Tag Archives: Chris Steineger

Kansas Bioscience Authority hearings, day 2

At the second day of testimony (January 26, 2012) regarding a forensic audit of the Kansas Bioscience Authority, a representative of Kansas Governor Sam Brownback was strongly critical of the audit itself, and also of the Board of Directors of KBA. Kansas Secretary of Agriculture Dale A. Rodman, who oversaw the audit process on behalf of the Brownback Administration, also said that legislators who voted to form the KBA should “feel outraged that a golden opportunity that you helped create was taken away from your efforts.”

Rodman urged the committee to step back and look at the situation from a distance, saying that many of the issues are “deep and buried.” To him, he said the important issues are first, is the KBA obtaining the performance expected, and second, is the KBA worthy stewards of Kansans’ money?

Based on his investigation, Rodman listed several measures that troubled him, specifically: “The KBA spent $200,000 per job before Tom Thornton and $700,000 per job after he became the CEO of the KBA.” Thornton is the former CEO who resigned shortly after the audit process started. At yesterday’s hearing, Senator Chris Steineger, a Kansas City Republican, presented figures that estimated a cost of $750,000 per job created, using a slightly different set of data.

A second troubling measure, Rodman said, is that KBA spent “nearly 40 cents of every dollar invested on overhead expenses.” He said the KBA board must be responsible for these results.

In a separate letter sent to KBA Board Chairman Dan Watkins, Rodman listed more detailed concerns, including that only 347 jobs are shown by KBA as having been created since 2007. Another concern, he said, is that there appear to be many instances of double counting of invested funds. He said that certain companies were not reporting as required, and some numbers were being “filled in.”

Rodman said the expenditure of over $18 million for KBA headquarters was excessive, a concern shared by many legislators.

What amazed Rodman, he said, was when acting KBA CEO David Vranicar told Rodman he was not there to create jobs. This, along with the earlier evidence he cited, showed him that KBA was not fulfilling the mission of the Kansas Economic Growth Act, the legislation that created KBA.

In follow-up correspondence from KBA, Watkins cited the larger mission statement of KNA, and also that “the longer-term mission is more robust: to build a bioscience infrastructure that will generate high-paying bioscience jobs today and for future generations of Kansans.” Near-term job creation is not the sole focus, the letter added.

Rodman also spoke about the conflict of interest issues, which were prominent in Wednesday’s hearings. BKD auditors said that KBA board followed policy by disclosing that they had a financial interest in a potential KBA investment or grant, and refraining from voting. But Rodman said that is not enough: “Whether or not it is legal is not the issue. It does not pass the smell test. If it smells bad, it is bad, and you should not do it.”

Rodman cited the governing Kansas statute, which reads “No part of the funds of the authority shall inure to the benefit of, or be distributed to, its employees, officers or members of the board.” The statute has exceptions which do not apply in this case.

Rodman, both in his verbal and written testimony, cited the case of KBA board member Bill Sanford. Quoting from the KBA audit, Rodman said “Bill Sanford is the COB and 14% owner of NanoScale, a bioscience company that received four grants totaling $674,996 from KBA.”

Relating a discussion he had with Sanford, Rodman told the committee: ‘Director Sanford looked at me and said ” If you want to get something done, you have to hire someone like Thornton. If we had hired a laid-back Kansan we would not be where we are at today.’ You know, I have to agree with him, we would not be in this room today. With a good Kansan in charge we would not be having this meeting.”

The issue of Thorton’s unethical behavior is at the center of this affair, with a related issue being whether Thornton’s departure solves all problems with the KBA, or if there is a deeper problem.

Also highlighted by Rodman was the issue of missing intellectual property. This refers to the loss of data, along with backups of that data, on the so-called “J-Drive,” a shared and restricted storage location on KBA’s network. Thornton also erased and digitally scrubbed data from his personal laptop computer. Computer forensics experts were not able to recover any of this missing data.

Rodman told the committee that the KBA board, immediately after learning that Thornton quit to go work for a competing firm (Cleveland Clinic Innovations), should have issued a “cease and desist” order, saying “This will inform the competitor that knowledge the employee has belongs to the former employer, and use of that information will result in legal action.” As he believes the KBA board did not do this, Rodman said he concludes “Kansas has lost intellectual property.”

Summarizing, Rodman said that “Thornton was a mistake,” and that the KBA board should have recognized this. He urged the committee to fix the problem, as Kansas needs growth in the bioscience industry.

Senator Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican who chaired the meeting, noted the statute that Rodman cited regarding conflicts of interest, saying that it prevents board members or employees from receiving a financial benefit based on their position. The BKD audit, she said, cites many such instances of financial benefits, and in every instance the audit concludes that since board members disclosed their conflict was resolved, and that procedures are in place to prevent conflicts of interest.

Of the BKD audit generally, Rodman said the document is complex, and “probably deliberately so.” Wagle, who has been concerned that the audit is “sanitized” and doesn’t present the full scope of issues and problems, asked “Could that be sanitizing conclusions?” Rodman demurred, answering “There was a lot of work on the report.”

Senator Ty Masterson, a Republican from Andover, asked Rodman what needed to be changed at the KBA. Rodman said he wasn’t ready to answer that now, despite having thought about it. He did say there had to be some dramatic changes in the system.

Masterson also asked about the costs of the audit: Did Thornton’s action in deleting data increase the cost of the BKD audit? Rodman said we should go after Thornton for possible increased costs of the audit.

A question from Representative Les Osterman, a Wichita Republican, framed the issue this way: Do we need different or better rules and laws, or does the problem lie with the composition of the KBA board? Rodman answered that If the KBA board had done their job, we wouldn’t be here today. He repeated that there is a statute to take care of conflicts of interest, but there is a problem with the governance of the KBA board.

Follow-up by Republican Senator Ray Merrick expressed concern that since Thornton, who he labeled a “bad apple,” is gone, the problem is over. But the same board is in place, the same people are in charge, and that he was not satisfied going forward.

But not all members of the committee shared these concerns. Tom Holland, a Democratic Senator from Baldwin City, pressed Rodman as to whether intellectual property had actually been stolen from KBA due to the loss of data from the J-Drive and Thornton’s computer, or was there only the potential for that? Rodman said yes, intellectual property was taken, although that was not stated in the audit.

Holland repeated his questions from yesterday: Does KBA have appropriate management procedures, policies, and controls in place? And does KBA follow these consistently? Snyder, the BKD auditor, had answered yes to both of these questions, although with one exception. Today, Holland pressed Rodman if he took “ownership” of the BKD audit. Eventually Rodman said he did. Holland then asked if the audit was “an accurate summary of life at the KBA.” Rodman said yes, but with qualifications, and Wagle expressed her concern, also.

There is a factor not brought up in testimony, nor in my reading of the BKD audit report, that complicates the KBA governance and may be a source of problems. The KBA has an independent source of revenue that is not dependent on appropriations from the legislature. This source is the incremental growth in tax withholding from employees of Kansas bioscience companies and research institutions. I asked both Wagle and a spokesperson for Governor Brownback if this was a factor or a problem. Both said this is a question for the KBA.

