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Recent Kansas editorials

October 2, 2018

The Lawrence Journal-World, Sept.27

Proof that tax cuts were bad

The report released (last) week showing that personal income in Kansas grew at 4.7 percent during the second quarter is further evidence that state legislators were right to repeal the disastrous tax-cut policies implemented under Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration.

The report by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis showed income growth in the state outpaced regional and national averages. The report showed that Kansas had the 10th highest personal income growth rate in the nation.

The report is welcome news after years of economic stagnation. It also is validation that the state is on better economic footing under current tax policies than it was under the policies of former Gov. Sam Brownback.

Brownback pushed through sweeping income tax cuts in 2013, including eliminating income taxes on more than 300,000 small businesses through the so-called LLC exemption. Brownback promoted the cuts as an experiment that he believed would jump-start the state’s economy, fostering job and wage growth. It never happened. Job and wage growth lagged well behind national averages. Tax collections fell well below expectations month after month, and the state found itself on the brink of fiscal crisis.

The tide began to change when legislators from across the aisle finally bucked Brownback in May 2016, voting to repeal his tax cuts, and then after he vetoed the repeal, mustered the two-thirds majority necessary to override his veto.

It would be wrong to say the change has been instant. For example, the income growth rate in Kansas in all of 2017 was just 2.4 percent, which lagged behind national averages. The Kansas economy still ranks just 44th on Business Insider’s ranking of state economies for 2017.

But here is what has happened — the unemployment rate has fallen from 4 percent to 3.3 percent. As the Bureau of Economic Analysis report shows, wages have increased. And importantly, the state of Kansas collected more than $300 million in tax revenue than budgeted in 2017, giving state legislators opportunity to invest in critical economic infrastructure such as K-12 education, higher education and transportation.

The evidence is rather convincing; the Kansas economy suffered under the Brownback tax policies and it has begun to recover since those policies were repealed. That’s something voters should keep top of mind with the selection of a new governor for the state close at hand.

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The Kansas City Star, Oct. 1

After Kansas Republican Steve Watkins embellished his experience, can voters trust him? ′ The Kansas City Star

The season for padding credentials on the campaign trail has arrived.

A candidate for the Oregon Legislature just bailed out of the race after falsely claiming she had earned a bachelor’s degree. In August, a Florida state House contender dropped out after she was caught lying about her college degree.

Now we have the troubling case of Steve Watkins, the Republican candidate in Kansas’ 2nd Congressional District, who inflated his role with a Middle East security contracting company. He told voters repeatedly that he owned a company and built it from scratch. Turns out, that’s nowhere near the truth.

“I got out of the military, started a small business and grew it from three people to 470 people,” Watkins told an audience in March. “So I know what it’s like to have to sweat it and work to make payroll, to not take any salary so you can make ends meet.”

Of course, the building-a-company-from-scratch tale is prime grist for Republican audiences, and Watkins fed it to them as he fought through a crowded Republican primary. He won, setting up a November showdown with Democrat Paul Davis.

Problem is, the small business that Watkins supposedly grew was VIAP Inc., a subsidiary of Versar Inc., a global project management firm. VIAP existed for years before Watkins came on as a consultant, The Star uncovered in an investigation. The person credited with growing the company is a man named Bill Johnson.

Theodore Prociv, a former CEO of Versar, said he had never heard of Watkins. Several board members also had no memory of him.

What an embarrassment. This gives voters ample reason to question Watkins’ credibility on anything he says. One Kansan who had been in contact with Watkins wrote The Star to say that Watkins “clearly told me he owned the business. He needs to know his words matter. If he would lie about this, is he trustworthy?”

The sad thing is Watkins did dangerous work for Versar/VIAP in war-ravaged Iraq and Afghanistan. This came after he served in Afghanistan as a general engineer with the Army Reserve. Watkins had a story to tell, but he still felt the need to embellish.

Watkins now admits that he didn’t own VIAP but said he helped launch “products and services that we provided clients.” He’s also falling back on the already tired cliche of referring to the report as “fake news” and “horrible journalism.” He insisted to U.S. News that most of the times he talked about the company, he made it clear that he had helped it grow — not that he had owned it from the start.

“What I said was poorly worded, and that’s what they capitalized on,” he said.

C’mon. Watkins is a candidate for Congress. His words do matter. Poor wording has rightly sunk any number of campaigns over the years with Todd Akin’s “legitimate rape” line from 2012 probably rating as the standard-setter.

Until now, Watkins was thought to be in a nip-and-tuck race with Davis. Even before this story surfaced, we were troubled by reports that Watkins’ father spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to help his son win in August.

Now at least Watkins is modifying his remarks by saying he “helped” grow the company.

That’s a start. But Watkins just learned a tough lesson, and it may cost him a congressional seat.

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The Manhattan Mercury, Sept. 30

City right to go after state funds for a Snyder facility

The Manhattan city government is moving toward obtaining a big pile of money to help fix up the area near the K-State football stadium.

And, as you might guess, football is a big part of it. Specifically, Bill Snyder.

The city wants to get the state government to approve the use of a special financing mechanism to pay for the improvements. That financing mechanism is what’s referred to as STAR bonds, which basically allow the city to capture sales tax revenue that would otherwise go to the state. The city previously used STAR bonds to redevelop Third and Fourth streets downtown.

The city has attempted before to get the state to allow the use of STAR bonds for the “North Campus Corridor,” the area near the stadium, but there’s never been an argument persuasive enough to get the state to bite.

The latest element is this: A museum, or some sort of facility, dedicated to the legacy of Bill Snyder, the turnaround he engineered in Manhattan, the people around him, and the principles behind it all. State officials appear to be initially positive on the idea, and so city commissioners this past week approved setting a public hearing. That’s scheduled for Nov. 6.

Commissioners sounded generally willing to consider the idea, which is good. They were careful to make clear that the city and its taxpayers shouldn’t be on the hook to subsidize or operate the facility, and that’s also good.

The idea for the facility came from Jeff Grantham, a Manhattan High and K-State alum who now lives in Kansas City. Exactly what entity would operate the facility, and how it would work as a business, is not yet clear.

That’s fine at this stage. Clearly, there’s some potential attraction for visitors to come here, stay here and spend more money here, with something akin to the College Basketball Experience in downtown Kansas City.

The fact that K-State routinely fills up a 50,000-seat stadium on fall Saturdays is probably all the evidence anyone would need that there’s a great deal of attraction. It could be leveraged all sorts of ways, and we imagine there are a lot of potential funding sources for it.

We’re intrigued to see the details, and we think commissioners are on the right track by allowing the process to move forward.

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