Tag Archives: Susan Wagle


He didn’t participate

Wichita Eagle Opinion Line, November 24, 2017: “The kindest word that can be ascribed to State Senator Susan Wagle, when she criticizes the Kansas Supreme Court? Disingenuous. She never mentions Brownback appointee, Justice Caleb Stegall; he has repeatedly agreed with his colleagues on school finance.”

The likely reason Senator Wagle doesn’t mention Justice Stegall when criticizing the Court on school finance matters is that he, along with another judge, hasn’t participated. The recent opinions are signed “BEIER and STEGALL, JJ., not participating. MICHAEL J. MALONE and DAVID L. STUTZMAN, Senior Judges, assigned.” Why? “Justices Carol Beier and Caleb Stegall have both recused themselves from the Gannon case — Stegall because he served as Brownback’s chief counsel before he was appointed to the Kansas Court of Appeals in 2014; Beier did not provide a reason for her recusal.” See Kansas Supreme Court rejects lawmakers’ school finance changes, threatens in new ruling to close schools.

Quality of life, or a boatload of cash

Ron Sylvester in The Hutchinson News: “It’s all about quality of life. [Wichita Mayor Jeff] Longwell said Wichita drew Cargill and its $60 million investment downtown by investing in its arts community, parks, trails and a new library. Businesses move to town, not because of tax breaks and cash incentives, Longwell said, but because the people who work for those companies want to live there.”

First, Wichita didn’t draw Cargill downtown. It was already located in downtown Wichita. Wichita merely retained Cargill. No new jobs are anticipated.

As to the role of quality of life: Possibly that was a factor. More likely? The millions in subsidy Cargill will receive. Cargill tapped pretty much every economic development incentive program it could, along with a few innovative additions, such as renting its parking garage to the city during the times Cargill doesn’t need it.vSee More Cargill incentives from Wichita detailed.

Let’s ask the mayor this question: If tax breaks and cash incentives were not needed, why did the city (and the state) award so much in incentives?

Who oversaw Wichita schools when this happened?

Teachers ‘fearful’ about escalating violence at Southeast High (Wichita Eagle, December 1, 2017): Some employees at Southeast High School in Wichita say they have ‘grave concerns’ about escalating violence and unruly behavior at the school, and they’re urging leaders to take ‘decisive and strong actions’ to combat it.” This continues a theme from this summer, as further reported in Behavior is getting worse in Wichita classrooms, data shows. (Wichita Eagle, June 16, 2017): “Discipline problems have increased substantially in Wichita schools over the past four years, particularly among the district’s youngest students, according to data obtained by The Eagle. The situation is frustrating teachers, prompting some of them to leave the profession, and has inspired a new program aimed at teaching elementary school students how to pay attention, follow directions and control their emotions.”

I was surprised to learn of these problems that have been developing in the Wichita Public Schools. That’s because John Allison, the immediate past superintendent, was universally praised by the school board and district administration. Allison left at the end of June after serving eight years to become superintendent in Olathe. Hopefully that district will not experience the erosion in discipline that Allison presided over in Wichita.

Amtrak affordable for whom?

Wichita Eagle Opinion Line, December 3, 2017: “How I long for affordable rail service connecting Wichita to major cities. Traveling to family for the holiday reminds me of how sad it is to live in such a remote, isolated, inaccessible place as Wichita.” Inaccessible? We were told that subsidies to discount airlines and a new airport terminal would fix that. Then, the only reason Amtrak is affordable is that taxpayers pay a lot to keep Amtrak running. (That’s if Amtrak prices are really affordable. I just compared a few Amtrak trips with airline trips, and airfares aren’t much more, and offer many more options as to time. And if you value your time, there is no better way to waste it than on a train.) Other forms of travel receive subsidy too, but peanuts compared to Amtrak. From Randal O’Toole, Stopping the Runaway Train: The Case for Privatizing Amtrak:

According to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics, after adjusting for inflation to 2011 dollars, subsidies to domestic air travel averaged about $14 billion a year between 1995 and 2007. Considering that the airlines carried an average of more than 500 billion passenger miles a year during those years, average subsidies work out to about 2.8 cents per passenger mile (see Figure 2).

Using Bureau of Transportation Statistics’ numbers, highway subsidies over the same time period averaged about $48 billion a year. Highways carried about 4.1 trillion passenger miles per year, for an average subsidy of 1.1 cents per passenger mile. While 95 percent of the airline subsidies came from the federal government, all of the highway subsidies came from state and local governments.

By comparison, federal Amtrak subsidies over the same time period averaged 25 cents per passenger mile. State subsidies averaged another 2.8 cents. Per-passenger-mile subsidies to Amtrak were nearly 9 times subsidies to air travel and nearly 22 times subsidies to highway travel.

Airline, Highway, and Amtrak Subsidies per Passenger Mile, Cato Institute, 2012

Say no to Kansas taxpayer-funded campaigning

Kansas taxpayers should know their tax dollars are helping staff campaigns for political office.

As reported by the Wichita Eagle, it is perfectly allowable for some Kansas state government employees to work on political campaigns.1

Can you spot the taxpayer-paid state employees on the campaign trail? The Wichita Eagle says there are two. (Click for larger)
Can you spot the taxpayer-paid state employees on the campaign trail? The Wichita Eagle says there are two. (Click for larger)
Not all Kansas state government employees can work on campaigns while being paid by taxpayers. Only personal staff members of elected officials can. But this can be quite a large number of people. The Eagle reports that Governor Sam Brownback has 21 personal staff members.

It’s not only the governor that has taxpayer-paid employees on the campaign trail. The Eagle also reports that a member of Senate President Susan Wagle‘s office has been on the campaign trail.

That senate employee, along with an employee of the governor’s office, were spotted campaigning for Gene Suellentrop. His Facebook page seemed pleased with their participation, again according to Eagle reporting:

Rep. Gene Suellentrop, R-Wichita, who is seeking the vacant seat in Senate District 27, posted a photo of himself and 10 campaign door walkers on Facebook last month with a message saying, “The Suellentrop for Senate crew! Coming soon to your door step.”

The photo, posted on June 14, a Tuesday, includes Ashley Moretti, a member of Brownback’s staff, and Eric Turek, who works for Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita.

