Kansas GOP Insider (wannabe): March 2016

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Jerry Moran vs Mike Pompeo??

I never answer my home phone, but I am pretty satisfied with my decision to do so recently. I completed a political poll. I can't decide the poll's purpose. Well, I think I know the poll's purpose.

Here, you'll find a poll with similar questions to the ones I answered over the phone recently. It's completely anonymous. I'm not collecting data. But if I have enough response, I'll report the results. I'll give you all more information after I have some responses.

Just How Short Are People's Memories?

Just how short are the memories of Kansans? Or maybe a better question is how short do Kansas officials think our memories are?

I’m no super memory genius, but I have Google, and the ability to recall things that happened less than five years ago. (And I’m beginning to think these may be very marketable skills.)

So, Gov. Sam Brownback and others announced some good news for Kansas last week: Amazon is going to build an 800,000 square-foot fulfillment center in Edgerton. It’s going to bring 1,000 jobs to the region.

That all sounds terrific! Except, um… didn’t Amazon just close a 915,000 square-foot fulfillment center in Coffeyville, Kansas? The answer is: Yes, Amazon did close a giant Coffeyville facility in February 2015 laying off as many as 1,000 people.

So, in 1999, Kansas officials got to announce to great fanfare the opening of an enormous distribution center north of Coffeyville. At the time, officials said the facility would employ as many as 1,000. (I can’t find anywhere anything that confirms the place employed that number when it closed last year.)

This mega-facility received ample incentives from state and local governments. Amazon received an incentive package worth $4.5 million, or $350,000 for up to 10 years as well as another $1 million in incentives for improving access roads and other infrastructure upgrades. The state also gave the facility a $500,000 loan that was forgiven if the company hit employment goals. Which by the way, I can’t find whether the company hit those goals and the debt was forgiven, or if Amazon repaid that half million dollar loan. The incentives expired in 2009.

Recognizing that Amazon was threatening to close its Coffeyville warehouse, state and local officials again opened up the wallets of their constituents, offering an incentive package of up to another $10 million to entice the Internet company to remain in Coffeyville.  Amazon said no.

In the aftermath of Amazon’s departure, the building was sold to a California investor.  Now, I don’t know what happened to the 915,000 square-foot building that Kansas residents helped subsidize north of Coffeyville. I’m guessing it’s a vacuous, vacant building slowly decaying. But I hope I’m wrong.  

Fast forward to last week, when Amazon announced it was bringing 1,000 jobs to Kansas. I don’t want to be a wet blanket, but it seems like Kansas got to pay out unemployment to Amazon’s former employees in Coffeyville, and now we’re all about to pay again for the pleasure of having the Internet retailer in our state.

The Edgerton property will receive property tax abatements of up to 75 percent for 10 years. Meanwhile, the Kansas Department of Commerce confirmed that the state is offering Amazon PEAK incentives. These are incentives for employing Kansans, and the incentive typically allows an organization to retain 95 percent of payroll tax for employees that earn above the median wage where the operations and jobs will be located.

They will not release the details of the deal until after it’s inked. I think it’s fairly safe to assume that all told, the taxpayer investment in this Amazon project is more than $10 million, because that’s what the company turned down a year ago.

I am trying my best not to get all angered up – people have recently told me I’m too mean -- but it’s really, really difficult not to settle into a fiery rage over this. I do not understand how or why it’s acceptable to take money out of the taxpayers’ wallets, stick the cash in the left hand pocket of the state, take more money from the taxpayers, and then combine the cash with the left hand pocket and move it into the state’s right side pocket and pretend we’ve all won some sort of prize. As sure as I sit here, there will be ticker tape parades and plenty of groveling press conferences showing every step of this process. You know those pictures with public officials in hard hats with shovels? Ask yourself if those photos are worth $10 million.

Amazon is America’s largest retailer by value. Its worth, as of this writing, is $247.6 billion. It’s worth more than Walmart. Amazon’s CEO, Jeff Bezos, is worth more than $46.7 billion. The average Kansas household, meanwhile, makes about $51,255. The net worth of the average Kansan is about $409,778. This isn’t about envy or class warfare. It is about not forcing everyday Kansans to subsidize big businesses. By the way, Coffeyville has a poverty rate of 19 percent.

So Jeff Bezos and his Amazon behemoth want Kansans, which are worth a little bit less than the average American, to subsidize their enormous building. Wait, that should be buildings—plural. It’s especially unfair for the people of Coffeyville to be asked (at gunpoint, via the tax collectors) to subsidize moving the building and the jobs.

If this doesn’t make you, dear Kansas friends, angry, then I don’t even understand you anymore.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Third District Alternates

Third district alternates to the national GOP convention are:

  • Brooke Yoder
  • Mike Kuckelman
  • Steve Shute
The delegates selected include:

  • Amanda Grosserode
  • Chad Bettes
  • Vicki Sciolaro

Of the six people  the Third District elected to send as delegates and alternates to the national convention, there are two that I think highly likely to be persuaded to vote whichever way the wind is blowing in a brokered convention.

