last Sunday was critical since the senate had already passed this amendment and house approval would have allowed Kansas voters to have a voice in this crisis. Kansas voters continue to be largely disenfranchised in this process.

What has been missing from the school finance debate is perspective. Sadly, the figures tossed about by the various sides do not reflect numbers that most Kansans can easily relate to understanding. Should government school spending be raised by $161 million or $86 million?

The regular legislative session approved a $142 million increase that was roughly five percent of total state funding. Let me try to make this number more understandable. If this increase was spread evenly across the state (it will vary district-to-district) it would result in a per pupil increase of almost $320 a year!

The court mandated another $143 million beginning today (the first date of the 2005-06 school year and the 2006 state fiscal year) that would raise this figure to over $640 per pupil. The cost of this spending will be over $620 for the average family of four in Kansas this year or just over $155 per person.

The Rockefeller Institute reported recently that state revenue figures are growing at a rate of almost 12 percent for the first quarter of this year over the same period in 2004. State revenues have not grown fast enough in Kansas to support spending increases above the $100 million figure depending upon the final numbers for the fiscal year that ended only yesterday. In Kansas, this growth rate in tax collections is roughly half this rate. Kansan continues to lag behind the rest of the rest of the country and soaring state spending will be a growing boat anchor restraining this state’s economy.

A couple of interesting insights in hallway discussions at the statehouse. A number of legislators are pointing out how similar the increased spending figures are to the projected state revenues from expanded gambling. It is interesting to note that Kansans would be sending an additional $3-to-4 million a week to the state to finance the increased gambling revenues. Critics of expanded gambling continue to complain that no one is projected the loss in state revenues from decreased sales and other excise tax collections if gambling is expanded.

One of the largest school districts in Kansas, the Shawnee Mission School District has decided to drop its membership in the powerful school spending lobbying organization, the Kansas Association of School Boards (KASB). The Shawnee Mission district’s representatives to the KASB have served as its president and had an assigned seat on the organization’s board of directors. The Johnson County school districts have been upset by the legal challenges to the 2005 school finance bill that provided additional spending authority to
the Johnson County school districts. KASB lobbyists have been strong advocates for the spending growth that is hampering economic growth in this state.

Fiscally responsible Kansans need to let their legislators know how they feel about the constitutional amendment and the soaring state spending. The legislative hotline’s 800 number is working: 800-432-2924. I believe that there is strong legislative support for putting specific restrictions in place to prevent the Kansas Supreme Court from ordering the closure of public schools too.

Please feel free to forward this to fiscally responsible Kansans.

Karl Peterjohn
Kansas Taxpayers Network

Americans for Prosperity Statement on the Current Special Session

Americans for Prosperity Statement on the Current Special Session
June 29, 2005

“Americans for Prosperity — Kansas is pleased that both legislative leaders and Governor Sebelius have ruled out tax increases on Kansas families and businesses as a way to meet the recent Supreme Court ruling.

The tax burden on Kansans is already too high and combined with the private sector job losses it is clear that a tax increase would be not in the long term interests of our state. After the misguided tax increase effort of 2004 and the initial call in some quarters this year for a tax increase it is positive to see that legislative leaders and Governor Sebelius and legislative leaders have realized the need to set a new course.

We want to thank the literally thousands of Kansas citizens from across our state and from all walks of life who have called, written and met with their elected leaders to demand more efficient government, relief from higher taxes and a return to the entrepreneurial spirit that has made Kansas so great. These grassroots activists — many of whom are AFP-Kansas members — are helping bring a new political culture to our state.

As our elected leaders decide how to respond to the Supreme Court’s decision requiring hundreds-of-millions of dollars in new education spending AFP-Kansas encourages them to consider ways to improve education results with forward-looking reforms. Like the vast majority of Kansans, we have supported needed funds for education. As a massive new infusion of tax dollars for education is considered, now is the time to make sure that Kansas’ children are receiving the full benefits of this money. That means actively looking for ways to get more dollars directly into classrooms instead of seeing them wasted on bureaucracy, giving parents greater input into their children’s education, and making sure that every child is given the very best opportunity to achieve the American Dream.”

Study after study has shown that spending more money does not increase the quality of education. Our focus needs to be on improving education for Kansas students, not on building a large bureaucracy that siphons money from the classroom.