“Those two showed up late that afternoon on their own, I have not requested any help from any leadership,” Suellentrop said in an e-mail. “They were sure happy to get into a picture of our winning campaign.”

The first question the taxpayers of Kansas ought to ask is this: If these taxpayer-paid staff members have time to work on political campaigns, who is doing the work of the people of Kansas in their absence? What tasks are postponed so that these staff members can work on campaigns?

The answer to this question, I’m afraid, is that there are too many staff members.

The second question we should ask is this: Why is this practice allowed? There is a ruling from the ethics commission that allows this use of personal staff. Which leads to the third question: Why hasn’t the legislature passed a law to prohibit this practice?

The answer to that last question, I’m afraid, is that the ruling class protects its own. For example, there is an organization known as the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Its job is to re-elect Republican senate incumbents. It doesn’t say this, but that is what it does. This is representative of the attitude of the political class. Once most officeholders have been in office a few years, they comfortably transition to the political class. Thereafter, their most important job is their re-election campaign, followed closely by the campaigns of their cronies.

This is why you see Brownback and Wagle lending taxpayer-funded staff to the Suellentrop campaign. Should he be elected to the Kansas Senate, well, how can’t he be grateful?

Here’s what needs to happen.

First, this process must stop. Even though it is allowable, it is not right. We need leaders that recognize this. (Both Republicans and Democrats are guilty.)

Second. The trio of Suellentrop, Brownback, and Wagle need to reimburse Kansas taxpayers for the salaries of these staff for the time spent working on campaigns. (We should not blame the staff members. It’s the bosses and rule makers that are the problem.)

Third. Brownback and Wagle need to send staff to work for Suellentrop’s Republican challenger to the same degree they worked on the Suellentrop campaign. Either that, or make a contribution of the same value of the campaign services these taxpayer-funded Kansas state government workers supplied. Any other candidate in a similar situation — that of having taxpayer funds used to campaign against them — should receive the same compensation.

Now, some may be wondering how is this different from the governor endorsing senate candidates in 2012. It’s one matter for an officeholder to endorse a candidate. It’s an entirely different matter to send taxpayer-paid staff to work on campaigns. I hope that didn’t happen in 2012.

Fourth. Apologies to Kansas taxpayers are in order, as is a quick legislative fix. And, a reduction in personal staff members, as — obviously — there are too many.

Finally, thanks to the Eagle’s Bryan Lowry for this reporting.


  1. Lowry, Bryan. Taxpayer-funded campaign staff can knock at Kansans’ doors. Wichita Eagle, July 17, 2016. Available at www.kansas.com/news/politics-government/election/article90179637.html.

Reaction to Kansas school lawsuit decision

Following are several reactions to the decision in Gannon vs. Kansas, the school funding lawsuit. The court ruled the state must spend more on schools.

An important observation on the true size of the court-ordered tax increase was offered by Kansas Policy Institute:

“Today’s mandate of a $654 Base State Aid Per-Pupil (BSAPP) increase forces the state to raise annual spending and taxes by $440 million and, because of the way the Local Option Budget is written, local property taxes will automatically increase by $154 million. In total, the Shawnee District Court would take an additional $594 million out of the Kansas economy every year.”

See KPI on Gannon: Extremely Unfortunate $600 Million Annual Tax Hike more, including:

“It is extremely unfortunate for citizens of Kansas that the court has effectively ordered an annual $594 million tax hike. This is even more shocking given that there is no evidence that the billions in increased spending have raised student achievement on independent national exams. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), less than half of Kansas’ 4th and 8th grade students are proficient in math and only about one third are proficient in reading – this is essentially unchanged over the past decade despite billions in increased taxpayer support.

“It costs a lot of money to operate our schools, but its how the money is spent that matters, not simply how much. Just this week, Education Week gave Kansas a D+ for student achievement; among other things, this was a result of low rankings for achievement gains and that we are below the national average for gains in each subject and grade level. They also pointed out that per-pupil spending in Kansas is above the national average and that State expenditures on K-12 schooling, as a percent of state taxable resources, are the 12th highest in the nation.

Kansas Governor Sam Brownback issued this statement:

“The ruling by the district court is disappointing but not unexpected given the Kansas Supreme Court’s previous ruling in the Montoy case in 2005. Through today’s ruling, the courts are drastically increasing the property tax burden on every Kansan. The Kansas Legislature, not the courts, has the power of the purse and has, in fact, increased total state funding for schools every year during my administration. The legislative process is the appropriate venue for debating and resolving issues of taxation and spending.”

From Senate President Susan Wagle:

“Once again, Kansas judges have overstepped their constitutional bounds and defied the will of Kansas voters and their elected representatives and senators. With today’s decision, this judicial panel ignored the system of checks and balances that every Kansas student is taught in school and decided that they alone, not the people via the legislature, would determine how the people’s money should be spent, by imposing a specific dollar amount that Kansas must spend for education.

“These judges have made themselves the sole arbiters of spending — and by extension, taxation — in Kansas. They have demonstrated no regard for the ability of struggling Kansas families to pay higher taxes, if necessary, to meet their demands. This also disregards the will of Kansas voters, who overwhelmingly elected a House and Senate that supports the existing school funding policy — one that maintains educational quality while also being sensitive to the very real difficulties being faced by Kansas taxpayers.

“I am committed to upholding the will of the majority of Kansans who want their elected leaders to maintain high-quality public education. I am committed to restoring to Kansas the fundamental American principle that only the elected representatives of the people of Kansas — accountable to them at the ballot box — may enact laws regarding spending and taxation.”

In a press release titled “District Court decision supports a quality education” Kansas National Education Association (KNEA), our state’s teachers union said:

Once again a Kansas Court has found that the Legislature has failed to fully fund an appropriate public education for Kansas students. …

As to the issue of property taxes, this decision has no effect on property taxes whatsoever. Whether or not property taxes increase will be a matter of how the Legislature decides to react. Since the Legislature last year chose to enact massive cuts to the state income tax, they will need to look to some tax source to overcome first the shortfall of nearly $300 million created by the tax cut and then the projected $440 million necessary to fund the school finance formula. If property taxes go up, the decision will rest entirely with the Legislature. There are many options available to them; they have so far chosen to use scare tactics in reaction to being held accountable.