As author Stephen King once wrote -- "... and then the dice roll. Some people get a run of sevens. Some people, unfortunately, get snake eyes."

The Third District delegates and alternates are somewhere in between.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Thoughts on Stuff

Republican delegates to Kansas' Third District gathered last night and elected three delegates and three alternates to the Republican National Convention. 

Chad Bettes, Amanda Grosserode, and Vicki Sciolaro will serve as delegates. I have yet to hear who the alternates are. I also do not know which of the three delegates was the highest vote getter. This matters. As Clay Barker, KS GOP Executive Director, explained two of the 3rd District delegates will be bound to candidate Ted Cruz. The third will be bound to Marco Rubio. Kansas' rules don't allow its delegates to become free agents until released by the candidates themselves. The most powerful person of the Third District delegates will be the delegate bound to Rubio, because it is quite likely he or she will become a free agent at some point during the convention. The highest vote getter of Bettes, Grosserode, and Sciolaro will choose to whom she is bound. The second highest vote getter takes second choice. 

My favorite part of these types of events is people watching. So, I'll give you my quick and dirty thoughts.

  • There were fewer people there than I would have thought. There are 109 delegates to the Third District, and 30 alternates were seated. I am continually surprised at the people who put their names in to serve as delegates and then never show. 
  • I always wonder what on earth any of those in attendance have in common with one another. Strange crowd. The only thing most have in common -- to everyone's credit -- is that almost to man, these are pro-life people. Other than that, it's a diverse crowd, maybe not in race or socioeconomic status, but in every other way -- lots of exotic birds.
  • There's a real divide among elected officials. It's quite clear that the cracks from this year's legislative session are beginning to show. 
  • There were times as we awaited results from the delegate vote that I felt like a hostage. There was a lot of dead time, and instead of releasing everyone to the foyer to buy snacks from the cute church youth group fundraising for a mission trip or to visit the tables of GOP-leaning organizations and pick up brochures, the microphone was turned over literally to anyone who wanted to share jokes. Not my monkeys and no my circus, but I would have greatly preferred a few small nuggets of information followed by permission to network and chat. That was awkward.
  • Most tellingly, Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer was given some time at the microphone in which he boasted of the great state of Kansas' affairs. The great divide now is over the LLC loophole in the state budget, and Lt. Gov. Colyer is on team #KeeptheLoophole. I am not sure this particular crowd is on that team.
It's difficult for me to take a side in this debate. I recognize the loophole was an unintended consequence, but I am also not opposed to starving the bureaucratic beast by whatever means possible.

That said, it's really important for Kansans to understand just how well the Brownback Administration, with the help of allies in the Kansas Legislature, have slimmed down the state's spending. The average growth of state spending from 1966 to 2010 was 9 percent. 

Since Brownback took office in 2010, the growth in state spending has slowed to 1.8 percent on average. And the average growth in all funds has been 1.3 percent. Rejoice! However, living small for the past several years has taken a toll, and revenues are not meeting budget expectations. There is a budget hole that must be filled.

Despite less spending growth overall, school funding has increased $300 million. School funding comprises 50 percent of the state budget. Medicaid is another 20 percent. That leaves very little of the budget in which to take a hatchet.

So lawmakers are in an unfriendly place, and they are not often helped by Brownback, who sometimes suggests spending or carve outs in budget places that put the tax burden in the wrong places. Ahem. STAR bonds, and ahem, the LLC loophole, which assists in making Johnson County the great welfare provider for the rest of the state. (Many of the folks benefitting from the LLC loophole are farmers in western Kansas, while the well-paid office drones in JC aren't privy to LLC privileges.)

There are reasonable people on both sides of the LLC debate. If the loophole forces further budget cuts -- there's still plenty of room to make up for the past 40 years of spending growth -- I won't shed many tears. However, few people will feel the pain of those cuts more acutely than legislators who could be forced to make cuts that would likely be controversial. That said, I would prefer that legislators create the fairest tax policy humanly possible, while making cuts at the same time. That probably means fixing the unintended consequences of the last tax package. 

Monday, March 28, 2016

Et tu, Moran?

In a truly mind boggling display, Sen. Jerry Moran has made a public request for Republicans to hold hearings for a President Obama nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Et tu, Sen. Moran?

There are few times in my lifetime in which I’ve seen a Republican field almost universally unified. This Supreme Court nomination is about the closest I can recall. I mean, Mitch McConnell actually said what conservatives were thinking when he said the next Supreme Court nominee should be appointed by the next President. And anyone who tries to pretend this is blatant partisanship without regard to precedent has his head in a hole in the sand.