Kansas committee asks if KBA audit did enough to expose problems

By Bob Weeks, Special to KansasWatchdog.org

Members of the joint Commerce and Economic Development Committees expressed concern that a forensic audit of the Kansas Bioscience Authority was not broad enough and that deliberate deletion of data from a KBA computer left questions unanswered.

On Wedesday James Snyder, managing partner for BKD’s Forensics and Valuation Services, told the committee that while his firm was hired and paid by KBA, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback’s administration was heavily involved. Secretary of Agriculture Dale Rodman served as the main contact for the Brownback Administration, although Caleb Stegall, the governor’s chief lawyer, and Steve Anderson, the Budget Director, also participated.

Snyder told the committee the audit process was designed to avoid a situation where after the final report was released, people would ask why certain facts were not considered or covered. “This process was specifically designed to avoid that, and it worked pretty well,” he said.

The Kansas Legislature created the KBA in 2004 and gave it $581 million to bring bioscience research and jobs to Kansas. KBA has been under fire for expenses and salaries paid to top executives and for giving grants to fund projects out of state.

Any disputes about the report’s contents were ironed out by January, but on Sunday, the day before the report was to be released, Rodman raised a difference of opinion over a possible conflict of interest involving former KBA board member Angela Kreps. Snyder characterized this as the only difference of opinion, and that it was a narrow and minor one.

Committee chair, Sen. Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican, recognized that BKD’s position was “difficult,” as the firm was hired and paid by KBA, but it was also in frequent communication with the Brownback Administration. Snyder said the administration was involved in an oversight role, and also in defining the scope of the audit.

Senator Ty Masterson, an Andover Republican, expressed concern over possible deletion of computer files and that BKD could only “dive into that which you had, that you were provided.” BKD’s timeline of the audit showed that KBA leadership was apprised of an audit on March 10th, 2011. The next day CEO Tom Thornton accessed a computer hard drive on KBA’s network. The drive was accessible to only four people and held personnel records and confidential company information.

BKD was hired on April 11th, a fact Masterson said he found “fascinating” because KBA used a 30-day rolling backup scheme that would not have retained files deleted on or before March 10. The time lag from March 11th to April 11th means that if information was deleted from the J-Drive, it was not available to the BKD audit team.

The timing of this is “highly suspect,” Masterson said.

Snyder said the audit team had access to much information and that BKD received everything they asked for, but Masterson pointed out that we don’t know what might have been missing. Thornton’s personal laptop computer was erased or “wiped” days after the audit was called for in a way that made it impossible for the computer forensic team to recover the deleted data.

Snyder said that the committee should have high confidence in the audit’s findings and that the number of people and computers the team had access to was in many cases “extraordinary.” He also said that core KBA business records had integrity and there was no reason to suspect these systems had been compromised.

Masterson quoted from page 133 of the audit report: “Our analysis found 301 payments without a contract, including 102 payments that violated KBA’s Contract Policy. The total contract cost involved totaled $1,219,271.81 in payments without a contract, including $571,828.20 in payments which violated Contract Policy.”

Masterson noted that there’s no indication anything was technically illegal, but that the purview of the committee went beyond that. “Why do we put policies in place? It’s so that we can show best practice, best stewardship. You have shown over 300 violations of policy … I don’t know how we can paint this in the light that this is instilling confidence, and that it is clearing the air.”

Masterson also said that the best case seems to be that there was unethical management combined with inadequate oversight. He said there is the possibility of a coordinated cover up of behavior that could potentially be illegal.

Snyder answered that over time they observed “increasing sophistication” of board participation and compliance with procedures and that there had also been changes initiated by the board that offered protection.

Wagle said she received faxes from KBA employees expressing concern that the Senate Commerce Committee received altered documents. “It became very apparent that we could not rely on the information we were receiving,” she said. She asked Snyder if it was possible that documents were altered or erased so BKD did not see them.

Snyder said that although one expense report was altered, there was no indication of a “systematic issue” of alterations or erasures.

Wagle and Snyder disagreed over the extent of BKD’s contact with Wagle contending that it did not constitute an “interview” as claimed in the audit report.

Democratic Senator Tom Holland asked Snyder two questions relating to whether KBA has business policies and procedures in place to effectively run the organization, and has KBA consistently followed these? Snyder answered yes, with very few exceptions. “We found a very high level of compliance.”

Republican Senator Chris Steineger of Kansas City asked a series of questions regarding the mission of the KBA, which is, according to KBA “advancing Kansas’ leadership in bioscience” as well as creating investment and jobs in Kansas. Steineger expressed concern that much of KBA’s funding is spent on overhead, such as lawyers, architects, office buildings, travel, and dining.

Steineger distributed a series of calculations based on KBA data in the audit that he said reveals that KBA made $265 million in commitments resulting in 1,347 jobs for a cost of $196,808 per job created.

Steineger showed that removing the largest company from the mix — Quintiles, which created 1,000 jobs for a KBA contribution of $3.5 million — the remaining jobs cost more than $750,000 each.

Senator Jeff Longbine, an Emporia Republican, mentioned that there had been criticism of the KBA for insider activities among board members, conflicts of interest, cronyism, and fraud and asked Snyder if these accusations were true. Snyder said these generalized accusations were not true, although there was one instance where there was “some technical violation of a conflict of interest rule.” He said that KBA is not “fraught with fraud or self-dealing.”

The audit report also noted that KBA made regular use of executive sessions not open to the public and that, “No notes or recordings are made of Executive Sessions. This is a common business practice. Therefore, information discussed in Executive Session was not available for BKD’s review and could not be considered with regard to the findings of this report.”

In response to another question, Snyder said that no changes were recommended to the Kansas Economic Growth Act, the legislation that created the KBA. There were some recommendations to KBA board policies and procedures.

Wagle also noted that conflict of interest rules don’t really resolve conflicts. Generally, if KBA board members disclose that they have a conflict of interest — such as a company they have financial ties to getting a grant — they can refrain from voting to satisfy the rules. “To me, I don’t know if it’s okay with the people of Kansas,” Wagle said.

The joint hearing will continue tomorrow with a presentation from Rodman.

This article originally appeared on Kansas Watchdog.

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Thursday April 14, 2011

Kansas State Board of Education vs. Walt Chappell. There is another development in the tenure of Walt Chappell, Kansas State Board of Education member. Chappell holds some opinions that differ from the rest of the board, or at least the majority of the board, and they don’t like Chappell expressing his opinions in newspaper columns, etc. The board would rather have a unified front, even if the position taken is incorrect. Of particular, the issue of the unspent Kansas school fund balances has been prominent. Kansas Watchdog reports on a recent meeting of the board where the issue of Chappell and his speech was an issue.

Protest on tax day. A message from Wichita State University Students for Liberty: “You are cordially invited to a tax protest on Friday, 15 April at 3:00 pm. It will be held on the southeast corner of 21st Street and Rock Road. I and several members of WSU Students for Liberty will be in attendance, and we welcome yours as well.” For more information see Wichita State University Students for Liberty.