There is no greater economic development tool than a well-trained, well-educated citizenry. Kansas has long delivered on that promise. This ruling reasserts the State’s commitment to the children, families, and businesses of Kansas.

USD 259, the Wichita public school district:

The District Court of Kansas issued its opinion on the school finance lawsuit on January 11. The ruling, which is in excess of 250 pages, requires adequate funding for schools. The court ordered that the base state aid per pupil should be funded at $4,492, up from $3,838. If funded, the base increase would restore most of the cuts the district has made since 2009. The increase could be at least $45 million. To read the ruling, click here. To watch BOE President Lynn Rogers’ news conference about the opinion, click here.

“This is a win for Kansas students,” said BOE President Lynn Rogers. “The lawsuit is about our children and the Kansas of tomorrow, so we can prepare Wichita students for the high-wage, high skill jobs of the future.”

BOE President Rogers said that the lawsuit was about adequate funding for all Kansas students and that they deserve a quality education regardless of where they live in the state. He also said it is about creating a highly-skilled workforce for the future, which starts with students receiving a quality education.”

“The education we provide is the foundation for our workforce and the future of Kansas. If we don’t give our students a quality education now, we will pay for it in the future,” he added.

The school districts involved in the lawsuit represent about one-third of the students across the state.

President Lynn Rogers said that school districts must collaborate with the Kansas State Legislature to work towards school funding solutions.

Pachyderm speaker lineup announced

The Wichita Pachyderm Club has announced its speaker lineup for the next four weeks.

October 12, 2012: Kansas Governor Sam Brownback, speaking on “Economic Growth and Tax Policy”

October 19, 2012: A panel discussion of the fluoridation issue, which will appear on the November 6 ballot for Wichita residents. Speakers will include Dr. Stephen C. L’Hommedieu and Don Landis, spokespersons for Wichitans Opposed to Fluoridation. The club is still seeking someone to appear for the pro-fluoridation side.

October 26, 2012: Republican General Election Candidates Leslie D. “Les” Donovan (Kansas Senate District 27), Mike Peterson (tentative, Kansas Senate District 28), Susan Wagle (Kansas Senate District 30), and Emanuel Banks (Kansas House District 89).

November 2, 2012: Ken Ciboski, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Political Science at Wichita State University, speaking on “The Electoral College: Is it relevant for today’s presidential elections?”

The public is welcome and encouraged to attend Wichita Pachyderm Club meetings. Meetings are held almost every Friday at noon in the Wichita Petroleum Club on the top floor of the Bank of America Building at 100 N. Broadway. The meeting costs $10, which includes a delicious buffet lunch and beverage. For more information click on Wichita Pachyderm Club.

Sedgwick County voter registration changes: Impact on senate races

During the Kansas primary election season, there have been efforts to recruit Democratic party voters to change their voter registration to Republican in order to participate in Republican party primary races. Kansas National Education Association (KNEA) has asked teachers union members to switch their voter registration in order to vote in Republican primaries. KNEA has asked this on its website and in an email that has received widespread attention.

Former Wichita Mayor Elma Broadfoot has recorded telephone calls urging Democrats to switch party registration so they may vote for moderate Republicans, reports the Wichita Eagle.

Whether this effort will be successful is unknown. But we now know, for Sedgwick County, how many people have changed their voter registration to Republican in recent months.

I took a Sedgwick County voter file obtained in May and compared it to one current as of Friday, which is after the deadline for changing voter registration. In the accompanying table, I counted voters who switched to Republican registration from some other party. I grouped the data by Kansas Senate district, as this is where much of the focus has been. I also present totals for Sedgwick County, as some county-wide races may also be impacted.

Voter registration party changes in Sedgwick County

It’s important to remember that some of these senate districts are not totally within Sedgwick County, and this table includes only Sedgwick County voters. Districts 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, and 30 are entirely within the county, and all voters in these districts are represented in the table.

Numbers in context

Now that we know the number of voters who switched to Republican registration, are these numbers large enough to affect any races? The answer is we simply don’t know. We don’t know why these voters switched to Republican registration. Their motive may be to vote for the moderate candidate, but there could be other reasons, too.

To place these numbers in context, consider the race for senate district 25, which pits incumbent Jean Schodorf against Wichita City Council Member Michael O’Donnell. In this district, 230 voters switched to Republican registration.

In the 2008 primary, 2,435 people voted for Schodorf, but there was no opponent. About 4,000 voted for Les Donovan in his primary, and about the same for Susan Wagle in her district, but again these races were uncontested. In the 2008 general election, 16,016 voted for Schodorf over 9,530 cast for her opponent, for a total of 25,546 votes cast, plus a few write-ins. But general elections, by their nature, have a much higher turnout than primaries.

A better election to compare is the 2004 Republican primary for senate district 30 in east Wichita, when former Wichita Mayor Bob Knight challenged incumbent Susan Wagle in a race that received much attention. Knight received 3,140 votes to Wagle’s 5,624, for a total of 8,764 votes cast.

230 voters switching registration out of a potential vote total of 8,764 is 2.6 percent. Many races are decided by less than that margin. But again, we don’t know the intent of these 230 voters, and while these voters are probably more motivated than most, some may not vote.

We should also note that district 27 had 223 voters switch to Republican affiliation during the same period. Incumbent Les Donovan has no primary opponent. He will face a Democrat in the general election, but party registration doesn’t matter at that time. In district 30, 160 voters switched to Republican registration. Incumbent Susan Wagle has no primary opponent.

It’s also noteworthy that switching to Republican registration is not the only action I observed. For example, in District 25, while 230 voters switched to Republican, 51 Democratic voters switched to Unaffiliated registration, 42 Republicans switched to Unaffiliated, and seven voters became Libertarian party voters. On election day Unaffiliated voters can switch their registration to Republican and vote in the primary.

Finally, there are new voters of all parties, including Republican. The analysis above counts only voters who changed party registration to Republican.

Overall, 2,001 voters in Sedgwick County switched party registration during this two-month period, with 1,126 switching to Republican.

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 Bioscience Authority

The release of a forensics audit of the Kansas Bioscience Authority coupled with two days of joint committee hearings revealed an independent government agency out of control, an audit that draws conclusions described as sanitized of important details, and an agency and legislative supporters who believe that now, all is well at the KBA.