So out of nowhere comes Sen. Jerry Moran suggesting that the Senate should hold hearings on an Obama nominee. I am confused.

One, there had been almost no pressure from the media or even from crazy leftists to hold these hearings.

See Republicans, that’s how it works when you stake a firm stand. McConnell said we’re not having hearings. He repeated it once or twice. Some folks ran some past Biden and Obama statements up the flag pole and for all intents and purposes, the non-controversy about refusing to replace Scalia right this second was deflated. The left and the media (I repeat myself) realized arguing was pointless, and they moved on looking for other ways to bash conservatives.

This was a savvy play from the Liberal Playbook. Democrats do this all of the time. They stick a stake in the ground, refuse to budge and start talking about allowing men to use women’s locker rooms. And since we’re only a few days removed from Easter, I’ll just add that God advises us against being lukewarm: So because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I will spit you out of My mouth. (I realize the context isn’t perfect.)

Moran hails from the most conservative state in the Union. Other than the five Kansans supporting Roger Marshall, Tim Huelskamp’s primary opponent, I can find zero self-professed Republicans who think Republicans should just play nice and let Obama steam roll a nomination onto the Supreme Court a few months shy of an election. I am stunned that Moran would announce his own support for an idea almost universally despised by his own constituents.

Let me check the big board. Yep, Moran has an election coming up in November, and it appears Kansans will be the ones deciding whether he gets to remain a member of the U.S. Senate. It seems there’s far too little time between Moran making the worst suggestion in most of U.S. history and the next election for Kansans to suddenly acquire mass amnesia.

Because Moran is from such a conservative state, his pronouncement offered cover to more liberal-leaning Republican Senators, who can now suggest that yes, we should move on a confirmation hearing because everyone, including conservative Kansas, is on board.

Seriously, whose team is Moran on?

A few days after Moran’s nefarious comments hit the press, Moran “clarified” his statement saying he is against confirmation of Garland. This is not good enough.

Here’s the secret to the Dems’ success: Whenever possible they don’t risk having a real debate, because they know they might lose. They start screaming bloody murder about absolutely anything and every possible objection long before a debate takes place. If at all possible, they attempt to stymie debate completely with a court end run. Dems stop the process at the earliest point possible.

This is why Moran’s statement is so damaging. The only way we ensure that Garland isn’t elevated into Scalia’s seat is by stopping the process before it begins. Republicans are terrible at standing our ground. Stick that finger in the air and ask Garland the tough questions, and all of a sudden, the Republicans find themselves under pressure to confirm the guy. And let’s be honest about Congressional Republicans: These guys cave early and cave often. They are the French in the face of mild German aggression. If Garland has a hearing with this Senate, they should just start waving the white flags right now.

Et tu, Moran? Seriously. Et tu?

The Non-Endorsement Endorsement -- KS 3rd District Delegate Candidates

Tonight the 3rd District of Kansas will elect three delegates and three alternates to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.

And so for the last few weeks, delegates to the 3rd District have been bombarded – OK, so I’ve received I think three – with emails from potential candidates hoping to secure votes for these vaunted positions. And today, I began receiving endorsement letters. I’m sure at the meeting tonight, people will be handing out endorsement letters as well.

I’m not going to say these endorsement letters send me into a fiery rage, but I’m not a fan. It’s nothing personal against anyone who is sending these letters, and it’s nothing personal against the people being endorsed. We’ve got a LOT of great candidates hoping to attend the RNC Convention. We’re so very fortunate.

Sadly, most of these endorsement emails I’ve received – OK, I think I’ve received a total of four – don’t really give me any indication as to WHY I should vote for these candidates other than the letter signer says I should. Not good enough.

For example, a letter from the Kansas Federation of College Republicans sent a list of 11 “outstanding” applicants as well as made mention of its delegates running. (There are no KFCRs running for 3rd District. Strange and sad.)

Their endorsement suggests that “These Kansas Republicans have not only shown through words, but actions and resources, that they are committed to the next generation of republican leaders.”

That is not enough information to sway my vote, particularly in a year in which it’s very, very likely delegates will choose the Republican presidential nominee. I need to know the whys. This year, “Because I said so,” doesn’t cut it. Who are these potential delegates likely to support in the event that delegates are released during a brokered convention?

That is the only thing that will matter tonight. I’m not offering any endorsements, because I think the grassroots people are well enough informed to make this decision without my input. I hope my grassroots peers will cast votes for candidates that will stay true to their own values. Too often, these things come down to a popularity contest. I sincerely hope that isn’t the case tonight. While name recognition can suggest that a candidate has worked in the fray to persuade friends and neighbors and rally voters to our cause, some name recognition is simply the result of family names. There are very, very few people running for Kansas RNC delegates that I trust to cast principled and only principled ballots during a brokered convention. There’s an awful lot at stake, and I worry that some could be caught up in, well, things other than advancing the most conservative, principled candidate. (That’s not an insult. It’s a recognition that humans will be called to the task, and we have very human failings especially where power and money and influence may be involved.)

