Stephen Koranda

Stephen Koranda is the Statehouse Bureau Chief for Kansas Public Radio.

Stephen Koranda / KPR

Estimates for Kansas tax collections were ratcheted down sharply Wednesday. The state’s projected revenues dropped by a quarter billion dollars over the next year-and-a-half. That leaves Kansas with a budget deficit, and Republican Gov. Sam Brownback is proposing plans for erasing the shortfall.

Kansas will need to find $140 million in the current fiscal year to get out of the red. Next fiscal year, which starts in July, will need another $151 million in cuts or new revenue. Brownback’s budget director, Shawn Sullivan, laid out three options for filling the hole.

The month of March was short on moisture and now drought is creeping across much of Kansas. Assistant State Climatologist Mary Knapp says March is normally a wet month, so last month's dry conditions had a big impact.

“Because it's the start of our wetter pattern, things go down very, very quickly when we don't get what we should be seeing,” says Knapp.

Knapp says the coming months are the normally the rainiest times of year for many parts of Kansas. Those months will be critical in determining whether the drought expands or is washed away by seasonal rains.

Sam Zeff / KCUR

Kansas lawmakers have introduced a new school funding plan that tries to fund school districts more evenly without costing any of them money. Previous plans had redistributed money and left some districts with less overall funding.

Lawmakers are trying to find a way to reduce disparities between school districts following a Kansas Supreme Court ruling. The bill would redistribute state funding and tap an existing extraordinary needs fund.

Republican Sen. Ty Masterson says stakeholders made it clear that no district should lose money.

Stephen Koranda / Kansas Public Radio

Republicans on a Kansas House committee shot down a school funding proposal Thursday. The plan would have added and redistributed money to reduce funding disparities between school districts. The Kansas Supreme Court says lawmakers must address disparities by this summer or schools could be closed.

Several Republican lawmakers criticized the bill for going back to an old system for equalization. Rep. Marc Rhoades says that formula can’t fix funding disparities.

Stephen Koranda / Kansas Public Radio

A Kansas Senate committee has advanced a bill that would expand the grounds for impeaching a state Supreme Court justice.

The bill says justices could be impeached for trying to exercise powers given to the governor or Legislature. Republican Sen. Forrest Knox says checks and balances in government are important.

"We have arrived at a point today in this country, in this state, where specifically Supreme Court justices have become kings, where there is no check," says Knox.

Stephen Koranda / Kansas Public Radio

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback has endorsed Florida Sen. Marco Rubio less than three weeks before the Kansas Republican presidential caucus.

Brownback called Rubio “a true conservative who can unite the party.” Brownback’s son-in-law also works for the Rubio campaign.

Patrick Miller, a University of Kansas political science professor, says Brownback holds some sway with evangelical voters, and that could give Rubio a boost in a divided Republican field.

Stephen Koranda / Kansas Public Radio

The Kansas Supreme Court says the state is not funding public schools fairly and has given the legislature until the end of June to fix the problem. If lawmakers don’t comply, the high court threatens to close public schools.

Republican Sen. Jeff Melcher criticized Thursday’s ruling.

“It’s not unexpected. It’s essentially a temper tantrum by the courts to push their political will on the Legislature," Melcher said. "It’s one of those things where ‘give us the money or the kid gets it,’”

Joe Gratz / Flickr--CC

Kansas House and Senate committees moved quickly Thursday to keep funding intact for the state's courts.

Lawmakers last year tied the judicial budget to another bill changing how chief judges are selected in Kansas judicial districts. When that law was struck down, it also invalidated the court budget, threatening to shut down the court system.

The House Appropriations Committee advanced a bill that would reinstate the court funding. 

Governor Sam Brownback laid out his legislative goals during the 2016 State of the State Address Tuesday night. He took the president to task and touched on high-profile state issues like education spending. 

Brownback laid the groundwork in his speech by referencing what he and lawmakers had done in Kansas in recent years. He touted tax policy, the unemployment rate and job growth.