Tax day tea party events. AFP Kansas has a list of tea party events at Kansas Tea Parties. Nothing in Wichita, though.

Steineger, Kansas senator, to address Pachyderms. This Friday (April 15) Kansas Senator Chris Steineger will speak to the members and guests of the Wichita Pachyderm Club on the topic “Using Business Principles to Restructure State and Local Government For Long-Term Efficiency.” Steineger, of Kansas City, has served in the Kansas Senate since 1997 and in December switched his affiliation from the Democratic to Republican party. Steineger has voted with Republicans on fiscal issues for many years. Explaining why he switched parties, he wrote “I am a fiscal hawk who believes Americans have been borrowing, spending, and living beyond their means for too long.” Steineger has spoken at events organized by Americans for Prosperity.

Trade protectionism makes us poorer. The president of a large labor union is urging President Obama to not implement pending free trade agreements. Should we have free trade with other countries, or not? Richard W. Rahn explains, starting with the complexity of even the most humble and simple of consumer goods — the pencil — as highlighted in yesterday’s article: “As simple as a pencil is, it contains materials from all over the world (special woods, paint, graphite, metal for the band and rubber for the eraser) and requires specialized machinery. How much would it cost you to make your own pencils or even grow your own food? Trade means lower costs and better products, and the more of it the better. Adam Smith explained that trade, by increasing the size of the market for any good or service, allows the efficiencies of mass production, thus lowering the cost and the ultimate price to consumers. … It is easy to see the loss of 200 jobs in a U.S. textile mill that produces men’s T-shirts, but it is not as obvious to see the benefit from the fact that everyone can buy T-shirts for $2 less when they come from China, even though the cotton in the shirts was most likely grown in the United States. Real U.S. disposable income is increased when we spend less to buy foreign-made products because we are spending less to get more — and that increase in real income means that U.S. consumers can spend much more on U.S.-made computer equipment, air travel or whatever. … The benefits of trade are not always easy to see or quickly understand, and so it is no surprise that so many commentators, politicians, labor leaders and others get it wrong.”

City government under control. From Reason.tv: “While cities across the country are cutting services, raising taxes and contemplating bankruptcy, something extraordinary is happening in a suburban community just north of Atlanta, Georgia. Since incorporating in 2005, Sandy Springs has improved its services, invested tens of millions of dollars in infrastructure and kept taxes flat. And get this: Sandy Springs has no long-term liabilities. This is the story of Sandy Springs, Georgia — the city that outsourced everything.” Click here for video.

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Sunday April 10, 2011

Local elections, qualifications of Wichita’s elected officials. On today’s edition of the KAKE Television public affairs program This Week in Kansas, Wichita State University’s Ken Ciboski, Chapman Rackaway of Fort Hays State University and myself join host Tim Brown to discuss local elections in Kansas. Mention was made of a recent article I wrote that was critical of the educational attainment of some Wichita City Council members. See Education gap on Wichita City Council.

Steineger, Kansas senator, to address Pachyderms. This Friday (April 15) Kansas Senator Chris Steineger will speak to the members and guests of the Wichita Pachyderm Club on the topic “Using Business Principles to Restructure State and Local Government For Long-Term Efficiency.” Steineger, of Kansas City, has served in the Kansas Senate since 1997 and in December switched his affiliation from the Democratic to Republican party. Steineger has voted with Republicans on fiscal issues for many years. Explaining why he switched parties, he wrote “I am a fiscal hawk who believes Americans have been borrowing, spending, and living beyond their means for too long.” Steineger has spoken at events organized by Americans for Prosperity.

Washington Monument strategy. At about 11:00 pm Friday night, President Barack Obama spoke on television in front of a window where the Washington Monument could be seen in the background. He said that thanks to the just-struck agreement to continue funding the operations of the federal government, the monument would be open to visitors the next day. This is explicit use of the Washington Monument strategy, in which the response to any proposed cut or slowdown in the growth of government is illustrated in the most painful or visible way. As the Wikipedia entry states: “The most visible and most appreciated service that is provided by that entity is the first to be put on the chopping block.” … The president also said “I would not have made these cuts in better circumstances.”

Soros conference online. This weekend’s conference of the Institute for New Economic thinking has quite a few papers and videos online at the conference’s website. Surprise: Keynes and his economic theories are revered. Attendees are treated to papers and presentations like this: “It is the interdependence between the rule of law and the production and distribution of goods and services that gives capitalism its unity. The autonomy of the economy is thus an illusion, as is its ability to self-regulate. And we are in the current mess because the scales have tipped slightly too far in favour of this illusion. This shift in the balance represents an inversion of values. Efficiency, it was believed, would be better served if the workings of governments were regulated more tightly (especially in Europe, although the theory originates in America) and if the markets were deregulated to a greater extent. The ingenuity of the financial markets initially, then their blind sightedness, did the rest.” … What?

Economics in one lesson this Monday. On Monday (April 11), four videos based on Henry Hazlitt’s class work Economics in One Lesson will be shown in Wichita. The four topics included in Monday’s presentation will be The Lesson, The Broken Window, Public Works Means Taxes, and Credit Diverts Production. The event is Monday (April 11) at 7:00 pm to 8:30 pm at the Lionel D. Alford Library located at 3447 S. Meridian in Wichita. The library is just north of the I-235 exit on Meridian. The event’s sponsor is Americans for Prosperity, Kansas. For more information on this event contact John Todd at [email protected] or 316-312-7335, or Susan Estes, AFP Field Director at [email protected] or 316-681-4415.

Wichita City Council this week. On Tuesday, the Wichita City Council considers only consent agenda items. Then, tributes — including video — to outgoing Council Members Paul Gray, Sue Schlapp, and Roger Smith and installation of new members. A new vice mayor will also be selected. … I don’t know if the city will be hosting a luncheon afterward. Two years ago a celebratory luncheon titled “Wichita City Council Changing of the Guard” cost over $1,000.

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Tuesday December 21, 2010

Steineger switches teams. Chris Steineger, a Kansas State Senator from Kansas City, has switched to the Republican Party. As a Democrat, Steineger had compiled a voting record more conservative than many senate Republicans. On the Kansas Economic Freedom Index for this year — recognizing that supporting economic freedom is not the same as conservatism or Republicanism — Steineger had a voting record more in favor of economic freedom than that of 15 of the senate’s Republicans.

Kansas school funding reform to wait. Incoming Kansas Governor Sam Brownback says that the Kansas economy comes first, and then school finance, Medicaid, and KPERS in a “year or two.” Tim Carpenter of the Topeka Capital-Journal reports in Revitalizing the Kansas economy is the governor-elect’s No. 1 priority.

Tax cuts in Kansas not likely, says new senate leader. Yesterday Kansas Senate Republicans elected Jay Emler of Lindsborg to be the majority leader, replacing Derek Schmidt, who will become Attorney General. As the Associated Press reports, Emler is not in favor of any tax cuts, including a repeal of the recent increase in the statewide sales tax.