Again, I mean no disrespect to any of the delegate candidates on any endorsement list. We’ve got a great list of candidates seeking these important delegate spots.
Here is a list of the 3rd District National Delegate Applicant List:

Chad Bettes
Brandon Bezner
Kenneth Bland
Chelsea Chaney
Ruth Colyer
Serena Colyer
Gene Cramer
Erin Davis
Dana Engleman
Daniel Fry
Monica Gfoeller
Amanda Grosserode
Robert Hedrick
Brett Hildabrand
Charles Huddleston
Benee Hudson
Stephanie James
Michael Kelly
Brandon Kenig
Kevin Kietzman
Derek Kriefels
Barbara Kriegshauser
John Kriesgshauser
Mike Kuckelman
Andrew LaMar
Brendan LaMar
Leslie LaMar
Tricia Larson
David Lightner
Patricia Lightner
Penny Lovell
Steven McCartan
Laura McConwell
Cathleen McDonnell
Craig McPherson
Stephanie Meyer
Angelo Mino
Scott Moore
Sky Morey
John Dave Myres
Sally Nelson
Roberta Orth
Claude Perdue
Jeff Phillips
Caleb Pierce
Alana Roethle
John Rubin
Diana Kay Rutherford
Charles Sciolaro, M.D.
Vicki Sciolaro
Theresa Segraves
Steve Shute
Ann Simonds
Stacy Slabaugh
Marian Stevens
Angela Stiens
Matthew Strang
Jared Suhn
Zelma Sully
Andrew Eric Teetsel
Mary Ann Waldenmeyer
Marisel Walston

Brooke Yoder

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Kansas Media Hates Conservatives, part 9,621

The Kansas media treats conservatives like carriers of a vile, infectious disease. In the minds of many, many Kansas reporters, conservatives are modern day lepers with better skin and damning ideas.

I could highlight this almost every single day. Today, I'll simply juxtapose the Wichita Eagle's treatment of a liberal radio host with its treatment of a Shawnee Republican.

First, here's the Wichita Eagle's respectful treatment of some random guy in suspenders who someone apparently allows to host a talk show in Wichita?? (Someone gives this guy air time. Odd.) Real shocker, this guy who hates conservatives is a "news" director. 

The article takes RJ Dicken's White House.org petition to ask the President to revoke Kansas' statehood. It's ridiculous. Not news, and actually, if it were to be taken seriously, a terrible plan. Do we really want any future Presidential administration to have the power to revoke states' governments when they disagree with a state's politics? Terrible precedent. Stupid idea. AND... not news. When the Eagle ran this article, which takes the petition seriously, the petition had a whopping 231 signatures.

The article lauds with these words: "The petition takes square aim at Gov.Sam Brownback..." "The petition crossed the threshold of 150 signatures..." 

A few days later, the Eagle took to its pages in an attempt to make Mary Pilcher-Cook look ridiculous. 

First, the article opinion piece, in its first paragraph said Pilcher-Cook compared long term contraceptives to fascist eugenics. Um. That's not what she said. Never did she utter the term "fascist." She simply said government treads on dangerous territory when it promotes contraceptives, which have been used in the past discriminatory fashion to target minority populations.

Where is the historical narrative about how governments throughout history have used contraceptives to forward eugenic principles? That has happened. The article makes no mention. Instead, it mentions that eugenics was a Nazi principle. You know who else held eugenics principles? You know who else praised Nazi Germany? The founder and patron saint of Planned Parenthood, Margaret Sanger. The article makes no mention of that, but PP's lobbyist is quoted calling Mary Pilcher-Cook "wildly out of step with most Kansans." 

Where are the quotes from professors explaining how yes, what Pilcher-Cook said has actually happened before? The Eagle could track down a professor to respectfully comment on Dickens' petition, but apparently no professorial types were available to Lowry. 

I sure as hell hope most Kansans oppose eugenics, whether they oppose the bill Pilcher-Cook was debating. Making mention of how government-sponsored contraceptives have been used nefariously seems reasonable.

Bryan Lowry's article was a hit piece designed to make Mary Pilcher-Cook look a little off kilter. Meanwhile, Dion Lefler's piece about a person who may or may not actually be off kilter is treated as reasonable, respectable news designed to make Sam Brownback look a little off.

Conservatives, the media hates you. 

Monday, March 21, 2016

The Dems. Make It Stop.

Also, just want to leave this here: There are elected Kansas Democrats who want Adrienne Foster to resign for publicly stating that she supports Donald Trump. 