We also applaud the efforts of those legislators pushing the Constitutional Amendment that clarifies the role of the courts vs.. the legislature in how taxes are levied and public funds are spent. The passage of this amendment will ensure that the public’s voice on spending and tax issues is not overruled by judges that face little public accountability and virtually no public input in their selection.

Report from Topeka, June 30, 2005

Thank you again, Karl Peterjohn of the Kansas Taxpayers Network, for your insights into the Kansas Legislature’s special session.


The Kansas house passed on a 64-to-59 vote a school spending plan that is contingent on the court not removing any parts of this plan and the voters getting their hands on a constitutional amendment to reaffirm the legislature’s fiscal authority. This bill, house substitute for SB 3 goes to the senate for either concurrence or conference committee.

The house is scheduled to take up a constitutional amendment but that won’t occur until 2 PM at the earliest. The senate will meet at 2 PM.

It will take at least 4-to-6 house Democrats to vote for a constitutional amendment to offset the Republicans who have been voting against a constitutional amendment in this 125 member body. There are 84 votes needed to pass a constitutional amendment. Two have been discussed.

The house vote is good news in the constitutional battle but it is not decisive by a long shot. If the constitutional amendment(s) is (are) passed and the senate concurs on this bill this special session could end today with this as a response to an overbearing court and a reassertion of legislative powers. However, the senate could easily decide not to concur and a variety of events could then take place.

Report from Topeka, June 29, 2005 (afternoon edition)

A second report for today from Karl Peterjohn of the Kansas Taxpayers Network.


The senate Republicans have weighed in and made a significant impact today. A majority of the GOP Senate caucus met with their leadership and made it clear that they would not be involved in other votes on school finance until the constitutional amendment protecting legislative powers issue is resolved.

This is important for a number of reasons. It is a message to the Senate President Steve Morris and the rest of the leadership that their positions are in some jeopardy without keeping a majority of the GOP caucus behind them. Second, it provides leverage for some house Democrats who would like to vote for a constitutional amendment but are being pressured behind the scenes by their leadership starting from the governor’s office and working its way down that want to keep the Democrats together (only one house D voted for the amendment last weekend) but some members do not want this to be locked into a position defending the court.

Since 84 votes are needed to pass any constitutional amendment in the house and there are 83 Republicans some Democrats will have to vote for this amendment since there are at least a handful of die-hard liberals led by lawyers Tim Owens and Ward Loyd who have publicly criticized on the house floor the senate passed amendment protecting the legislature’s fiscal powers in the strongest words possible. Any amendment would go to the voters in August.

What has made this turn of events quite interesting is the unified senate GOP support for the amendment with every senate Republican voting for this proposal. This includes some very liberal GOP legislators.

The house goes in at 4 PM (right now) and school finance is on the agenda. However, they were expected to start this debate at 11 AM and it has been postponed. It could be postponed again but even if a school finance expenditure bill is passed, the payment for this in the form of either higher taxes or expanded gambling must be resolved too. That’s why the senate’s position on the amendment is critical.

Quick passage in the house of a constitutional amendment followed by a supplemental appropriation for the schools could lead to a quick end to this special session. A lot of balls are still in the air and depending on which ones come down and how soon, will determine the outcome of this special session.

Report from Topeka, June 29, 2005

Thank you again, Karl Peterjohn of the Kansas Taxpayers Network, for your insights into the Kansas Legislature’s special session.


The legislative special session is going to reach a crucial turning point today at the Kansas statehouse.

A group of tax and spend Republicans, lead by Rep. Ward Loyd, Rino-Garden City met with Governor Sebelius and received her blessing for a $161 million school finance spending bill that will be debated and voted upon in the Kansas house today. Last year, Loyd begged Democrats to re-register before the August primary so they could vote for him in his tough primary race. Loyd barely won that contest.

If this spending bill passes the legislature will have begun surrendering their fiscal authority to the Sebelius dominated Kansas Supreme Court. While Governor Sebelius only appointed one of the current six judges on the court, Justice Carol Beier, her chief of staff is married to another judge on this court, Justice Donald Allegrucci. In addition, Governor Sebelius has been working to enact the court’s $1 billion edict to increase school spending in the Montoy school finance case. In April, the governor endorsed the school districts position opposing the $142 million school spending increase approved by the 2005 legislature and which became law without the governor’s signature. She is backing the court’s usurpation of fiscal power in this state by her actions.