Defenders and supporters of KBA rely on two facts: First, the source of many problems — former CEO Tom Thornton — is no longer at KBA. He has been criticized for overspending and his managerial style, and the audit found that he deliberately deleted and scrubbed data from his personal laptop computer. Data is also missing from a protected section of a KBA server.

Second, the audit finds no major problems with KBA’s board of directors or its business policies, procedures, and controls.

Regarding Thornton, Kansas Secretary of Agriculture Dale A. Rodman, who oversaw the audit process on behalf of the Brownback Administration, was strongly critical of the KBA board’s oversight of Thornton. He told a joint committee that the KBA board had not done its job, and that a “golden opportunity” for Kansas has been lost.

As to policies and practices, it is apparent that the KBA board violated a Kansas statute governing the KBA that covers conflicts of interest and board members receiving financial benefits on behalf of companies they have ownership interests in. The audit, many times, says that board members may resolve a conflict of interest by disclosure and not voting.

But the case of KBA board member Bill Sanford is an example to the contrary. Rodman said that a company he partly owns received KBA grants totaling $674,996. There appear to be many similar examples involving other KBA personnel and companies.

These facts stand in contrast to conclusions drawn in the audit, which was conducted by BKD, LLP Forensics and Valuation Services on behalf of the KBA, although the Brownback administration, through Rodman, had some oversight. Senate Commerce Committee Chair Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican who has been at the forefront of the KBA issue, has repeatedly described the audit’s conclusions as “sanitized.” I agree.

Rodman, in his testimony, revealed a troubling attitude towards ethics that we often see in Kansas. He told the committee that former Governor John Carlin told him that KBA could not do business in Kansas with strict ethic rules because everyone in Kansas knows each other. And last year Carlin, as chairman of the board of KBA, appeared before a Senate committee to give a strong defense of CEO Thornton.

Now we know differently. But Carlin — defender of Thornton, who is now widely recognized as a “bad apple” — still serves on the KBA board. The fact that there has been little turnover in the composition of the KBA board reveals that the board, along with KBA’s supporters, believe that little is left to be fixed, now that Thornton has left the building.

Kansans deserve something better, however. If KBA is to continue, all board members should resign, and immediately.

The audit and committee testimony also uncovered troubling facts about the performance of KBA in creating jobs. If we take away KBA’s largest success story, which accounts for half or more of the jobs KBA claims to be responsible for creating and which cost a small amount of KBA funds, we are left with the realization that the other jobs KBA created cost over $700,000 each.

KBA defends itself by noting that it focuses on long-term nurturing of the bioscience industry in Kansas, and less on creating jobs in the near term. Long-term goals, however, are not the forte of government, and that may be why KBA was created as an independent agency with its own revenue stream not subject to annual legislative or executive branch appropriations.

But that leads to another problem: Arrogance and indomitability. That is much in evidence at KBA. Furthermore, we can’t really say that KBA “invests,” as it is not subject to the same constraints that govern when businesses or individuals invest. These private actors can’t conscript their capital from the people of Kansas, as does KBA. Neither does KBA have to accept responsibility for losses.

It would not be surprising to see legislation emerge to provide legislative or executive branch oversight and control over KBA. While that may improve KBA, we will still be left with the issue of the incompatible roles of government and private sector.

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 senate debate centers on free speech, transparency

This afternoon the Kansas Senate debated for about 90 minutes on an amendment that would require more disclosure for “issue ads” or communications in favor of candidates by third parties.

Senator Terrie Huntington, a Republican from Fairway, introduced the amendment to Senate Substitute for HB 2079. Its language, apparently identical to Senate Bill 418, states: “Any person who spends or contracts to spend an amount of $500 or more per calendar year for any electioneering communication” must file reports that disclose the identity of the donor and the amount of the contribution.

At one point in the debate, Senator Terry Bruce, a Hutchinson Republican, asked Huntington why it is the government’s business who makes a contribution? Huntington replied the she didn’t know why the government has campaign finance laws, except that she has to file reports of her contributors.

Bruce also objected to what he called “loose language” in the bill. Several times he asked about the use of the word “specifically,” saying that the bill was vague in who would be required to disclose contributions. He suggested that churches might have to disclose their donors if this amendment becomes law.

Senator Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat who is the long-time minority leader of the Senate, said that this amendment applies only to those who contribute over $500 for the purpose of electioneering communication. He added that this type of communication does not include communications made by membership organizations solely to their members. That would not be covered by this amendment, he said.

Senator Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican, made a case for anonymous free speech based on the Constitution. People should be allowed to state an opinion, she said. She referred to a series of “Snoop dog” ads used in recent elections that were, she said, traced back to abortion doctor Dr. George Tiller of Wichita. Noting that Tiller was murdered last year, she said “somebody got upset, and he was murdered. And that’s why we protect free speech, and that’s why we allow for anonymous free speech.”

Senator Tim Huelskamp, a Republican from Fowler in southwest Kansas, raised the issue of how this amendment would affect unions and their communications. Huntington said that unions are not formed for the express purpose of campaign electioneering.

Hensley said that unions typically form political action committees, which must disclose their contributors. If they don’t do that, they are treated the same as corporations.

Huelskamp raised the question what if an organization sends out a communication to their members, but someone else — not a member — inadvertently receives the communication? This is important, as the language of the amendment says that communication solely to members is not covered. Huntington did not seem to have a satisfactory answer to this.

What about editorials, Huelskamp asked? Huntington said that editorials printed in newspapers not controlled by the candidate are not covered by the proposed amendment. Huntington said that newspaper editorials are not written for the purposes of electioneering, which Huelskamp disputed, noting that editorialists “write all the time trying to influence elections.” He recognized the concern that some have for the wealthy influencing elections, and that some own newspapers and other outlets. Why do they get to editorialize and send out their opinions?

Huntington noted that newspapers are covered under the freedom of the press guaranteed in the Constitution, and that we all know who owns the newspaper. Huelskamp said that ownership is not necessarily known in all cases. He asked about the distinction between an individual buying an ad in the newspaper versus an editorial writer saying the same thing. Would the ad buyer be subject to disclosure, but not the editorial writer? What is the reason for the distinction, he asked?

