Brownback – No area politician had a bigger 2012 than Gov. Sam Brownback. With a heavy dose of persuasion and a shake of trickery, he convinced the Legislature to drastically reduce state income taxes. His administration shook off concerns of “too much, too fast” and forged ahead with a massive privatization of the state’s Medicaid program. And a political apparatus closely tied to the governor purged the Kansas Senate of most moderate Republicans, who had united with the small contingent of Democrats to block some of Brownback’s initiatives. Two years into his first term, Brownback has the uber-conservative Legislature that he wanted and a glide path for more big changes.
Kansas City Star
Sales tax – Now Kansas Chamber of Commerce leaders and some Republican state lawmakers favor keeping the sales-tax rate where it is in exchange for further reducing the state income-tax rate. If that is the only option, the end result is once again shifting more of the tax burden to lower-income families while the wealthy pay less in taxes. Further, if the state is already facing a nearly $300 million budget deficit, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to cut taxes anywhere, beyond what was already reduced in the last legislative session.
Daily Union, Junction City
Election office – A report about serious problems Sedgwick County experienced during the November elections may bolster the argument for having county commissioners, rather than the Kansas secretary of state, appoint top election officials in the state’s largest counties. Election commissioners hired by elected county commissioners would be more accountable to the officials and voters most affected by the work they do. The secretary of state may be unhappy about election glitches, but no one is more unhappy than county commissioners and voters who are concerned and embarrassed by debacles like the one that occurred in Wichita this year.
Mental health – Gov. Sam Brownback told the Topeka Capital-Journal he would rather talk about mental health than gun control. OK. Let’s talk about mental health. In the process of digging the state out of a deep budget hole, Brownback and the Legislature last year reduced grants to community mental health centers. The center in Cowley County lost $1 million in state grants, according to former director Brad Base. If the governor is serious about giving priority to mental health, he can begin by restoring as much of that money as possible in his fiscal 2014 budget proposal.
Winfield Daily Courier
Open meetings – The Kansas Attorney General’s Office is scheduled to provide Kansas Open Meetings Act training to House Republicans on Jan. 17, and Senate Democrats have planned a KOMA education program for Jan. 15. Senate Republicans also should take advantage of the opportunity extended by the Attorney General’s Office to become knowledgeable about the law. And even though they are in the minority, House Democrats could find themselves at meetings outside the Statehouse also attended by Republicans, which could put KOMA into play. There’s simply no reason any legislator shouldn’t have a thorough understanding of the law.