“Kansans are finding good jobs right here at home. Working together, we’ve created an economic environment where new filings for new businesses have increased by 15 percent,” said Brownback.

Kansas collected $27 million less than expected in taxes last month, largely driven by sagging income and sales tax receipts. The drop is enough to erase the state’s small estimated savings account.

Kansas Secretary of Revenue Nick Jordan says it’s too early to tell if it’s a one-time drop in income taxes or a trend.

“It is the first time this fiscal year that individual income tax receipts have not grown compared to the prior fiscal year to date,” says Jordan.

Stephen Koranda / Kansas Public Radio

Leaders of the Student Senate at the University of Kansas made the case to keep their jobs Wednesday night, but the impeachment process is now underway.

The turmoil is in response to claims of racism and discrimination at KU. The Executive Committee of the Senate called for the president, vice president and chief of staff to resign or face possible impeachment.

Student Body President Jessie Pringle told the Senate that she would stay in her post.

The governing body that represents all University of Kansas faculty, staff and students will be considering how to respond to claims of racism and discrimination at KU. The University Senate Executive Committee will look at changes to make the campus more inclusive.

Michael Williams is a journalism professor at KU and president of the University Senate. He says they take the concerns over racism and discrimination seriously. At the meeting, they’ll be ready to hear suggestions from student and faculty, and they’re going to be making some suggestions of their own.

A panel of state officials has approved more than $4 million in emergency aid for 25 Kansas school districts that requested the additional funding.The money was mostly provided to districts with enrollment growth or falling property values. 

The panel approved $400,000 for Kansas districts with growing student population and more than $350,000 for Wichita Public Schools to help educate refugee students. That district has nearly 100 new refugees from Africa and Asia.

Diane Gjerstad, with the Wichita district, says some of those students have had little formal education.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment has agreed to issue birth certificates for two same-sex couples.

In both cases, the women had children through artificial insemination.

Kansas law says a married couple can both be listed on the birth certificate for a child born through artificial insemination, but the department initially declined to list two women as the parents. 

Attorney David Brown represents a Lawrence couple in a lawsuit over the issue. 

County election officials in Kansas are starting to cancel incomplete voter registrations that are more than 90 days old.

Secretary of State Kris Kobach put the rule in place to clear out thousands of incomplete registrations. There’s a legal challenge against the new rule, but a court last week declined to put it on hold.

Shawnee County Election Commissioner Andrews Howell says it could take weeks to sort through and identify the registrations that will be canceled.

The Kansas Corporation Commission has approved a rate increase of 9 percent for customers of Kansas City Power & Light. The increase was a compromise allowing the electricity company to collect an additional $48 million per year from its 250,000 Kansas electricity customers.

KCP&L says the increase pays for power plant upgrades and means a cleaner, more reliable electric system.

KCC Commissioner Pat Apple voted against the proposal. He says Kansas customers of KCP&L consistently have to pay more for electricity than customers on the Missouri side of the border.

Stephen Koranda / Kansas Public Radio

New test scores released Tuesday show only a quarter of Kansas 10th graders have the math skills needed to be ready for college or a career after graduation. Around a third of 10th graders were shown to have English skills that place them on the college track.

The goal of the new tests is to better judge if students will be ready for college or a job after high school. Board of Education Chairman Jim McNiece says this year's scores may not be as high as some people had hoped, but board members chose to set high goals for the state's students.

Stephen Koranda / Kansas Public Radio

If President Obama closes the Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba, the suspected terrorists who are housed there might be transferred to the military prison at Fort Leavenworth. Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback has spoken out against that idea. Thursday, he brought that message to Leavenworth and heard from the people who would be most directly affected: local residents.

Tax collections in Kansas were $30 million below estimates for the month of August. The state’s tax revenues were hurt by large tax refunds given to companies as part of economic development programs. Secretary of Revenue Nick Jordan says there were bright spots in other areas of the tax numbers and the report would have looked significantly better without the large refunds.