McGinn to lead Ways and Means. Carolyn McGinn, a Kansas Senator from Sedgwick, will chair the Ways and Means Committee. This important committee handles appropriations — in other words, the actual spending of money. On the Kansas Economic Freedom Index for this year, McGinn scored seven percent, tying her with Senate President Stephen Morris as the Republicans most opposed to economic freedom. She also scores low in the Kansas Taxpayer Network/Americans for Prosperity ratings.

Kansas holds on to House seats. At one time it was feared that the 2010 U.S. Census might find Kansas losing one of its four seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. But Kansas will retain them. Texas picks up four seats, Florida adds two, while Georgia, South Carolina, Arizona, Nevada, and Utah gain one seat each. Ohio and New York lose two each, while Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, and New Jersey lose one each.

Rasmussen polls. As often, Rasmussen is the bearer of bad news. Like: What’s the deal with Obama? “For the first time since he became president, only 35% of voters say Barack Obama thinks society is fair and decent. That’s almost half as many as voters who hold that belief themselves. A new Rasmussen Reports telephone survey finds that 49%, on the other hand, say Obama thinks society is unfair and discriminatory.” See America’s Best Days: Fewer Voters Than Ever Say Obama Thinks Society is Fair and Decent. … Tea Party people skeptical of newly elected officeholders: “Most Tea Party members view the candidates they elected in November as agents of change from government business as usual, but non-members are a lot more skeptical. A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone poll finds that only 34% of all Likely U.S. Voters think Tea Party candidates elected in November will remain true to their beliefs. See Most Tea Party Members Think Those They Elected Won’t Sell Out, Others Aren’t So Sure. … Others are pessimistic, too: “Just 23% of Likely U.S. Voters now say the country is heading in the right direction.” See Right Direction or Wrong Track.

Kansas budget can be balanced without tax increases

As the Kansas Legislature prepares to get to work next week producing a budget plan for the next year, Kansans are being told that tax increases are inevitable. Several sources, however, have ideas and detailed plans as to how the state can avoid tax increases.

Kansas Senator Chris Steineger, a Democrat from Kansas City, has a list of cost-cutting measures that could be implemented quickly. See Kansas can have fast, achievable savings for his list.

Steineger also has what he calls the billion dollar list, which contains items that could save even more money. Some of these proposals such as downsizing the legislature, consolidation of Kansas counties, and consolidation of state agencies, might take more time to implement. But these proposals, if implemented, would place Kansas government on a permanent low-cost track.

The Kansas Policy Institute has developed some proposals for savings that it delivered in the form of a letter to Kansas Governor Mark Parkinson. The proposal contains some revenue enhancements that are not in the form of tax increases, which is usually what proponents of revenue enhancements mean. It also contains many cost-cutting measures.

In the letter, KPI President Dave Trabert raises a point that I’ve not heard from any other source. The large budget gap that is routinely mentioned is composed in part of federal stimulus (ARRA) dollars that Kansas received, just like other states. But these funds will not be available in the next budget year, fiscal year 2011. According to KPI, ARRA funds accounted for $205 million of spending in fiscal year 2010.

Should these “missing” funds — which everyone knew were temporary — now be used to create a large “budget gap” in order to justify the need for tax increases? Trabert explains: “KPI uses a taxpayer-focused approach that defines 2010 spending as that which was funded by state taxes. Your proposed 2011 budget would allow government to continue spending at levels funded by both state and federal tax dollars. It was well known that the stimulus money was temporary and that the state should plan accordingly, so state taxpayers should not be required to pay more to make up the difference.”

The need to avoid further tax increases is vital to the Kansas economy, as Trabert notes in his letter to the governor: “The Kansas economy is already absorbing a $163 million unemployment tax increase that is negatively impacting jobs and we must do everything we can to avoid further damage.”

The KPI letter and analysis may be read by clicking on Letter to Kansas Governor Mark Parkinson.

Another plan comes from Americans for Prosperity-Kansas, which has prepared its commonsense budget proposal for fiscal year 2011. AFP’s plan contains both long-term and short-term measures for restoring our state’s fiscal health. It contains many specific measures that could be taken immediately to balance the budget without raising taxes.

The AFP document is a comprehensive look at Kansas government spending, as noted in the introduction: “Following the approach of a concise but broad-ranging examination of every function Kansas state government attempts to perform, AFP has produced a budget that makes real tax cuts possible for Kansas taxpayers. AFP has gone beyond the traditional cursory examinations of state spending where the stock solutions are merely eliminating waste, fraud, abuse, and/or rooting out duplication.”

As an example, for the Revisor of Statutes office the proposal suggests this: “This department received an increase of over 23 percent for FY 2008 which only partially reflects the cost of two FTEs for committee staffing. With the updated computer systems and additional staffing the Revisor’s office should be able to suffice with the reduction of 15 percent of appropriations funding.”

The AFP budget proposal was developed by Steven J. Anderson, a certified public accountant with extensive experience in government accounting and budgets.

The AFP budget proposal may be read at AFP-Kansas releases FY 2011 “Commonsense Budget Proposal.”

Kansas can have fast, achievable savings

Kansas Senator Chris Steineger (Democrat from Kansas City) has formulated a list of items that he says could lead to “fast, achievable savings” for the state of Kansas. This list is titled the “$100 million list.” Some of the items have cost savings given, and some don’t.

In particular, the idea of selling state-owned office buildings is appealing. Steineger showed me preliminary research that showed that the “rent” the state charges agencies is more expensive than private office space in downtown Topeka. The revenue from selling the buildings is a one-time boost, but the reduced operating expense is ongoing.

Here’s Steineger’s list:

  1. Sell and lease-back of State office buildings: Docking, Landon, Eisenhower, Curtis, and Dillon House could be sold to professional real estate companies who can perform renovations
    cheaper and faster than the State. Sale and lease back offers four advantages:

    • immediate cash payment for buildings;
    • any remodeling can be done by private owner FASTER and CHEAPER than the State;
    • most office buildings in USA are privately owned; and
    • sale could generate $100 million.
  2. Eliminate $5 million state-subsidy for air fares in Wichita. Let free market work!
  3. Eliminate State purchases of water rights in government owned reservoirs.
  4. Eliminate construction of more “weather monitoring” stations.
  5. Eliminate state owned buffalo herds. ($50,000)
  6. Eliminate state aid to cities and counties which will incentivize unification.
  7. Eliminate transfer of state alcohol tax to cities’ general fund and recreation fund. ($18 million)
  8. Eliminate all future state aid for school bond and interest and technology.
  9. Reduce Leadership pay by one-half for one year & limit voucher days to 12. ($100,000)
  10. Eliminate Leadership office budget surplus carryover.
    ($138,000)