The house is scheduled to come in at 11 AM this morning and this debate is likely to be long and acrimonious. The key will be whether or not there are 63 fiscally responsible house members who will reject this fiscal folly or not. This issue, and potentially the future of representative government in Kansas, is definitely in doubt.

If this spending package is passed the session will then move to trying to figure out how to raise roughly $75 million to finance this abomination in the fiscal year that begins Friday, July 1. Proposals to expand gambling or raise taxes will be on the table. The $86 million windfall the state received earlier this month will be spent but a lot more money will be needed.

This spending growth will be chump change compared to the revenue that will be needed to finance the rest of the court’s June 3 edict. The incredible irony about this matter is that the 15 school districts sued the state board of education over school finance funding and the court rules against the legislature and the taxpayers of Kansas–none of whom are parties to this lawsuit. None of whom are allowed to speak in front of this arrogant court. In fact, legislative lawyers were specifically denied the opportunity to address the court during oral arguments in May.

This court is treating the legislature with contempt.

Sadly, the liberal Kansas press, as well stated by the Wichita Eagle’s editorial of June 26, 2005 that is headlined, “Calm Down,” and subtitled,”Judges do have authority on schools,” begins, “Those clamorous groups advancing on the Kansas Supreme Court with torches and pitchforks should pause and take a long, deep breath. That includes the Wall Street Journal editorial board, which opined portentiously last week that the six ‘unelected and unaccountable’ judes of the Kansas Supreme Cort had violated the separation of powers and formented a constitutional crisis..” and continued, “..In their carefully argued and precedent-based opinion, the Kansas Supreme Court justices addressed the authority issue directly, citing similar education battles in other states such as Kentucky…”

Sadly for the Wichita Eagle, the Kentucky Constitution is not phrased the same as the Kansas Constitution’s public school provisions. What is significant is the fact that six appointed judges (four are registered Democrats and one of the two Republicans used to represent the Salina school district that is promoting this school finance lawsuit) have usurped legislative budget authority by ordering the legislature to spend $143 million in additional funds by July 1, 2005. In addition, one moderate Republican lawyer who chairs the house judiciary committee, Rep. Mike O’Neal, warned the house federal and state affairs committee June 28 that the court has created a clear and present danger by continuing to issue orders to the legislature that is not a party to this lawsuit. The court has not actually gotten around to overturning its 1994 ruling that school finance is constitutional and is operating under “interrim” rulings. The court’s January 3 interrim edict conflicts with the court’s June 3 edict.

Unfortunately, the Kansas house recently rejected a proposal to provide a constitutional amendment (73-to-50 with 84 votes needed to send it to the voters to ratify it) that would clarify that fiscal authority lies with the legislature and not with other branches of Kansas government and stop this judicial usurpation.

Kansas is in danger of a judicial oligarchy that is being supported by a governor who is deeply indebted to the government school spending lobby that is promoting this litigation and her Democrat legislative allies. The governor and the school spending promoting legislators deeply believe that the end justifies the means and the court’s actions are promoting public policy outcomes supported by these officials. Legislative skeptics are asking these legislators how they would feel about the court’s decision if the court was ruling that spending should be reduced instead of increased? This appeal to logic does not seem to be having much of an impact as of June 28.

The real question is whether or not the average Kansas taxpayer is paying attention and cares about this critical fiscal fight at the statehouse. There are so many distractions. Besides the usual summertime diversions Wichita is still digesting the Dennis Rader atrocities and his 10 murder convictions. The transfer of Boeing Commercial Aircraft to Onex Corporation is transforming what used to be this state’s largest private employer in Wichita. In the Kansas City area General Motors recent announcement that it will be cutting 25,000 jobs over the next few years could definitely impact the car assembly plant in that area. The legislative sessions normally end in late April or early May so this is an unusual event that is not at the forefront of the news coverage in many parts of this state.

Fiscally concerned Kansans should contact their legislators (this might be hard considering that some legislators have not turned on their email) by calling or writing (state capitol, Topeka, KS 66612).