Huntington replied that editorials are not included in the definition of electioneering communications in this amendment. Huelskamp pressed for the reason why this is so. Huntington replied that these do not expressly advocate for or against a particular candidate, so they were not included in the definition of electioneering communication.

Huelskamp noted that express advocacy is the whole purpose of this amendment, so why are these exemptions in the amendment? Huntington was not able to give a specific answer.

Huelskamp said that this amendment would create a situation where a newspaper editorial writer could write something, and then a private citizen could pay for an ad with the exact same language, and the citizen — not the editorial writer — would be subject to election reporting requirements. Why, he asked, should those who own a newspaper have more free speech than others?

During the debate there seemed to be confusion on spending $500 or more on a communications piece versus contributing $500 or more to an organization.

Huelskamp mentioned a case in 1958 Alabama, where that state tried to determine who were members of the NAACP. The Supreme Court ruled that there is a right to anonymous groups to get together and influence the political process, he said. Legislation like the proposed amendment, he told the Senate, would have prevented the NAACP from reporting on the action of the Alabama legislature.

In closing, Huelskamp said that even ads that let citizens know what elected officials are doing are affected by laws like these. The purpose of this amendment, he said, is to limit and chill speech of those who might disagree.

Hensley said this amendment is about the peoples’ right to know. He mentioned the organization Americans for Prosperity, saying he thinks it doesn’t want people to have the right to know about their contributions and expenditures. He said that AFP is, in fact, electioneering.

Hensley contended again that all the amendment says is that if you contribute more than $500, you’re going to have to disclose. He said we know who writes newspaper editorials and letters to the editor.

Hensley mentioned an award he received from Kansas Sunshine Coalition for Open Government, and that Huelskamp was also honored as a “friend of the public’s right to know. That’s what this is all about.”

Joining the debate again, Bruce addressed the issue of whose information will be made public. He said that this amendment would require disclosure of anyone who has contributed $500 or more to an organization.

Senator Jeff Colyer delivered a short lesson on American history, telling how founding fathers such as Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and Thomas Jefferson wrote anonymously — electioneering, Colyer contended.

In a roll call vote, the amendment failed with 18 votes in favor, and 21 against.


Hensley’s accusation of Americans for Prosperity reveals the true target of this amendment. It, along with a few other organizations, are being singled out in this proposed law. These organizations are largely conservative, although those on the political left have tried to hide large political contributions, as a Kansas Meadowlark investigation revealed.

I believe that Hensley confuses government action with private action. Open records, which is an issue Huelskamp has been closely involved with, is concerned with citizens’ right to know what government is doing. This amendment addresses actions that private individuals may take. There’s a huge distinction between the two, and that’s one of the largest issues in this amendment.

In making his remarks about knowing who writes newspaper editorials and letters to the editor, Hensley may have forgotten about unsigned editorials and features like the anonymous and popular Opinion Line in the Wichita Eagle. Most newspapers also allow comments to be left to articles on their online editions, and these are almost always an anonymous form of communication and commonly used for blatant electioneering.

A problem with this amendment is that individuals may make contributions to organizations for general use, not earmarking the dollars for any specific use such as a political mailing. How would organizations decide whose contributions to disclose?

In the end, the best solution is a government so small, so limited and powerless, that it doesn’t much matter who is in charge. Then campaign finance won’t be very important.

This vote is part of the Kansas Economic Freedom Index.

Wichita school chief makes plea to Wichita-area legislators

This afternoon, Wichita school superintendent John Allison appeared before the South-central Kansas legislative delegation, explaining Kansas school finance as it applies to the Wichita school district, and offering justification for deciding to join the lawsuit demanding the state spend more on schools.

Referring to base state aid per pupil, which has been cut several times in the past year for a total of 9.5 percent (depending on who’s doing the arithmetic), Allison said that base aid is the funding with which the district funds regular education, and the represents funds with which the district has the greatest latitude. Other funds are restricted, and have fewer options.

He said that unlike many businesses, the school district hasn’t lost customers during the recession, and in fact, enrollment is high now. At the same time, production standards increase each year (due to the No Child Left Behind law), and doesn’t vary because of budgetary reasons.

Allison cited the rapid growth in math and reading scores on the Kansas assessment tests, and rising graduation rates. He said that efforts are paying dividends in achievement.

An important measure to the Wichita district, he said, is the weighting for special populations. These weightings provide additional funding over base state aid. Weighting factors include non-English speaking students, and students coming from poor families. Allison said that the wealthier districts in the eastern part of Kansas may contest these weightings, but he said there is a “marked difference” in educating in an urban situation versus a suburban situation, and this funding is important.

Allison said that making further progress “comes down to dollars.”

He said the district is pursuing efficiency measures in purchasing, including cooperation with other school districts. Storage of large quantities is sometimes a problem.

He asked that the legislature allow school districts to use a “request for proposal” procedure, instead of the current practice, where schools have to “craft a solution” before asking for bids. The selection of a vendor to install turf on Wichita school football fields last spring was an example where the RFP process was used, but found to be unlawful.

On the issue of fund balances, Allison said that almost all are restricted funds, mentioning the contingency fund as one that could be used, but the fund’s balance would not even meet district payroll for one month. The Kansas Policy Institute has produced research demonstrating that Kansas schools have $700 million in funds that could be used to make it through a tight fiscal situation, with Kansas Deputy Commissioner of Education Dale Dennis agreeing.

Regarding the board’s decision on Monday to join the attempt to reopen the Montoy case (the Kansas school funding lawsuit) in an effort to force the state to increase funding, Allison claimed the decision was not made easily. He said it is not a “sudden, magic solution” to the finance issue, and that legislators have to balance funding needs of the state, while keeping Kansas as a viable state for business growth. He mentioned examples of various units of government suing other government.

Representative Steve Huebert, a Republican from Valley Center asked questions about the wisdom of a lawsuit at this time. He said that school funding will be restored after getting people back to work and restoring our economy. Huebert asked about schools’ emphasis on cuts made to base funding from the state, which is about one-third of total school spending in the case of the Wichita district. Additionally, for the Wichita school system, with its large number of special needs students and students eligible for free and reduced weightings, about two-thirds of the total budget comes from these weightings to the base state aid, and many of these weights do not have restrictions. Talking about only the base funding, Huebert said, is very misleading.