I can't even...Obviously, Foster's support of Donald Trump shows a stunning lack of good judgment. But that's not why the Dems want her to resign from her appointed role as the Executive Director of the Kansas Hispanic and Latino American Affairs Commission. Foster is Latino, which in Dem land being a minority typically means you get extra special free speech rights. They want her to resign and probably offer some sort of blood sacrifice on the altar of political correctness, because she's racist for supporting Trump.

Democrats have a real hate on for free speech. This may come as a shock to my donkey-loving friends, but the old white hippies and Lake Quivira elitists don't get to decide what is racist and what isn't.

Meanwhile, all of us should probably be throwing things at the insanity of Kansas having a Latino Affairs Commission -- or whatever. What do they do? How do their affairs warrant a special commission? And are we paying Foster for her service on this commission? 

You know what? I probably don't want to know.

Has Beens Walking (err, limping)

I know there are things far more important than this, however, I find myself with limited time to give things like the LLC loophole the time they deserve.

So in the meantime, I leave you with this to noodle on: Why are these has beens still talking? These brain trusts, Dan Glickman and John Carlin, basically deserve credit for the flaming implosion that is today's Kansas Democrat Party. 

They ushered in Sebelius et. al, who managed to run the Kansas fiscal car off the side of a cliff. And then, they have the gall to complain about Gov. Sam Brownback's efforts to fix it. That takes some real hubris.

Anyway, here for your reading pleasure -- I give you a blog scribbled by former Kansas Gov. John Carlin. He served as Kansas Governor from 1979-1987, and then earned a cherry assignment as the U.S. Archivist. He ran unsuccessfully against Sam Brownback for a seat in the U.S. House in 1994. I'm befuddled by this, in all honesty. A former two-term Governor should have been able to beat Brownback, especially in his early days. 

Also, piling on opinions on stuff -- Dan Glickman. For some reason, back before I was born, Kansans occasionally elected Democrats to federal office. Mercifully, that trend is long over. However, we're still saddled with some former Democrat elected officials who haven't lived in Kansas since my parents graduated from high school offering their opinions on how things should be done. Glickman would like to give corrupt officials better opportunities to steal elections.

Just one more reason we should all take much greater care in whom we elect. Even after we throw them out of office, some "publication" like the Huffington Post will find our former officials and try to beat us with them. 

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Damage control from 2 days ago

So, I'm up to at least two folks informing me that Speaker Merrick handled the firing of the Chairs appropriately a few days ago.

You'll recall that Merrick stripped Reps. Rubin and Barker of their chairmanships the other day as the two attempted to debate an issue on the floor. A committee did discuss the gambling bill at issue yesterday morning as previously scheduled.

Anyway, here's Merrick's statement on why he told Rubin and Barker to take a hike.

"Today, there was an attempt to manipulate the House rules and pull a bill out of committee despite a hearing on the issue in House Appropriations scheduled for Wednesday," he said in a release. "This issue is complex. There is the possibility that expanding gaming in Kansas could result in the state being forced to pay over $100 million to the current operators of the state-owned casinos. An opinion on the legal details has been requested from the Attorney General and we are are currently waiting on his legal perspective. This isn't a decision that we should take lightly at any time, but especially in light of these circumstances. The Appropriations committee will give this issue a fair hearing and will allow both sides to make their case. At this time and with a heavy heart, I am compelled to make committee changes."

There are a lot of legislators that I personally give the benefit of the doubt, because I trust that their hearts are in the right place, which means in a non-political place. Speaker Merrick isn't one of those people to me. He's done a few things that appear -- at least from where I'm standing -- to be fully, intentionally, politically motivated and without principle. 

I wish I had a lot more time this morning to really dive into it, but I don't right this second. There's also an awful lot to be said about the gambling bill in question. Sadly, the life of a conservative internet scribbler requires that I go to work everyday. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Meanwhile in the Senate, 30 Senators deserve a great big THANK YOU!

Not a lot of time to expand on this topic, but the Senate overrode -- with massive support, I might add -- Gov. Brownback's WyCo STAR bond line item veto.

Thank you, 30 members of the Kansas Senate. They faced enormous pressure, and they did not capitulate. Good work!

Senators sustained Brownback's veto of legislation to deny funding for a Capitol power plant project that Brownback himself had already canceled, because he really had no choice. (You can read more details here.) 

House derails

Obviously, yesterday was a pretty explosive day in the #ksleg.

Rep. John Rubin, Shawnee, was gagged for attempting to bring a bill to the floor that House Speaker Ray Merrick didn't want to discuss. Rubin was removed as chairman of the House Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee. Merrick also removed Rep. John Barker, Abilene, from the chair of the House Rules Committee. 

These dramatic matters occurred on the House floor. Rubin wanted to bring a gambling bill previously scheduled above the linen to the floor. Merrick had scrapped bringing the bill to the floor earlier. (He was kind of making up rules on the fly when he did so.) 