  11. Reduce by one-half the Leadership Office budget for one year. ($710,000)
  12. Reduce Leadership mail franking to same as rank and file legislator.
  13. Reduce funding for Kansas Bio-Science Authority.
  14. Reduce by one-half funding for KU Cancer Center and order Legislative Post Audit of expenditures since inception.
  15. Renegotiate State building and property insurance for lower rates.
  16. Consolidate all functions of probation and parole in Kansas. A computer tracking system currently in the design stage will greatly facilitate such an efficiency merger.
  17. Consolidate all regulatory and licensing functions of racing, gaming, and bingo.
  18. Consolidate and simplify all alcohol regulation, including cereal malt beverage.
  19. Consolidate into the Department of Agriculture: Livestock Commission, Conservation Commission, Water Office, and Geological Survey. A 2007 Post Audit concludes this will save $700,000 year: www.kslegislature.org/postaudit/audits perform/Q8pa23.pdf.
  20. Consolidate into one agency: Bank Commission, Credit Union Office, and Securities Commissioner. A 2008 Post Audit concludes this will save $500,000 year: www.kslegislature.org/postaudit/audits perform/08pa22.pdf.
  21. Go another step further and consolidate all of the above with Insurance Dept. and create one, streamlined financial regulatory agency.
  22. Consolidate all state housing programs into Kansas Housing Resources Corporation.
  23. Consolidate all early childhood programs (Tiny-K, Head Start, Early Head Start, Parents as Teachers, Smart Start, Healthy Start, Kansas Preschool Program) at State Board of Education.
  24. Consolidate KTEC, MAMTC, KS Inc, per Post Audit.
  25. Consolidate Kansas Turnpike Authority and KDOT.
  26. Capitol restoration — exempt from sales tax. ($8 million)
  27. Capitol restoration — delay build out of basement level visitors’ center. Install doors and lights only to make it a minimally functional space. It would be like an unfinished basement under someone’s home: dry, lighted and usable, but bare concrete.
  28. Auction Governor’s silver Chevy Suburban, which is parked in lower level of parking garage and seldom driven. ($25,000)
  29. Increase premiums and co-pays for state employee health insurance AND create large discounts for those who choose healthy living habits such as tobacco avoidance, healthy weight, and annual checkups.
  30. Allow Kansas Department of Corrections to pay hospitals at Medicaid rates.
  31. Obtain fair market value of the state owned business known as KU Hospital. If the Legislature is a board of directors for the state, then we have a fiduciary duty to have some idea of what our assets are worth.

Kansas texting, seat belt law passes

Today the Kansas Senate debated and passed Senate Substitute for House Bill 2437.

This bill creates a “primary” seat belt law, meaning that a law enforcement officer can stop a car when the officer believes someone in the car may not be wearing a seat belt. Currently, the car must have been stopped for other reasons before the officer could cite occupants for not wearing seat belts. The bill would send about $11 million federal dollars to Kansas; $1 million earmarked for transportation safety, but the rest could be shifted into the state general fund. Governor Mark Parkinson has identified this money as being used to close the state’s general fund budget gap.

Senator Tim Huelskamp, a Republican from Fowler, objected to the bill because it’s a federal mandate that interferes with our local state control. The federal government has taken our tax money, he said, and is using it to coax our state into passing the primary seat belt law. Huelskamp’s actual language was stronger, using the term “outright bribery,” and noting with displeasure that the governor was acceding to this action.

Senator Davie Haley, a Democrat from Kansas City, along with Senator Oletha Faust-Goudeau, Democrat from Wichita, expressed concerns that the seat belt law and the texting laws could be used as pretexts for stopping cars when the real aim of the officer is to perform a stop or search that couldn’t have been performed otherwise. “Driving while black” is the term both senators used, perhaps alluding to studies that have shown that minority drivers are stopped more often for minor traffic violations than non-minority drivers.

The bill also bans text messaging or electronic mail while driving. During the debate Senator Chris Steineger, a Democrat from Kansas City, gave Kansans a defense if they’re ticketed for texting while driving: The bill doesn’t prohibit using a phone for making telephone calls while driving. In fact, the bill contains language providing an exception “if the person reads, selects or enters a telephone number or name in a handheld wireless communication device for the purpose of making or receiving a phone call.”

Steineger wondered how a law enforcement officer could tell, just by looking, if a person is dialing a telephone number or entering a text message. He couldn’t get a specific answer from Senator Dwayne Umbarger, who was carrying the bill.

Kansas school consolidation: it won’t be the first time

An issue that some promote as a way to make Kansas schools more efficient and save money is school consolidation. If it happens, it won’t be the first time schools in our state have gone through consolidation.

Kansas Senator Chris Steineger, who is a Democrat representing Kansas City, recently asked the Kansas Legislative Research Department for information about school consolidation in Kansas. The memo that KLRD produced is below, and here are some interesting facts.

In 1958 Kansas had 2,794 school districts. That number shrunk to 311 in 1969. (Today there are 296 districts.) The goal during the 1960s was to produce school districts that had at least 400 students in grades 1-12, or at least 200 square miles and an assessed valuation of at least $2 million. Some of the intent of the legislation in 1963 was “the general improvement of the public schools,” “equalization of the benefits and burdens of education,” and to use state funds more wisely.

A previous attempt at consolidation in 1961 was rejected by the courts, but public interest in the bill was high, according to material found by KLRD. One remark was “Most of the opposition [to consolidation] was due to a large majority of small school not wanting their little kingdom disrupted, even at the expense of educational standards.” We see similar remarks made today.

A note in the memo mentions a 1992 report of school consolidation efforts in other states, finding that “consolidating school districts led to a minor savings in administrative costs but major savings would result only from closing schools, reducing the number of teachers, and increasing class sizes.”

Kansas school spending advocates tell us that reducing teachers and increasing class sizes would be a disaster for children. But see this article and also this to learn how teacher effectiveness is much more important than class size.

The history of school consolidation in Kansas nearly 50 years ago is also interesting for this reason: Currently a coalition of Kansas school districts are suing the state, asking for more money to be spent on schools. The state’s been sued for this reason before, and the remedy was probably not what the school spending advocates of the day wanted. Here’s correspondence from Sen. Steineger:

This past summer, I met former Senator Glee Smith who served in the Legislature from the late 50’s into the mid 60’s. I asked him what prompted the unification movement, and he replied, “A bunch of school districts got together and filed a lawsuit against the State claiming not enough state aid,” and the Legislature responded by establishing a mechanism requiring unification of smaller weaker school districts.

The standard remedy that school districts ask for in lawsuits is more money. Perhaps the courts will impose a different remedy.

Kansas School Consolidation History

Kansas news digest

News from alternative media around Kansas for January 25, 2010.

Kansas Republicans and Democrats agree Massachusetts upset could benefit Kansans

(Kansas Liberty) “Republican Senatorial candidate Scott Brown made history last night when he defeated Democratic candidate Martha Coakley in the election for Sen. Ted Kennedy’s Massachusetts seat. Kansas Republicans are lining up to proclaim how this victory could signal a change in the tide for the Democratic Party and for the Democrats health care plans.”

