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Recent Kansas Editorials

February 5, 2019

The Lawrence Journal-World, Feb. 3

Unnecessary risk on taxes

Republican legislators are playing a dangerous game with state tax funding given some of the crises the state faces.

Last week, lawmakers advanced out of committee a tax relief bill designed to prevent the state from collecting new tax revenue because of changes in federal tax law that simplified the tax code, increased standard deductions and discouraged individual taxpayers from itemizing. Under existing Kansas law, Kansas taxpayers can’t itemize if they didn’t itemize on their federal returns.

Estimates are the bill could cost the state $192 million in tax revenue.

Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly opposes revising tax policies until the state knows it has enough funding to meet its financial obligations, first and foremost increased funding for public education. Kansas remains under a court order to provide adequate funding for K-12 education during the current legislative session, and Kelly’s plan is to phase in $364 million in additional money for public schools over four years. Legislative researchers estimate the state can’t implement Republicans’ tax reform and fund Kelly’s public school plan.

And K-12 education is not the only area of pressing need. Higher education has suffered years of cuts and is seeking to have funding restored to levels in place before emergency cuts were implemented in 2016. Transportation funding has suffered from years of legislators using funds set aside for transportation elsewhere.

Roger Werholtz, the interim secretary of corrections, has said the state’s prisons face a crisis far worse than legislators had previously known, because of crowding and a lack of personnel. The state has expanded the practice of double bunking — putting two inmates in a cell meant for one — and simultaneously collapsed guard posts because of a lack of personnel. Werholtz released photos that showed serious injuries to inmates and extensive damage from what Werholtz said were two riots at the state prison in El Dorado. Previously, the state has acknowledged only that there were “incidents” at El Dorado.

“I think we’re all thankful that we now have a much clearer picture of what’s really going on,” Republican House committee Chairman Russ Jennings said after being briefed by Werholtz. “The whole story wasn’t told.”

As of last week, the state had 100 more inmates than it had capacity to house, even with double bunking. Kelly has proposed help — her budget includes $3 million in new funding to help prisons fill vacant positions — but it isn’t clear those funds will be approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature.

It hasn’t even been two years since legislators from both sides of the aisle worked together to reverse the disastrous tax policies implemented during Sam Brownback’s tenure as governor. The state is still recovering from that era, yet Republicans are already eager to go back.

They’re playing with fire. Before revising the state’s tax policies yet again, lawmakers should make sure the state has the funds necessary to fix its schools, highways and prisons.

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The Kansas City Star, Feb. 3

Place your bets: Will Kansas, Missouri legalize sports gambling before next Super Bowl?

The Chiefs aren’t in the Super Bowl. That’s OK. There’s always next year.

Hundreds of thousands of Kansas Citians will watch the game on Sunday anyway. And we’re pretty confident that at least some of those sports fans will have placed a wager or two on the outcome.

In most circumstances, those bets are illegal.

That should change before the next Super Bowl. Lawmakers in Kansas and Missouri should make sports gambling legal in both states before adjourning their 2019 legislative sessions.

The U.S. Supreme Court opened the door to state-based sports gambling last year, and several states have already enacted sports wagering schemes. Those states are now taking in millions of dollars generated by the activity.

Kansas and Missouri are still talking about it. Missouri lawmakers recently heard testimony on a sports gambling bill, and the Kansas House just named a subcommittee to discuss the issue.

Bills have been introduced in both states that would legalize sports gambling.

Those measures take different approaches to the issue. Lawmakers must decide if gambling will be restricted to in-person facilities, such as casinos and racetracks, or if gamblers can use the internet to place bets. If internet-based gambling is allowed, must players physically be in the state to wager?

Oversight and regulation are important. So are fees and tax rates. And where will the money raised be spent? Should sports leagues, including the National Football League and Major League Baseball, get a piece of the action?

Because the bills under discussion address these issues in different ways, estimates of potential revenue for the states are wildly imprecise. Missouri might take in $30 million a year, according to one study; Kansas could collect a bit more because the Kansas plan would allow gambling in more places.

Lawmakers will have to fill in the blanks in the weeks ahead. But carefully considered sports gambling laws in both Kansas and Missouri would provide substantial revenue for state programs for years to come.

Will gambling solve all the states’ budget problems? No. The needs are great in Missouri and Kansas, far more than an additional $40 million or $50 million would address.

And other states are enacting sports betting schemes, too. That reduces the potential revenue. In fact, the discussion surrounding sports gambling closely resembles the arguments about riverboat casinos in the 1990s: Once one or two states allowed casinos, others followed, and the promised flood of cash never materialized.

But sports gambling will provide some money to Topeka and Jefferson City. Since wagering on sports is going to happen anyway, lawmakers should take advantage of the Supreme Court’s ruling this year.

That means Kansas Citians could legally wager on next year’s Super Bowl without leaving their living rooms. The Chiefs, by the way, are our early favorite for the 2020 game.

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The Manhattan Mercury, Jan. 31

It’s cold, but climate change is no joke

Wednesday’s bone-chilling temperatures, while not at a record-setting level in Manhattan according to K-State’s weather office, were certainly unusually low for our part of the country. And much of the Midwest faced even more dramatic cold. Parts of Minnesota recorded wind chills in the range of minus 60 degrees.

We understand why in the face of such weather, “global warming” seems like a joke.

Still, we hope President Donald Trump was kidding when he tweeted about climate change on Monday: “What the hell is going on with Global Warming?” he wrote. “Please come back fast, we need you!”

Now we don’t want to be too tough on the president, who may have written that tweet facetiously, and must at least partly have been baiting left-wingers. We’re sure lots of people, digging out their wool socks or waiting for their cars to warm up this week, made similar cracks.

But just to make sure no one is confused about where the joke ends, let’s get one thing straight: Short-term changes in the atmosphere (weather) are not the same as shifts the average weather over long periods of time (climate).

And in fact, scientists say the documented, human-caused disruption in climate comes with a pattern of more frequent and more intense weather events.

That means if anything, this recent cold snap is proof of — not evidence against — global warming.

Some specifics of this particular weather system, if you’re interested: The polar vortex is the name for the winds in the Arctic, which typically keep the coldest air way up there. Sometimes it shifts south. But now, unusually, the polar vortex has broken into two systems, one of which made its way down to North America.

A number of scientists studying the phenomenon believe this is related to climate change. Specifically, they’re looking at the jet stream, which has slowed and changed course as the planet warms. The jet stream interacts with the polar vortex, and is partly responsible for bringing the cold farther south.

The polar vortex is also affected by diminishing ice in the Arctic. As sea ice melts, the dark ocean below absorbs the sun’s heat. That heat is released into the atmosphere, creating winds that affect the polar vortex.

These patterns are complex, and even researchers don’t yet have all the answers. But even those who don’t want to believe in climate change ought to be paying serious attention to it, because the ramifications are huge.

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