Rubin then announced his resignation, however, he was walking that back almost as soon as the words left his mouth. So stay tuned.

Rubin had already decided he wouldn't seek re-election. True story, Rubin is one of my very favorites, simply because he is dedicated to governmental transparency. He led efforts to open probable cause affadavits in Kansas--the only state that locks those away from public view. A former judge, Rubin could always be counted upon to fight to open records. He will be missed. Eric Jenkins, a Shawnee City Council member has announced he will seek the seat.

So, Rubin and Barker are out of chairmanships, due to heated moments in the House. I think Merrick has gone too far. Just because you have it within your authority to do something, that doesn't mean you should. And taking drastic steps in the heat of an intense debate is never advisable. 

Maybe House Republicans should consider replacing Merrick next year with someone who can keep his cool and follow the rules he set. (And it would be just awesome, since the House Speaker has so much power, if constituents could be let in on the secret of which Speaker candidate our representatives voted for. Somehow Rep. Peck received a few votes last time.)

Ramon Gonzalez, Perry, will replace Rubin as Corrections chair, and Jan Pauls, Hutchinson, will replace Barker. 

I hope Rubin and Merrick (and Barker and Merrick) make amends and hug it out. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Cowboy Hat Removed from Ring

That was short-lived. Ron Stricker, auctioneer and man of giant cowboy hat fame, will not run for Johnson County Sheriff.

He announced his candidacy for television cameras. Then, like that, he was gone from the race. He removed his cowboy hat from the ring due to family obligations. 

To my knowledge, that leaves one candidate for JoCo Sheriff, Calvin Hayden. Current sheriff, Frank Denning, will not seek re-election. Rumor has it, there will be more candidates, but no one has shared any names with me. 

STAR Bond clarifications

As promised, the Kansas Department of Commerce has issued some clarifications on STAR bond reform. Thank you, KDOC. (STAR bonds use sales tax revenue from specific projects to fund infrastructure related to that project.)

You can read the KDOC clarifications here. Here are a few highlights, from a memorandum from Antoine Soave, KS Sec. of Commerce: 

• A feasibility study would be commissioned by the Kansas Department of Commerce rather than by the developer. Commerce should be able to recover 1-2 percent of the project costs in order to fund these studies and staff time. 

I've seen such studies conducted for things like TIFs and abatements for local projects. In my experience, the developer has had a LOT of say in how and who conducts these studies. 

• Requirement of the private sector to place a percentage into escrow prior to the deal, a portion of which could be forfeited if a developer does not meet requirements.

• Expansion of STAR bonds into blighted and urban areas with a threshold that may be lower in rural and distressed areas.

Look, I don't like using incentives (aka taxpayer subsidies) in support of any business or development. I lean very libertarian in this regard. I don't think government should be picking the winners and losers in any way, shape or form. They are notoriously bad at it, and I think it's immoral.

A wise, well-connected person also informs me that with the Wyandotte County horse arena project, for which the Governor vetoed a unanimous Senate budget inclusion, there will be no monetary overlay -- meaning, the American Royal project would be a completely new project, and proceeds from sales at the Legends would go into state coffers and would not be used to fund the horse arena.

This well-connected person also explained that those funds appeared slighter than the $42 million in budget proposals before the Senate Ways and Means Committee, because the STAR bond expiration on the Village West project (Legends) end on Dec. 31, 2016, splitting the state's fiscal year. So, only half of the receipts from the project will hit the state's books in 2017. The full amount will hit state coffers in 2018.

I appreciate the clarification. We do have good people working in the Capitol. 

No one is ever going to convince me that floating STAR bonds to move the American Royal across state lines is a good idea, and I note that until STAR bond reform occurs, and it won't this session, the American Royal project will receive all of the perks and benefits under the existing rules. That means limited oversight from the Kansas Legislature, which has attempted to overrule this project. 

Monday, March 14, 2016

Holy smokes, this is a stupid plan

A Facebook reader asked for my take on a nugget of information last week that revealed Gov. Sam Brownback met with legislators to discuss the possibility of bonding of tobacco settlement funds to put money into Kansas coffers today. For what it’s worth, the administration is saying this is a “black helicopter” theory, according to news reports.

First, let me just say that I’m shocked that the Governor bothered to meet with Republican legislators at all. Thanks, I guess. Brownback hasn’t been much of an ally to his Republican allies in the Kansas House or the Kansas Senate. He’s repeatedly put them in awkward positions. If I hear one more time that Brownback is a “nice guy” I may just lose it. I know I’ve said this before, but legislators, stop saying that.  Being “nice” isn’t an excuse for stabbing your political allies in the back. (Ahem. Line item veto of WyCo Star bond budget item. Ahem. This. Ahem. This. Ahem. I could go on.)