It is interesting to note how invisible Governor Sebelius has been in this special session. The governor called this special session but provided legislators with only a single sheet of platitudes when they arrived back at the statehouse. The “behind-the-scenes” meeting I mentioned above on June 28 (which was also reported in the news pages of the June 29 Wichita Eagle) between a bipartisan group of tax and spend legislators and the governor shows how far she has walked away from her 2002 campaign promises for fiscal conservatism and opposition to raising taxes. Like a lot of candidates who decline to sign KTN’s Taxpayer Protection Pledge, she walked away from her promises of fiscal responsibility once she took her oath of office.

Here’s one example of her tax and spend behavior. The governor took a temporary sales tax hike that her predecessor had set at 5.3% and made it permanent. Sadly, all too many legislative Republicans voted for this back door tax hike. The sales tax rate was supposed to phase back down to 5.0 percent based upon the 2002 tax changes.

In addition, the state’s General Fund is going to exceed $5 billion for the very first time if the governor gets her way on the state budget. Remember, it was 1981 when the state had its first $1 billion General Fund budget. Kansas’ All Funds budget (which includes KDOT, Medicaid, and other off-budget items) topped $11 billion for the very first time this year.

The future of Kansas remains at risk and is dependent upon the fortitude of a majority of the Kansas House of Representatives today.

Report from Topeka, June 28, 2005

Thank you, Karl Peterjohn, Executive Director of Kansas Taxpayers Network.


Here’s a legislative update from Topeka as of noon Tuesday. A proposal to raise income and sales taxes has appeared now that the gambling measures are unable to pass out of the Kansas senate in the on going battle over judicial interference with the legislature and school finance in this state.

The house is working on two tracks: the federal and state affairs committee is working on a constitutional amendment that would provide specific boundaries to protect the legislature’s appropriation powers. The second track is a supplemental appropriations bill. The latter requires 63 votes to pass in the Kansas house while a constitutional amendment needs 84 house votes and then is submitted to voters for their final approval.

The legislature is operating under the Sebelius Supreme Court’s July 1 deadline of appropriating an additional $143 million for the fiscal year that begins on Friday. More is expected next year. Here are the major players and their positions:

Governor Sebelius called the special session and wants expanded gaming (although apparently not by Indian tribes but by state owned franchise monopolies) and the legislature to submit to the court’s spending order on school finance. Legislative Democrats are backing her position but have begun expressing support for increased income and sales taxes. It is unclear how big a tax hike the governor is supporting since she relies upon the court and legislative leaders like senate Minority Leader Tony Hensley, D-Topeka when it comes to various revenue measures.

Legislative conservatives are strongest in the house where many of them are saying that they will not appropriate a penny of new money (the state’s latest revised revenue estimates are showing that the Bush tax cuts nationally have recently produced about $86 million state revenue windfall) until the constitutional amendment clarifying the legislator’s budget powers is approved.

GOP liberals are trying to work a deal in the house with legislative Democrats but it is unclear if they have anywhere close to the 63 house votes needed to submit to the court’s order. The senate passed a $161 million spending plan last Friday on a 25-to-14 vote. There were 15 Republican senators who voted with all ten Democrats for this spending bill (one liberal GOP senator is sick and absent) and 14 Republicans voting against it. The entire senate GOP caucus along with one Democrat then followed this vote by rejecting expanded gaming 17-to-22 and then voted for the constitutional amendment clarifying the legislators budget powers. This was highly unusual since the senate Republicans can seldom agree on where the sun is going to set.

There are some GOP moderates who are outraged by the court and have backed the constitutional amendment to protect their constitutional powers. However, when this came up for a final vote in the Kansas house on Sunday, it failed on a 73-to-50 vote with two legislators missing and 84 votes needed for passage. 40-of-the-41 Democrats voting opposed the amendment. Nine Republicans voted with the Democrats led by several Johnson County “moderates” along with a handful of liberal and rural legislators. The GOP legislators voting with the Democrats on this included: Jeff Jack, Jim Yonally, Tim Owens, Stephanie Sharp, Barbara Craft, Don Hill, Dale Swenson, Pat Colloton, and Ray Cox.

The Kansas Supreme Court has one vacancy since the April death of one of its members. The six members include four registered Democrats (one was appointed by former Governor Bill Graves) and two Republicans. One of the Republicans was a lawyer who represented the lead school district behind the school finance lawsuit. What is interesting about this lawsuit and perhaps unique about Kansas is these facts: A) the legislature is not a party to the lawsuit and when they sought to participate before the court during the May oral argument the court denied them the right to appear; B) the legislature is being ordered to appropriated specific amounts by a date certain by this court; C) It is possible (I am basing this upon the testimony of the Attorney General and Rep. Mike O’Neal before the house’s federal and state affairs committee today) that the court may decide to allocate the funds in a manner that differs with the legislators’ appropriation and allocation of these funds.