Allison said he did not disagree, but when cuts have been made, they’ve been made to the base funding. Each time the district takes a reduction, fewer discretionary funds are available.

Allison said that there are some special education students said that cost “hundreds of thousands per year to provide what’s being required.”

Senator Susan Wagle, a Republican from east Wichita said that in order to fund Montoy it would require a very large tax increase, and asked if Allison was asking for a tax increase at a time when Kansas families and other Kansas state agencies have experienced larger cuts than schools have faced. Allison said that the question is not advocating a tax increase as much as asking what are the current revenue streams, and are “exemptions and other areas where they need to be in order to meet some of the other obligations of the state.”

Wagle said we need a “reasonable discussion about how you squeeze blood out of a turnip.” Schools are asking way too much, she said, and animosity is developing because of the decision to sue. Most people when they want funding come to the legislature, and legislators make balanced decisions and fund what they can. We cannot fund Montoy “without an extravagant tax increase,” she said.

Allison responded that the decision to sue has been made by a large number of elected officials, and “time will tell regarding animosity.” He said he hopes, from a superintendent’s perspective, that we find a way to bridge not only the current situation, but also to look at the long term.

Coverage from the Wichita Eagle’s Dion Lefler is at Legislators, Wichita superintendent clash over school funding.

Emporia’s Jim Barnett will run for Congress

Jim Barnett, a physician and Republican member of the Kansas Senate from Emporia, will join the field seeking the nomination for United States Congress from the first district of Kansas.

Barnett ran for Kansas governor in 2006 against Kathleen Sebelius. His running mate was Kansas Senator Susan Wagle of Wichita.

But when Wagle — a proven fiscal conservative — ran for president of the Kansas Senate, Barnett did not support her. In fact, sources say he encouraged others to vote against her.

So instead of a proven fiscal conservative leading the Senate, Kansas was stuck with the continued tenure of moderate Republicans: Senate President Stephen Morris, Vice President John Vratl, and Majority Leader Derek Schmidt.

This was particularly unfortunate for Kansas as this was a tough budget year. The Kansas House ended up simply concurring with the budget that the Senate produced — a budget that we now know had mistakes and omissions. Already the governor is forced to make spending decisions that should be made by the legislature.

Barnett’s lifetime rating from the Kansas Taxpayer Network’s legislative rankings is poor, meaning that he has been inclined to vote for increased taxation and spending. His message in today’s Emporia Gazette story was different, however, citing his “history of fiscal responsibility.”

He also said that “There is no doubt that government has gotten too big” and that “we need someone who’s fiscally responsible.”

Too bad he doesn’t believe that as a member of the Kansas Senate. He could have backed up his words with action.

Kansas Governor Not Facing Reality of Budget Crisis

Kansas Liberty reports that the balancing act performed by Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius on the fiscal year 2009 budget is, well, a little off-kilter. (Fiscal 2009 is the current budget year, ending on June 30, 2009).

In the post Sebelius’ new budget misses the target by $50 million we learn that relying on budget numbers just two months old leads to a budget plan that won’t address the full reality of the situation:

But the use of out-dated numbers means the budget will result in a deficit, no matter how accurate the projections are.

Sebelius’ budget recommendations are based on the November Consensus Revenue Estimating Group’s initial deficit projection of $141 million for fiscal year 2009, and $1.021 billion for fiscal year 2010.

However, new revenue shortfalls have suggested a more accurate picture is a deficit of $185.5 million for fiscal year 2009 and $1.066 billion for fiscal year 2010, as reported yesterday in Kansas Liberty.

Last week in Wichita, questioning by Senator Susan Wagle seemed to indicate a deficit of around $200 million. Privately, one senator told me he would not be surprised to see the deficit balloon to $250 million by the end of June, as economic conditions seem to worsen every day.

Martin Hawver explained the politics behind the Governor’s decision to use the Consensus Revenue Estimating Group’s figures of $141 million in his article The politics of budget cutting:

The Consensus Revenue Estimating Group, comprised of fiscal wizards who, well, estimate future revenues into the State General Fund, predicts that revenues will fall at least $211 million before the fiscal year ends on June 30, 2009. What that means is that spending approved by last year’s Legislature is about $140 million more than Kansas is likely to have (the state had been looking forward to ending this fiscal year with a small balance). … Here’s the political good part, if we can call it that. Sebelius has to meet the figures produced by the revenue estimators back on Nov. 4, and revenues have gotten worse since then. But the Nov. 4 estimate, legally, is the target she is required to meet. … It probably means that the Legislature is going to have to cut more spending this fiscal year, but Sebelius gets to make the least-icky of the cuts. And the political focus will be on the Legislature’s additional cuts to get through this fiscal year.

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/.

Susan Wagle for Kansas Senate President

Tomorrow, the Kansas Senate meets to select its leadership. Senate Republicans could do Kansans a favor by electing Susan Wagle of Wichita to be senate president.

Part of the reason why a Wagle victory would be good for Kansas is her opponent, current senate president Stephen Morris of Hugoton. His political leanings are not right for Kansas as our state enters a tough budgetary period. His lifetime rating from the Kansas Taxpayers Network is 32.5%. There are many Democrats with better ratings. In a New York Times article from earlier this year (One Hand on Her Job, the Other Across the Aisle ), he was quoted as saying “But that’s the only major disagreement we’ve had since she took office,” referring to the expansion of the Holcomb Station coal-fired power plant. Someone who rarely disagrees with Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius is certainly someone who shouldn’t be in charge of leading the Kansas Senate.

Susan Wagle, on the other hand, disagrees with the governor on many things. She’d be a great leader of the Kansas Senate.

Kansas Taxpayers Network 2006 legislative vote ratings released

Thank you to Karl Peterjohn for compiling this valuable resource. You can examine the rankings at the Kansas Taxpayers Network website at www.kansastaxpayers.com. Following is a press release describing the ratings.

17 Legislators Earn 100% rating for 2006 Fiscal Votes

“There are 17 Kansas legislators who scored 100% on the Kansas Taxpayers Network’s 2006 fiscal scorecard,” said KTN Executive Director Karl Peterjohn. Legislators were measured on their votes on tax and fiscal issues as well as their votes on reining in judicial activists and judicial appropriations. This scorecard also measured on their votes on correcting eminent domain abuse in the wake of the controversial Kelo decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. KTN also scored legislators on votes cast that would make this state more economically competitive with the rest of the country and provide property tax relief.