This week, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s office will take comments on a plan to cancel incomplete voter registrations after 90 days. There’s a public hearing on the proposal Wednesday in Topeka.

Kansas regulators will consider a compromise that would allow Westar Energy to increase rates for electricity customers by $78 million. That would mean $5 to $7 more a month for most customers. The Kansas Corporation Commission will consider the compromise during hearings starting Monday. Commissioners will decide whether to adopt it or craft their own plan.

A court recently struck down an Idaho law that barred undercover filming of livestock facilities. Those types of videos are sometimes used by animal rights activists. The ruling could lead to a challenge of a similar Kansas law.

Warren Parker, with the Kansas Farm Bureau, says videos can be edited and twisted to paint a negative picture. He says the law helps prevent people trespassing onto farm property to film the videos, where they could introduce disease. He says livestock producers keeping their farms closed to cameras isn’t about protecting abuse.

The Topeka City Council will consider a proposal that would outlaw public nudity in the city. Currently, there's nothing on the books making it illegal for people in the Kansas capital to bare it all.

At a meeting this week, City Councilman Jeff Coen called the Shunga Trail a gem in Topeka.

“Every time I ride, there’s bunny rabbits running across there. We’ve seen turtles and snakes,” said Coen.

But there are some things he doesn’t want see.

Kansas lawmakers have begun working on a proposal to study the state’s government for efficiency. The state will hire a firm to comb through and evaluate how Kansas spends money.

Kansas lawmakers included $3 million in the budget to pay for the study. Republican Rep. Ron Ryckman is leading a group drawing up the contract documents. The hope is an outside firm could scour state government in a way that lawmakers can’t.

Stephen Koranda / Kansas Public Radio

Gov. Sam Brownback’s budget director believes Kansas officials needs to study how they estimate future state tax collections. The comments were made just before new July revenue numbers came in below the mark.

Over the last year, Kansas tax collections have come up short of the estimates 10 times, and beat the estimates twice. Some of the misses were small, but four times over the last year the state’s monthly tax collections were at least $20 million below expectations.

Brownback’s budget director, Shawn Sullivan, helps create the estimates.

Kansas is wrapping up the first month of the new fiscal year on a sour note. The state’s tax receipts in July came in just shy of expectations.

Over the month, total tax collections in Kansas were short by just about 1 percent, or nearly $4 million. The shortfall was largely driven by sales tax revenue coming in lower than expected.

Dave Ranney / Heartland Health Monitor

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration on Thursday announced $63 million in changes to the state budget.

Much of that comes from increases in federal aid, cost-cutting measures and some services costing less than initially projected. Brownback’s budget director, Shawn Sullivan, outlined in a Statehouse news conference.

The biggest single change — $17.6 million — comes from the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, which provides health coverage to children in low-income families.

Shawnee County Emergency Management / Twitter

An amendment to a bill offered by Republican Kansas Congressman Kevin Yoder could cost some Kansas counties federal funding. 
 
Yoder’s proposal would strip existing Federal Emergency Management Agency grants away from local governments that are not fully enforcing national immigration laws.
 
Under the amendment, Shawnee, Johnson and Sedgwick counties could all lose a substantial amount of federal money. They would still be eligible for disaster aid.
 

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback says his administration will unveil $50 million in state budget cuts this week. The cuts are required as part of a bill passed in the Legislature this year.

When Kansas lawmakers were working to pass a final tax deal, they added a clause requiring the $50 million cut from the budget as a way to help get conservative Republicans on board. When asked last week if Kansas could cut another $50 million without layoffs or hurting state services, Brownback didn’t have much to say.

Stephen Koranda / Kansas Public Radio

The Kansas State Board of Education has narrowly approved a plan to loosen some teaching requirements for six school districts, including Kansas City, Kansas.

The 6-4 vote on Tuesday will allow the districts to hire people who have expertise in a subject but who lack a teaching license.

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