Attorney General Phill Kline is clearly informing the entire legislature of their options and situation. Kline is trying to protect the citizens from a court that the moderate Rep. O’Neal described as engaging in a form of “…judicial extortion…” against the legislature and ultimately against the taxpayers of this state. O’Neal was careful in stating that the court had not overreached in their January 3 opinion on this case but had done so in their June 3 edict.

Interestingly enough, AG Kline reported that the court has not actually overruled their previous decision from 1994 in the USD 229 case where that KS Supreme Court declined to assume the powers that the 2005 KS Supreme Court has now grabbed. No final ruling has been issued by the court.

Regardless of how the legislature gets out of the current situation these facts are clear: 1) Increasing revenues are likely to be thrown at the schools if a constitutional option is sent to the people but this can occur without a tax hike but at a level well below $143 million; 2) gaming remains an issue; 3) while tax hikes are not the first option, tax hikes are going to appear among the tax ‘n spenders among most Kansas Democrats and all too many “moderate” Republicans; 4) the senate rejected on a 18-to-19 vote a proposal to cut spending by under $40 million yesterday (9 Republicans joined all ten senate Democrats on this vote).

The fact that tax ‘n spend legislators like Bill Kassebaum, Cindy Neighbor, and Dave Corbin were retired by the voters in 2004 is the primary reason that both expanded gaming and taxes have not moved further through the legislative processes this year.

Please feel free to forward this or send it along to Kansas web sites and blogs that are interested in this issue.

Karl Peterjohn
www.kansastaxpayers.com

Report from Topeka, June 24, 2005

Thank you again, Karl Peterjohn of the Kansas Taxpayers Network


The $160.7 million school spending bill approved by the Kansas senate yesterday passed with the votes of all 10 senate Democrats and 15 GOP tax ‘n spenders. These legislators were also willing to surrender their constitutional and budget authority to the six appointed members of the Kansas Supreme Court.

Here is the list in alphabetical order:

Pat Apple, R; Jim Barone, D; Don Betts, D; Pete Brungardt, R; Jay Emler, R; Marci Francisco, D; Mark Gilstrap, D; Greta Goodwin, D; David Haley, D; Tony Hensley, D Minority Leader; Laura Kelly, D; Janis Lee, D; Steve Morris, R Senate President; Ralph Ostmeyer, R; Roger Pine, R; Roger Reitz, R; Derek Schmidt, R Majority Leader; Vicki Schmidt, R; Jean Schodorf, R; Chris Steineger, D; Mark Taddiken, R; Ruth Teichman, R; Dwayne Umbarger, R; John Vratil, R Vice President; David Wysong, R.

This list includes a variety of folks whose work includes school teachers and school district lawyers. Sen. Barbara Allen, who regularly votes for higher spending and taxes, is suffering from cancer and has not been attending this special session.

Fortunately, the house Education Committee took $149 million out of this outrageous spending plan when they got their hands on it. Three Democrats walked out of the committee meeting in protest of this action. The house will debate this bill later today.

Before the house gets to this education bill it is scheduled to debate two constitutional amendments to restrict the court’s from their legislative activities in the future. It will be fascinating to see if the tax ‘n spenders from both the Democrat and Republican caucuses will be willing to defend their constitutional and historic powers of the purse when these amendments are being debated. It will take 84 votes for final passage of any constitutional amendment out of the house and several members are absent today.

This session is definitely running into this weekend and could wrap up early Sunday morning. If it does, it will be sometime between 3 and 8 AM Sunday. However, I would not bet on that outcome and expect to be back in Topeka next week as this constitutional crisis created by the left-wing Sebelius Supreme court continues.

A correction: yesterday, I believe I mispelled the senate majority leaders last name. It is Derek Schmidt. I apologize for any mispellings contained within these posts and any other insults to the English Language I have accidently and unintentionally committed.

This message will be posted shortly on www.kansastaxpayers.com and other quality web/blog sites. Please feel free to forward to fiscally and constitutionally concerned Kansans.

Individual liberty, limited government, economic freedom, and free markets in Wichita and Kansas

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