I hate the idea of bonding tobacco settlement money to make Kansas’ budget work. I don’t know how many times I’ve said this, but I’ll do it one more time: You know what would go a long way in fixing Kansas’ budget challenges? Spending cuts. I absolutely recognize this may not appear politically expedient, what with all the starving children with iPads attending classes in buildings that rival the castles and palaces of the world’s wealthiest monarchies. Still, I suspect if someone showed real leadership, coupled with principle, on this issue, the silent majority would rally to the cause.

If Brownback is going to spend all of his time making life difficult for Kansas legislators, the very least he could do is make it difficult for them by proposing, advocating, and leading on spending cuts. But nope. Brownback has decided to make life difficult for legislators instead by stomping his foot and demanding a horse arena subsidized by Kansas taxpayers for the next 20 years. I don’t even…  (BTW, person in the Brownback administration who told me via private message that the commerce department was going to be clearing up public “misconceptions” about using STAR bonds to move the American Royal to KCK, I AM STILL WAITING.)

Now, liberals are screaming about possibility of using tobacco-backed financing to make Kansas’ budget work. I should note that other states that liberals love, like California, have resorted to using tobacco settlement financing. Seriously, this is one of the worst ideas in the history of budgeting. It’s right up there with using pay day loans. Off the top of my head, a short list of reasons using tobacco funds is so, so stupid:
  • ·         It’s a short-term fix that doesn’t solve the problem. Kansas revenue isn’t meeting projections, and we’re spending too much. A one-time infusion of cash solves the problem temporarily. It’s kicking the can down the road. Very Washington, D.C. of you, Governor.
  • ·         The government shouldn’t be suing tobacco companies in the first place. This big cash settlement encourages more of the same. Encouraging ambulance chasers to chase ambulances to balance the budget of bureaucracies is just gross. At some point, the magic cash tree that is Big Tobacco is going to run out of cash. Obviously, the Governor has a real problem with smoking. He wants to force smokers to bank roll all sorts of nonsense. (This isn’t the first time Brownback has attempted to balance the budget by forcing smokers to pay extra.) I hate, hate, hate with a passion that burns like 10,000 suns using the tax code to incentivize or de-incentivize behavior. If we don’t want people smoking, ban it. Sin taxes put government in the odd position of needing to proliferate undesirable behaviors to make a profit. Personally, I think sin taxes are immoral for that reason alone.

These tobacco settlements have been nothing but a slush fund for do-gooder organizations, and they are going to have a field day complaining that using tobacco-settlement financing to (temporarily) balance the budget is somehow taking food out of the mouths of children. See Kansas Action for Children. 

If for no other reason, I oppose this tobacco settlement plan because I don’t think I can handle months and months of self-righteous opposition from these groups. I’m already up to my eyeballs in self-righteous teachers unions pretending that if we don’t take all of the money from citizens and give it to the teachers’ unions we’re somehow ruining the future. There’s only so much self-righteous I can take at one time, and my sanity matters. 

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Taxpayers love subsidizing Cerner

Cerner, the mega corporation with a business model based almost solely on winning government contracts, will be dipping into taxpayer pockets again soon in a major way.

The good news, I guess, is that this time, the mega corp is taking from Missourians instead of Kansans. (Yay?) 

The Kansas City Tax Increment Financing (TIF) Commission just awarded Cerner the largest TIF in city history. TIF financing funnels property and sales tax dollars generated from a development project away from state/city coffers and back to the developer. In this case, the TIF would fund a $4.5 billion campus on the Bannister Mall site.

(Here's a cautionary tale about this development.)

In case anyone has missed it, I absolutely detest TIFs and abatements. I don't think taxpayers should have to subsidize big business. I have heard all of the arguments in support of these types of development financing agreements. And I reject them all. If development can't pay for itself, taxpayers shouldn't be asked to pay for it. (And I often wonder if the cost of development might be higher than it would be naturally because governments offer special financing.) 

The arguments go something like this: The $4.5 billion Cerner campus is going to bring so many jobs to Kansas City. 

Developers say it will bring 15,000 new jobs in the next 10 years. The problem is these types of promises are empty. No one ever goes back and double checks. There aren't any claw backs if those numbers don't pan out. Cerner developers say the jobs will be new to the area, but it's just as likely that they'll move people from the Kansas City, Kansas, campus --which is brand new, by the way-- to a new campus at Bannister. 

In order to use TIF financing, the area in question, Bannister, must be considered "blighted." Meh. I can't really argue with that. I am trying to find information about how the original Bannister Mall development was financed in the first place. I am too young to remember specifics, but I can almost guarantee that it received some sort of tax incentives at the time. So that was a raging success. Kind of like the Great Mall of the Great Plains.

This continuous game to redevelop the same property over and over again using tax incentives -- resulting in taxpayers subsidizing private, wealthy developers -- needs to stop. Like yesterday.