Rally members frustrated by mainstream media coverage

(Kansas Liberty) “Last Friday, approximately 400 liberty-minded Kansans flocked to the Statehouse to support a Senate Concurrent Resolution that claims state sovereignty under the Tenth Amendment in the U.S. Constitution. The resolution serves notice to the federal government to cease and desist certain mandates, provides that certain federal legislation should be prohibited or repealed, and it directs distribution of the resolution to Congress and the President. … According to legislators and organization members who were present at the rally, the grassroots support for the amendment was substantial, but many of the mainstream media outlets painted a watered down picture of the outpouring of support. Several reports also focused in on the sole opponent who testified during the hearing, an educator at Wichita Collegiate School, which is a private K-12 school.”

New coalition plotting to lobby legislators for tax increases

(Kansas Liberty) “Roughly a dozen tax-increase advocacy groups have banned together to form the Kansans for Quality Communities Coalition. According to its mission statement the organization’s key goal is to ‘ensure the prosperity of Kansas communities through the responsible investment of taxpayer dollars.’ To achieve this goal the group is heavily lobbying for tax increases, an action already sanctioned by Democratic leaders, including Gov. Mark Parkinson.”

AG Six requests Kansas Supreme Court to refrain from reopening Montoy case

(Kansas Liberty) “Attorney General Steve Six has asked the Kansas Supreme Court to deny the Schools for Fair Funding coalition’s request to reopen the Montoy v. State of Kansas lawsuit. “The Court in 2006 issued its mandate directing the district court to dismiss the case, and on the stipulation of all parties, the district court did so,’ Six said in a statement issued to the Kansas Supreme Court yesterday. ‘This case is over.’ Six referred to the request as ‘unprecedented’ and said that it ‘achieves no efficiencies, and is merely an attempt to circumvent the procedures for initiating new cases.'”

Kansas Senator Chris Steiniger on County Consolidation and His New Campaign

(State of the State KS) “Kansas Senator Chris Steiniger (D) talks about county consolidation and his recent announcement to run for Secretary of State.”

Legislators Speak at Energy Conference in Wichita

(State of the State KS) “House Assistant Minority Leader Jim Ward (D) and Kansas Senator Carolyn McGinn (R) spoke at an energy panel hosted by City of Wichita’s Dale Goter.” Full video of the conference is at Wichita Energy Conference Legislative Panel .

ProPublica predicts insolvency for Kansas’ unemployment insurance fund

(Kansas Watchdog) “Propublica, a national independent non-profit investigative journalism organization, on Wednesday reported that two dozen states have unemployment funds in the red, with nine more to be in the red within six months.”

U.S. Supreme Court ruling on campaign finance won’t affect Kansas much

(Kansas Watchdog) “The U.S. Supreme Court ruled today that businesses and unions may spend freely on political campaigns, but this ruling only affects federal races in Kansas. ‘It won’t affect us at all’ was the response from Carol Williams, the executive director of the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission. Williams said that 24 states had corporate and union contribution bans but Kansas did not.”

Wichita Chamber Will Lobby Against Income Tax

(Kansas Watchdog) “The Wichita Business Journal reported in today’s edition that the Wichita Chamber of Commerce is beginning what will likely be a multi-year effort to repeal the personal and business income taxes in Kansas.”

Furlough idea for legislators is dropped

(Kansas Reporter) “TOPEKA, Kan. – Furloughs for the Kansas Legislature are off the table until late in the legislative session, at the earliest, state Senate President Stephen Morris said.”

More budget cuts would hurt Kansas for years, tax backers say

(Kansas Reporter) “TOPEKA, Kan. – Kansas school children, the state’s elderly and its most fragile citizens simply cannot afford any more state budget cuts, proponents of a proposed one-percent sales tax increase told a Kansas House tax policy committee Thursday.”

School’s reserves total at least $1.4 billion

(Kansas Reporter) “TOPEKA, Kan. – In the fight over school funding, both sides agree that school districts in Kansas are sitting on at least $1.4 billion in cash reserves. The battle over whether that money is available to spend played out during two competing presentations Thursday morning in front of the House Appropriations Committee.”

Kansans speculate on future of federal health reform

(Kansas Health Institute News Service) “TOPEKA – The shockwaves emanating from Republican Scott Brown’s U.S. Senate victory in Massachusetts on Tuesday are being felt beyond the Bay state and Washington, D.C. They’re registering in state capitals across the country, including Topeka.”

Senate GOP leaders say some tax increases will be necessary

(Kansas Health Institute News Service) “TOPEKA – Senate leaders today said a combination of tax increases and spending cuts would be the best way to balance the state budget. Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, said he thought a plan to close sales tax exemptions and increase the tobacco tax could win legislative approval as lawmakers try to close a projected $400 million budget gap. Senate Vice President John Vratil, R-Leawood, said balancing the budget solely with more spending cuts would be ‘catastrophic.'”

Kansas economy debated in Wichita

Last Thursday at a meeting of the City Clerks and Municipal Finance Officers Association of Kansas, the effectiveness of the federal economic stimulus and the Kansas economy were discussed. Americans For Prosperity National Director of State Operations Alan Cobb and Kansas Secretary of Revenue Joan Wagnon were the participants, with Dale Goter, Wichita Governmental Relations Manager, as moderator.

Wagnon started the debate by reciting the distress that the economy has experienced over the past year. She said that these conditions said to the new president “You need to do something.” She said that about 10,000 jobs were picked up in Kansas by the federal stimulus plan. The stimulus worked, she said.

Cobb said that to conclude that the stimulus has worked is premature. He said that in Kansas 6,500 jobs were created at a cost of $500 million, a cost of about $75,000 per job created. There’s a fundamental problem in politics, he said, in that politicians look at the short-term, not the long term. In the long term, there is no question that the stimulus spending will result in lower growth, as the borrowed money must be repaid. It’s the “seen” versus “unseen” problem.

Goter asked: “What if nothing had been done?”

Cobb replied that the President Obama’s team had said that without the stimulus, unemployment would rise to 7.5%, noting that today the rate is 10.2%. Wagnon relied that without intervention, more Kansas banks would have failed, and that the flow of credit would have shut down more than it has. Kansas would have run out of unemployment compensation funds, too, requiring the state to ask employers to make larger contributions at the same time they were laying off employees, resulting in a downwards spiral. She recited a list of construction projects and counties that received stimulus money.

Wagnon referred to lessons learned during the Great Depression, that the power of the federal government was used to save the economy. Cobb replied that the lesson to be learned is the opposite. It took ten years to recover. Massive government intervention and higher taxes prolonged the Great Depression, he said.

Goter asked: “Where do we go from here?”

Wagnon explained that we spent a lot of our stimulus money on K-12 education. This helped the state get through fiscal years 2009 and 2010. For 2011 — the budget year that the Kansas legislature will begin working on in January — the stimulus money is no longer available. She said that we’re likely to see another round of cuts, not only in budget expenditures, but also in tax expenditures.

There’s no appetite for raising taxes, she said. She noted that the 2010 Commission has recommended raising taxes instead of cutting spending.

Cobb replied that the stimulus money is misnamed, as much of the spending is not stimulative. It simply replaced existing state spending and delayed some tough political decisions. Spending is the real problem, he said, noting that if spending had increased at just the rate of population growth plus inflation over the last six or seven years, Kansas would have perhaps $500 million in the bank now.