“KTN has posted the 2006 legislative vote rating at www.kansastaxpayers.com,” said Peterjohn. “We hope that all fiscally concerned Kansans will carefully examine how their legislators have been voting at the statehouse during this election year.”

There are nine house members who scored 100% on KTN’s rating: Rep. Anthony Brown, R-Eudora; Rep. Steve Huebert, R-Valley Center; Rep. Lance Kinzer, R-Olathe; Rep. Forrest Knox, R-Fredonia; Rep. Brenda Landwehr, R-Wichita; Rep. Ty Masterson, R-Andover; Rep. Don Myers, R-Derby; Rep. Mary Pilcher-Cook, R-Shawnee; and Rep. Jason Watkins, R-Wichita.

Eight senators earned 100% from KTN. They are: Sen. Jim Barnett, R-Emporia; Sen. Tim Huelskamp, R-Meade; Sen. Phil Journey, R-Haysville; Sen. Kay O’Connor, R-Olathe; Sen. Ralph Ostmeyer, R-Grinnell; Sen. Peggy Palmer, R-Augusta; Sen. Mike Petersen, R-Wichita; Sen. Dennis Pyle, R-Hiawatha; and Sen. Susan Wagle, R-Wichita.

In addition, there were 16 senators and 50 representatives who scored 75% or higher on KTN’s 2006 vote rating and are listed as “taxpayer friendly,” by this group. Peterjohn added, “KTN’s scorecard is valuable since many other groups that used to measure legislators” votes no longer use a straightforward scoring system that is transparent and readily understandable to Kansans.”

Kansas Taxpayers Network (KTN) is a statewide taxpayer organization based in Wichita. This is the 11th year that KTN has rated legislators’ fiscal votes. Legislators are measured on both their 2006 votes as well as their lifetime score based upon votes cast while serving in the legislature since 1996. KTN also circulates the Taxpayer Protection Pledge and will be issuing a news release on pledge signers before the August 1 primary election.

Senate spending spree blows roof off Kansas capitol

Thank you to Karl Peterjohn, Kansas Taxpayers Network, for this fine article containing information we don’t see in our state’s newspapers.

Why is information like this important to our liberty? It’s because much of what our state spends consists of simply taking the property of one person and giving it to someone else. Add to that the fact that much of this spending is on public schools, that our government leaders firmly refuse to allow us choice in schools (vouchers), this spending (and resultant taxation) amounts to a huge assault on liberty, our freedoms, and our wealth.

Senate spending spree blows roof off Kansas capitol
March 30, 2006 @ 11:30 AM

The government school spending spree is erupting in the Kansas senate today. The senate took up the horrific house passed HB 2986 this morning. Over three years Sen. Karin Brownlee said this bill would cost a total of $1.38 billion.

Two amendments to lower the spending increases failed. The first would have limited spending growth to $670 million failed on a 17-to-20 vote with three legislators showing their profile in courage and passing! Then the original house spending plan that would raise school spending over $1 billion over three years was taken up and failed 17-to-23.

Once again unified Democrats and their big spending GOP allies headed up by school district attorney Sen. John Vratil and Wichita school district specialist Sen. Jean Schodorf (they are vice chair and chair of the education committees, does anyone see a special interest there?) easily defeated these slightly smaller spending bills with the votes of their liberal allies.

Sen. Karin Brownlee warned the senate that the house passed H 2986 would “…spend the roof off the dome…,” if this passed. So far, the smallest spending increase amendment to this bill came from Sen. Jim Barnett who had a four-year spending hike plan. Barnett’s proposal did not receive a single Democrat vote and the most “moderate,” ie. liberal Republicans voted against it: Allen, Brungardt, Emler, Morris, Reitz, D. Schmidt, V. Schmidt, Teichman, Umbarger, Vratil, & Wysong. The three passing were McGinn and two Democrats: Haley and Lee.

Barnett warned the senate that continuing the spending spree that began in the 2005 regular legislative session and was compounded by the court mandated special session was going to lead this state into major financial mess. He was not alone in these concerns. He was joined by a majority of senate Republicans including excellent comments from senators Brownlee and Wagle.

Sen. Les Donovan joined warned the senate that there are, “… built in (spending) escalators and they are not going away,” and that the cumulative impact is to put the state in a $600 million fiscal hole two years from now.

The left wing and all too bipartisan senate leaders on both sides of the aisle Steve Morris, Tony Hensley, Derek Schmidt, and John Vratil do not care. As I write this, the debate continues and more amendments are being offered. The sausage mill continues to grind.

From this taxpayer advocate’s perspective it is hard to see who is more irresponsible: the usurping Kansas Supreme Court that created the fiscal environment with the lawsuit that continues to fester over the entire state, Governor Sebelius who proposes nothing but controls through her legislative leadership allies Morris/Hensley everything, or left-wing Republicans and Democrats in the legislature. The house plan was increased with the Loyd-McKinney amendment but a more accurate name for this spending spree bill would begin with Governor Sebelius, add the four senate leaders, and then the two house members: Loyd/McKinney. Then the seven members of the black robed legislature/Supreme Court’s names should be included too. All these folks’ fingerprints dominate this spending spree bill.

The scuttlebutt among some lobbyists is that there aren’t 21 votes in the senate to adopt any school finance bill. I don’t buy it. It looks like there are 21 votes to go on a spending spree that when fully implemented will place this state in such a deep financial hole that it will be decades before Kansans will see any sunlight. This is what Governor Sebelius’ father did when he was governor in Ohio for one term in the 1970’s and created that state’s debilitating income tax. Its deja vu all over again.

The big lie is that gambling is a fiscal solution. It is only a solution if you think that the $323 million of spending from 2005 when combined with $660 million in additional spending (and assuming that the state doesn’t increase spending anywhere else, fat chance) can be funded by the gambling proponents most optimistic guess of $200 million in new money (that a gross not net figure). I guess this is called “Government Math.” Even an increase in state revenues of a couple of hundred million this year will not balance this spending spree.