Meanwhile, Cerner is directly involved in plans to bring the American Royal to KCK. By the way, it appears that Kansas City, Kansas' Legends area, and Bannister Mall area have been competing for developments for quite some time. Definitely something for some enterprising reporter to do some in-depth research.

Taxpayers in Kansas City -- on both sides of the border -- are getting the shaft. 

It's a First -- a Guest Post: Swallow Some Humble Pie and Fix Schools

A guest post, courtesy of someone calling herself Carrie Nation. She's a lifelong Kansan, Republican, public school graduate and taxpayer with children in the public schools, and she's tired of the pissing match between the teachers unions and legislators with teachers and children held hostage. --Gidget

The Kansas Legislature has increased school funding every year since 2008.  Often, when more money from State goes in, your local government likes to cuts property taxes to make themselves look good, so the classrooms aren't the beneficiaries. The schools are sitting on money piles in "rainy day" funds they claim they can't spend on classrooms. Administration calls high drama, all staff meetings, scare them, make staff go part-time and blame the Governor. And administrators never tell them what the local school board is actually spending money on. 

Yes, there's a deficit. The Legislature cut income taxes and didn't cut spending with it. Absolutely asinine. You can't cut your income and not cut expenses. Agencies SHOULD be tasked with full audits and figure out how to function more efficiently. The lowly staff in these agencies are insisting there's waste and trying to be whistleblowers. 

K-12s lobbyists won't talk to the legislators and have flat out told leadership "no matter what you give us, it won't be enough. We both know I'm here to demand more."

This Kansas Republican feels awful for the teachers, librarians, nurses and food service coordinators. They are pawns of the teachers unions. Everyone making these decisions wants POWER. The unions want power. Legislators want power and headlines. And they're all playing a reprehensible game with our children's brains. 

I'm not saying the Legislature is perfect. But this "schools are closing" crap is out there because the KS Supreme Court said they'd order the schools closed if they don't see "more" school spending. KS Supreme Court-  you don't have that power. Go back to Constitutional Law and quit scaring teachers. I know you hate Republicans, but your antics are unbecoming. 

There's a leadership vacuum in Topeka and with no school funding formula set for the next year, everyone is panicked... and rumors and theories are flying. The legislators and education lobbyists hate each other's guts. The Governor and his staff aren't leading. Many home school and private school advocates thumb their nose at these lazy parents sending their kids to government school. They aren't interested in fixing public schools either. 

The media portrays and is complicit in this last ditch effort to take down Brownback. And in the meantime, teachers are trying their best and kids are showing up to learn. 

Teachers, you need to know your administrators (not principals) but USD admins and superintendents are in a political pissing contest with legislators and don't care about you.  

We are better than this. And our legislators are honestly working extremely hard on this and really do care. The conversation has fallen apart and everyone has a different take on how that happened. Legislators and the public must insist on knowing how taxpayer dollars are being spent. 

Public education advocates should be proud of the vision and achievements of public schools and answer questions cheerfully. They should want everyone to see what the schools are doing and show it off. When lobbyists and union representatives are angry and defiant and tell the legislators they are stupid and don't know anything about teaching, you aren't building a relationship. Don't insult each other. 

The general public is tired of this fight. We see new buildings and kids come home with new iPads so it's easy to think there's enough money and tune out the argument. 

Legislators, superintendents, teachers unions, and Governor Brownback-- you are all better than this. Swallow some humble pie and dig in and figure this out. If you don't care who gets the credit, it's amazing what you'll accomplish. 

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Quick Hits

KS caucus turnout demonstrates a problem for the state’s Dems

Dave Helling is a giant racist who thinks all blacks think alike. He things African Americans love Hillary. Maybe all of the minority voters in Kansas were attending the GOP Caucus.

Michael O’Donnell showed poor judgment bringing beer

Sen. O'Donnell, a Wichita Republican, bought beer for some minors. He said he was buying beer for a former campaign supporter's 21st birthday at a frat house. Um. Why on earth is a 31-year-old hanging out in fraternity houses? No bueno. O'Donnell will not seek re-election. (Shocker.)

From the blog post at Esquire: 

Gov. Sam Brownback--excuse me, twice elected, god help us, Gov. Sam Brownback--turned the state into a lab rat for all the worst policy ideas produced by the modern conservative Republican party. The legislature went along gleefully for the ride.
The blog post continues. It's typical liberal hack, but notable because it's liberal hack from a national magazine about men's fashion. Or at least, I think that's what it's about. 

Greg Smith his, daughter, politics stay inextricably linked 

Whatever small hint of journalistic integrity the Pitch may have once had it puked onto the concrete last week with this story, which takes an accusatory tone against Greg Smith. Smith, you see, is motivated in part by the untimely murder of his daughter Kelsey. 
This story is disgusting. Some things truly are off limits, and a personal tragedy in which a parent loses a child is definitely one of them.