Wagnon referred to the large number of governmental bodies in Kansas, saying that we may not be able to afford small school districts and the large number of county governments.

Goter asked “Have we gone too far with tax exemptions?”

Wagnon referred to these as tax expenditures. She said there’s a report on the Kansas Revenue Department website that details the cost of these. We should look at the cost of these expenditures, she said. The effectiveness of economic development tools should be looked at, and we’re giving away more than we need to in order to attract jobs.

Wagnon said we’ve phased out the estate and franchise tax, and we need these revenues. She also mentioned the giveaways of employee withholding tax that Kansas has granted, where a company gets to use its employee tax contributions to repay economic development incentives. “What’s the value of a job, then, at that point?” People go after tax expenditures because they’re confidential and easier to get than going through the appropriations process, she said.

Cobb said he agrees with some of the problems with these exemptions, although they’re not really expenditures, as the money belongs to the people to begin with. A better policy is lower tax rates for everyone with fewer exemptions. Corporate welfare does not grow a state’s economy, he added. Government is not equipped to pick winners and losers in the economy. Companies make location decisions based on labor force, tax rates, and markets, with incentives viewed simply as gravy.

Analysis

One of the most important lessons to take from this debate is to realize that the attitude commonly held by government officials such as Joan Wagnon is that taxes belong to the government first. Government, according to many officials, has a legitimate claim on the income and property of citizens, and if a reduction is given, it’s considered a cost to government. This is why Wagnon called them “tax expenditures.” This is the attitude of our former governor. The Kansas school spending lobby feels the same way, too.

To learn more about the “seen and unseen” that Cobb referred to, read this excerpt from Economics in One Lesson, in which Hazlitt explains the fallacy of the broken window.

Kansas Senator Chris Steineger has introduced legislation to reduce the number of counties in Kansas, as reported in Steineger introduces Kansas county consolidation bill.

A report by the Kansas Division of Legislative Post Audit on the effectiveness of $1.3 billion spent by Kansas on economic development incentives is at Determining the Amounts the State Has Spent on Economic Development Programs and the Economic Impacts on Kansas Counties. Reporting from the Lawrence Journal-World is at Effect of economic spending in doubt. Readers of this site know that the effectiveness of economic development efforts by government is one of the issues I feel most strongly about. My recent testimony on this matter to the Wichita City Council is at Wichita universal tax exemption could propel growth.

Steineger responds to critics. They’re not persuaded.

Kansas State Senator Chris Steineger, a Democrat from Kansas City, has reached out to the “other side” several times this year. He spoke at Americans For Prosperity’s Defending the American Dream Summit in Wichita in January (see Kansas Senator Chris Steineger on Redesigning Kansas Government.). On April 15, he spoke at the tea party protest in Overland Park.

Kansas blogger Jason Croucher in his Kansas Jackass post KS-Gov: Chris Steineger Takes in a Tea Party, mildly criticized Steineger for his tea party appearance. The comments left to this post, however, were vicious.

Today Croucher publishes a message from Steineger in the post Steineger Addresses Concerns Over Tea Part [sic] Attendance. The senator might as well stop trying to reason with the rabid leftists who leave most of the comments on the Kansas Jackass blog. They weren’t persuaded.

Here’s a comment that provides a sampling of the sentiment: “My understanding is he spends most of the time going after government spending, particularly the Statehouse renovations. I’m not sure how that builds the Democratic party.” At least this person is honest in recognizing the role that government spending plays for Democrats.

As it happened, Senator Steineger had invited me to breakfast last Friday. He’s a reasonable person, I found, and we had agreement on some issues. I appreciate his efforts to reform Kansas government by reducing the number of counties and legislators, which I had written about in the posts Kansas Senator Chris Steineger on Redesigning Kansas Government and Redesigning Kansas County Government: Follow-up.

Steineger has publicly expressed his interest in being appointed lieutenant governor. Mark Parkinson would do Kansas a favor by selecting him.

Steineger introduces Kansas county consolidation bill

Kansas Senator Chris Steineger, Democrat from Kansas City, has introduced a bill whose aim is to reduce the number of counties in Kansas. The bill is Senate Bill 198. It’s pretty short to read at just two pages, part of that being the list of counties to be merged.

I’ve covered this idea in earlier posts based on listening to Sen. Steinger speak in public, and in private. See Kansas Senator Chris Steineger on Redesigning Kansas Government and Redesigning Kansas County Government: Follow-up.

Sen. Steineger also had an op-ed piece in the Wichita Eagle at Sen. Chris Steineger: Modernize Government. The Lawrence Journal-World has an Associated Press piece at Kansas legislator wants to consider drastically reducing number of counties. The Hutchinson News reports on this and has reader comments in Kansas too bountiful in number of counties?

When I heard Sen. Steineger talk about this, my thinking went along the line that two counties would merge into one. But it turns my thinking was too constrained. Steineger’s bill proposes merging 105 Kansas counties into 13. For example, Sedgwick, Butler, Sumner, and Cowley counties would be merged into one new county. (The list of counties to merge is in the text of the bill.)

Reporting in the Pittsburg Morning Sun reveals that southeast Kansas legislators are not keen on the idea of county consolidation, or on the reduction of their numbers (a related concern of Steineger’s). See
Legislators sound off on idea to consolidate
.

Comments left at the Journal-World article show mixed support and ridicule of the idea. But some of the detractors, I believe, are not thinking of the dynamic changes that would take place.

For example, one comment says “You would end up with the situation where in a ‘populous’ new county it would take days to get access to any service even as simple as a marriage license.” Evidently this comment-writer believes that staffing levels would not be adjusted to match the number of people in these new counties.

Another writer says “I also have the feeling that many small towns would lose economically by having the county seat taken away from them.” Related to this is the comment “Sure it might cut taxes, but what happens to all of those county jobs?” I imagine that some present county seats would suffer some if they were no longer the seat. These losses might come in the form of reduced employment if county offices are no longer in the town. If you believe that local government is a jobs program, that is a loss. But government jobs come at a price — taxation. If there are fewer government employees, that leaves more money in the pockets of taxpayers, and they will be able to spend it on other, more productive, uses. This leads to other jobs being created. But they’re not government jobs, which is a bad thing to some people.

Another comment: “You think people want to spend a whole day driving to the courthouse 100 miles away to go handle thier [sic] business?” If courthouses are farther away than they are now, people will need to adjust. That might be difficult for some. Just last week I was talking to someone who complained about having to go through security at Wichita city hall (not a county office, I realize) in order to pay their water bill. Someone else remarked that there are many ways to pay a water bill besides going to city hall — mail, Internet, drop-off boxes at the grocery store, etc. But this person said they didn’t trust the system, and they wanted a receipt. With the government office being potentially a two-hour drive, will people change their ways and do more business by mail, telephone, or Internet?

Redesigning Kansas County Government: Follow-up

Last week I reported on a talk that Kansas Senator Kansas Senator Chris Steineger, Democrat from Kansas City, delivered to some 300 citizens at Americans For Prosperity‘s Defending the American Dream Summit in Wichita.

