Recent Kansas editorials
Topeka Capital-Journal, July 21
More transparency needed on Kansas Turnpike hikes
Driving on the Kansas turnpike? Get ready to pay more — in some cases a lot more.
According to the Kansas Turnpike Authority, those paying cash in passenger vehicles will fork over 12.5 percent more beginning Oct. 1. For those driving commercial vehicles, the increase will be 10 percent.
Those using K-Tag or another type of transponder device will face a smaller pinch: They will pay some 5 percent above current prices. That should also be the increase that applies to most drivers on our state: About 60 percent of those taking the turnpike pay electronically, according to Steve Hewitt, chief executive officer of the turnpike.
The main question state agencies should face when unveiling a change like this is simple.
The turnpike authority says such hikes are needed to avoid issuing new debt.
Ken Olson, the finance director at KTA, put it this way in a story by The Topeka Capital-Journal’s Tim Carpenter: “A modest toll adjustment is necessary to pay for preservation and modernization projects using cash on hand rather than issuing new debt.”
That makes a certain amount of sense, but it’s definitely lacking specifics. More numbers, showing the needs of the turnpike, and how the toll increases would cover them, would help put minds at ease.
We live in decidedly low-inflation times. The U.S. inflation rate has stayed below 4 percent since the beginning of the Great Recession. Drivers still need to use the turnpike to drive to work or to build their businesses. That means that increases like these pinch much more than they might otherwise.
Finally, turnpike fees are a textbook example of a regressive tax. They don’t take into account the ability of drivers to pay — they are simply levied based on whether a person uses the road or not. That means that these increases harm middle- and lower-income drivers the most. Those among us who are comfortable or wealthy would barely feel the change.
That’s fundamentally unfair. It’s also how the turnpike has worked for year after year, so we don’t expect KTA to make radical changes in its approach now.
Nevertheless, compassion on the part of those setting toll rates is appreciated. For many in Kansas, there’s little choice when it comes to taking the turnpike. They have to pay the fee to make ends meet. The state should do everything possible to make sure it’s not burdening them unduly.
Perhaps the KTA could consider a sunset for these enhanced rates. Perhaps it could take a broader look at its finances. Whatever the case, Kansans need to know it has their best interests in mind.
Kansas City Star, July 19
Sen. Barbara Bollier has independent thoughts. Fellow Republicans say that’s a problem
Kansas state Sen. Barbara Bollier has never tried to look like something she is not. The Mission Hills Republican votes her district, which is moderate, and speaks her mind, conveying not only talking points but on occasion, original thoughts. Weird, right?
Both parties and our political system as a whole would be better off with more such independent operators.
But we can’t say we’re surprised that Bollier is being punished by her party, which wants to expel her for showing she won’t be dictated to.
She’s the kind of free-thinking, sensible centrist that Kansas used to specialize in. But that was then.
Her crime, as you may have heard, was openly supporting Johnson County teacher Tom Niermann, a Democrat, over her fellow Kansas Republican, U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder, in his congressional re-election campaign.
For one thing, she feels that Yoder is not as accountable to constituents as he ought to be, and thinks the district needs someone “who will actually talk to the people in the district.” Someone more like Dennis Moore, the Democrat Yoder succeeded.
Strike two was that Bollier intends to support her fellow state senator, Democrat Laura Kelly, in this year’s governor’s race, if Kelly wins her primary.
That any true political moderate would be on the lookout for an alternative to either leading Republican gubernatorial candidate — immigrant-obsessed Kris Kobach, or Jeff Colyer, who served alongside Sam Brownback, whose tax cuts did so much damage, is not exactly a bolt from the blue.
But Bollier had the temerity to be open about all of the above. Strike three.
As a result, she’s already been stripped by Senate President Susan Wagle of her leadership role on the Senate Health and Public Welfare Committee. “It’s always fun to find out you got fired from your job for exercising your First Amendment right,” Bollier said.
If elected officials have to fall in line and toe it, too, then public servants are nothing more than puppets of their leadership, and we might as well send robots to Topeka.
“The senator has completely exposed herself and we will get her in 2020,” Kansas GOP Executive Director Jim Joice wrote on what he thought was a closed Facebook page. And, he said, “we will most certainly not be giving anyone who does this shit financial support.”
Elegantly stated, sir. But it’s you who has exposed yourself, and it isn’t a pretty sight.
Wichita Eagle, July 17
Kansas senators missed the memo on criticism of President Trump
When did it become so necessary to unequivocally back the President of the United States when he’s a member of your party?
Oh sure, protecting your party’s president is a long-standing tradition. Party faithful, be they senators or sanitation workers, are quick to prop up their leader after misspeaking, missteps or other wobbles in judgment. It’s happened for Republicans and Democrats alike for generations.
But Monday in Helsinki was more than a wobble.
President Donald Trump took the side of a murderous Russian dictator, Vladimir Putin, over Trump’s own American intelligence agencies in Russia’s meddling during the 2016 presidential election.
“President Putin says it’s not Russia. I don’t see any reason why it would be” is the quote most likely to make our grandchildren’s history books someday.
Trump backtracked Tuesday, but with a statement that contradicted much of Monday’s news conference. An American president, standing on neutral soil alongside the dictator of a long-time adversary, gave the dictator as much credence as dedicated U.S. intelligence officers.
So why were Kansas Sens. Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran so tepid in their responses to the president’s words?
Roberts’ statement, through Twitter, laid out facts as he saw them — the intelligence community has proven Russian interference and remains a threat — without mentioning Trump.
Moran’s longer response said much of the same, adding Putin is not America’s friend, and came the closest of our two senators to direct criticism of Trump: “The president missed an opportunity to publicly condemn Russia for election interference or offer strong support for the NATO alliance.”
“Missed an opportunity.” That’s all you got?
Roberts and Moran come off like baseball broadcasters for a struggling ballclub. (A nearby bunch in blue comes to mind.) A player makes an inexcusable goof and the announcer softens it: “He missed an opportunity there.”
Trump’s presidency has rewritten the rules in public separation from the party line. GOP elected officials are less willing to be critical of the president under the threat they could no longer be in favor with Trump and his rock-solid base.
The rules have also been rewritten by how much Trump and his administration — see now-departed cabinet secretaries Tom Price and Scott Pruitt — have been embroiled in controversy. When comment of an administration’s work is needed on more days than not, it becomes naturally harder for party loyalists to take stands and turn up the heat. Criticism in moderation.
But Helsinki was different, as many Republican elected officials and pundits have showed since Trump boarded Air Force One for Washington. Disavowing Trump’s words wasn’t limited to Democrats and the left.
Roberts and Moran chose not to go full-throated with their words.
They know Trump failed Monday to defend his country. Whether the president truly thinks Putin is as believable as his own intelligence agencies, or whether he was continuing to improve his role as President Provocateur, the senators should have joined other Republicans in calling out Trump in what is shaping up as his lowest presidential moment so far.
They missed an opportunity.