The government school establishment does not know how to spend this money fast enough. Full day kindergarten is already becoming universal statewide. Then the school districts will begin to expand their pre-kindergarten programs. They still will have truckloads of cash to spend.

The size of the spending spree is demonstrated by the 2005-06 increase that if nothing were added, would increase state spending per pupil by $725 per FTE pupil statewide. That’s almost chump change when the spending in HB 2986 is added to the total. That should add roughly $1,500 more per pupil and assumes that local and federal spending is not increased—which is highly unlikely. That would take average spending from about $10,000 per pupil per year (or $200,000 for a classroom with 20 kids in it) to $12,000 per pupil (or $240,000 per classroom) a year.

The legislature has been warned that financing HB 2986 would require draconian hikes in any one of the state’s major revenue sources: 22% hike in state personal income tax rates (taking us close to a max rate of 8 percent), more than doubling by over 21 mills in the statewide property tax, or at least a 38% hike in the state sales tax rate. What would be most likely is a combination of all three and perhaps adding some other excise tax hikes to the mix.

Kansas’ already obscenely high tax rates would be made even higher. The departure of businesses and productive people will grow. The governor has a key supporter, Phil Ruffin, who is already a billionaire according to Forbes Magazine’s billionaire issue. To help fund this spending spree with slots/casino’s at his racetracks he would be able to move a good ways up the Forbes list into the multiple billionaire category. Forbes reports that Ruffin lives in Nevada where the sales tax is a fraction of Kansas; there is no statewide property or personal income taxes.

The irony is that a large chunk of this new spending will not be used to raise the salaries of Kansas’ best public school teachers. The government school spending lobbies plan is to expand the number of employees (see the Augenblick and Myer report that is the basis for the court’s school finance edicts).

This is a political play for more power. More employees means more union dues and that means more political power. Ultimately, the state grows and dependency upon government will grow. Kansas union leaders will soon be getting the same mid-six figure pay that national union heads like the National Education Association currently enjoy.

This spending hike is a negative productivity plan since it will take more people to perform the same schooling that has occurred in the past. Don’t get me wrong; school employees will certainly get paid more. Superintendents will be able to trade in their Jaguars for Rolls-Royces (this is not hyperbole, there already is a superintendent driving her Jag). If teachers get 10 percent hikes principals will get a bigger percentage as will their bosses. More staff will be needed. Kansas will follow the build the government school bureaucracy model.

If the Kansas City (MO) school lawsuit experience in the 1980’s was a tragedy that cost taxpayers a couple of billion the school spending debacle in 2006 should be called a farce. Except Kansas is larger so it will be a lot more expensive. All additional efforts to provide more performance and school accountability for state spending were removed on the house floor and the efforts to re-insert these provisions on the senate floor were terminated by the liberal senators.

Since Kansas is already spending a higher percentage of its state budget for the public school establishment, the idea that taxpayers are short-changing any public school is absurd. Over 50 percent of the state’s $5.2 billion plus Gen. Fund budget already goes for public schools. When colleges are added in the figure is now approaching 70 percent. This new spending is likely to make the former figure close to 60 percent and the latter percentage around 75 percent.

Since the efforts to stop the school finance lawsuits have largely been sidetracked in the legislature the future for Kansas enterprise is high in uncertainty, increasing risk, and more automatic tax hikes. There are enough state reserves due to the 2003 Bush tax cuts that have helped grow state revenues so that no tax hike (besides the automatic property tax appraisal/income tax inflation) will be necessary in this election year of 2006 but wait till after November.

The property appraisal notices went out this month and Kansas property owners will be paying large increases. Again. This is now an annual event. One mill of the statewide property tax has now grown to over $30 million per year. In the 1990’s this figure was in the just over half this amount.

None of the statewide property tax collections for schools show up in the state’s official revenue figures. I’ll let you do the math and multiply the $30 million by the 21.5 mill statewide mill levy and add this to a 2007 state budget that will soon be pushing $6 billion for the General Fund and blow by $12 billion for the All Funds budget (Medicaid costs are soaring at double digit rates too). In 2002 the state budget reached $10 billion for the first time.

The fiscal decline of Kansas will lead to an overall decline for this state. We are a spending model for the rest of country: watch Kansas and do the opposite. Please feel free to forward this to anyone with an interest in the fiscal health of this state.

Judicial Reform in Kansas on Hold

Thank you to Alan Cobb of Americans For Prosperity, Kansas for this report on this needed measure for judicial reform in Kansas.

The current system of Kansas Supreme Court selection, the mis-named “merit system,” is a secretive, closed system dominated by lawyers. Kansas lawyers elect themselves to the Kansas Supreme Court selection board. There are no campaign finance filings, no reports, no public meetings. It is time to bring this system out into the light of day.

However two attempts to reform this system failed in the Kansas Senate this week. A proposed constitutional amendment that would require Senate confirmation of Kansas Supreme Court Justices failed yesterday, March 9th. What is worse is that this legislation had 28 co-sponsors and only needed 27 votes to pass. Six senators switched their support for the bill they co-sponsored ensuring the failure of the measure. The six Senators who switched their support were:

Sen. Steve Morris, R-Hugoton
Sen. Roger Reitz, R-Manhattan
Sen. David Wysong, R-Mission Hills
Sen. Jim Barone, D-Frontenac
Sen. Vicki Schmidt, R-Topeka

Sen. Ruth Teichmann, R-Stafford, abstained from voting. (ed: See Karl Peterjohn’s article Report From the Kansas Statehouse, March 9, 2006 to understand what “passing” means in this context.)

On March 8th, Sen. Jim Barnett proposed an amendment which would have scrapped the so-called “merit system” completely and replaced it with Gubernatorial selection and Senate confirmation. Barnett’s amendment was defeated 25-15.

Senators voting against: Allen, Apple, Barone, Betts, Brungardt, Emler, Francisco, Gilstrap, Goodwin, Hawley, Hensley, Kelly, Lee, McGinn, Morris, Pine, Reitz, Schmidt D, Schmidt V, Schodorf, Steineger, Teichman, Umbarger, Vratil and Wysong.

Senators voting for Barnett’s reform measure: Barnett, Brownlee, Bruce, Donovan, Huelskamp, Jordan, Journey, O’Connor, Ostmeyer, Palmer, Petersen, Pyle, Taddiken, Wagle, Wilson.