One of the things Steineger believes is that Kansas has too many counties, a legacy from the days of travel to the county seat by horseback. So I got to thinking about the consolidation of two counties into one and some of the issues that would be involved.

In a follow-up call with the senator, he mentioned that even ten to 12 counties could join together to form one new county. How would we decide how to form these new counties? Where would the county seat be? Steineger’s answer is to form new counties based around economic development engines.

He also said that several factors are coming into play that make the redesign of the county map in Kansas more likely: First, the state is eliminating state revenue sharing with counties. Second, the state is eliminating legislative barriers to consolidation.

There’s no central place in the legislature focused on county redesign in Kansas, Steineger added. If citizens are interested in seeing this idea proceed, they should talk to their house or senate member.

As the senator said in his talk to the AFP summit, there is a window of time when the legislature and the people of Kansas are more receptive to these types of reform. That is during times of stress like we are experiencing now. Once times are better, people will be less responsive.

Kansas Senator Chris Steineger on Redesigning Kansas Government

On January 10, 2009, Kansas Senator Chris Steineger, Democrat from Kansas City, spoke to some 300 citizens at Americans For Prosperity‘s Defending the American Dream Summit in Wichita.

Steineger said that we should look at the current budget crisis in Kansas as an opportunity to redesign and reinvent Kansas government.

He asked “why do we have 105 counties?” The answer is that made Kansas counties small enough that everyone could have a one-day horseback ride — the mode of travel in 1861 when Kansas was formed — to the county seat. But today, we have cars, highways, telephones, cell phones, airplanes — a lot of things have changed. But we still have the same administrative structure.

Businesses change their products and management structure to adapt to the times, he said. Government should do the same thing.

Based on his 13 years in the Kansas Senate, Steineger said he’s learned that government doesn’t change itself a whole lot. “We don’t change the underlying design structure, the underlying management structure, the underlying administrative structure. We still have 105 counties, and that was based on horseback riding.”

Steineger told of how in his home county (Wyandotte County), the county and the city of Kansas City formed a unified government. It hasn’t saved much money, he said, but government has become much more effective. Consolidation can work.

He went on to say that we could also downsize the Kansas legislature. Kansas has 40 senators and 125 representatives. “We really don’t need that many people to make decisions in Topeka.”

Summing up, he said that we should consider reducing the number of counties and downsize the legislature. There is a window of opportunity of about two years to make these changes. After this, revenue will probably start flowing in again, and people won’t want to change.

Americans for Prosperity — Kansas to hold second Defending the American Dream Summit

Event to kick off 2009 Kansas Legislative Session

TOPEKA — The free-market grassroots group Americans for Prosperity-Kansas will hold its second statewide Defending the American Dream Summit in Wichita Saturday, January 10, 2009, just two days prior to the start of the 2009 Kansas Legislature.

“This event will serve as a kick-off for the new legislative session,” said Americans for Prosperity-Kansas state director Derrick Sontag. “Going into the 2009 Legislature, we see an opportunity to help change the way elected officials seem to view their obligations to taxpayers, and how our state budgets its funds.”

The event, held at the Beech Activity Center in Wichita, will focus on state spending, tax policy and grassroots activism. Confirmed speakers include National Review Online editor and “Liberal Fascism” author Jonah Goldberg; The Wall Street Journal’s Stephen Moore; author Dr. Gregory Schneider; incoming Kansas House Speaker Mike O’Neal and others, including state senators Susan Wagle (R-Wichita) and Chris Steineger (D-Kansas City). The group will also hear from other elected officials as well as local grassroots activists.

“We hope to show legislators and elected officials that their constituents will be paying attention to what happens in Topeka during the next few months,” said Sontag. “And we certainly will encourage legislators to focus on reducing spending where appropriate, rather than asking Kansas taxpayers to carry the burden.”

For more information, call Jen Rezac at 785-354-4237.

To register to attend the summit, visit defendingthedream.org/KS/.

Wasteful Kansas statehousesSpending

Wasteful Statehouse Spending
By Karl Peterjohn, Executive Director, Kansas Taxpayers Network

Wasteful spending at the Kansas statehouse is nothing new. What is new is the wasteful spending on the Kansas statehouse. This building still has the ugly look of a construction site with a soaring price tag. In 2007 a bipartisan group of legislative moderates are intent on continuing this unlimited statehouse spending spree.

When the legislature enacted SB 660 in 2000 authorizing $40 million in bond funding for the statehouse remodel that did not seem too terribly out of line. That had followed six figure appropriations for remodeling the legislative chambers that had started the remodeling process at the statehouse. There are just over 317,000 square feet in the Kansas statehouse. That means the initial cost of $126 per square foot is not out of line with new commercial or residential construction costs.

What a difference a few years make. The statehouse remains disheveled with parts of the building closed off, a few areas completed, other untouched, and a final price tag that is nowhere to be found. Supposedly, three of the five phases of this remodeling project have been finished but the final result is still at least four years away.

The price tag for the three phases is currently estimated at $175 million (or about $550 per square foot with lots of feet remaining to be remodeled) and might even top $300 million. The age and condition of the building is the excuse for the growing cost overruns in the mainstream press reports.

During the budget debate in the 2007 legislature Sen. Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler, proposed an amendment requiring the Department of Administration to prepare a report on the costs of the capitol renovation project as part of the budget bill debate. This idea was rejected on a 17-19 vote with prominent “moderates” including the legislative leadership of both parties in the senate opposing this effort at fiscal accountability. In Kansas “moderates” are spelled “l-i-b-e-r-a-l”.

Psst. That’s a statehouse secret you aren’t authorized to know.

An unsuccessful effort to have legislative post audit examine state house spending was made by Rep. Peggy Mast, R-Hamilton, and Sen. Chris Steineger, D-Kansas City, during this session. A number of legislators are justifiably nervous over the soaring costs since there are a limited number of improvements that are visible in the few areas that are finished with an already soaring bill for taxpayers.

Other states that have faced old statehouse buildings have made a number of changes. Missouri has been through six statehouses in its 186 years as a state. In Florida a brand new statehouse is located near the old, historic statehouse in Tallahassee. Arkansas also has two statehouses. Kansans are grossly overspending and will only have a single remodeled statehouse to show for spending that could easily top $300 million by the time the remodeling is completed sometime in the next decade. We could have had a brand new and larger building at a fraction of what this remodel is costing.

The total cost is now rapidly approaching $1,000 per square foot and this figure should alarm Kansans. Sen. Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler, said, “The cost for this project is soaring.” He also warned taxpayers, “You can’t go over budget if you have no budget.”

When state’s General Fund budget is growing 10.4% next year and topping $6 billion for the first time next year, when an activist Kansas Supreme Court orders a complacent majority of legislators and a compliant governor into an $850 million school spending spree that started a couple of years ago, what’s the big deal over a few hundred million for the statehouse remodel?

Would you spend close somewhere between $500 to a $1,000 per square foot in building your business or home? Hey, it’s only your tax dollars. And there are several other state office buildings across the street from the statehouse that are now being prepared for remodeling once the statehouse work gets finished.