Stephen Koranda

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

Stephen Koranda / Kansas Public Radio

Kansas officials have lowered the forecast for future tax collections by hundreds of millions of dollars, creating a bleak budget picture. The state now faces a $350 million deficit in the current fiscal year and a nearly $600 million budget gap in the next fiscal year.

Sometimes when the revenue estimate is lowered, Republican Kansas Governor Sam Brownback immediately announces cuts to balance the budget. Brownback’s budget director, Shawn Sullivan, says they aren’t doing that this time.

Stephen Koranda / KPR

It’s a campaign without ads. There are no TV spots or mailers. The only people voting are the 165 Kansas lawmakers choosing their new leaders.

“Leadership races are the most inside of inside baseball,” says University of Kansas political scientist Burdett Loomis.

Loomis says you almost have to be a legislative nerd to have heard of the candidates for Kansas House speaker or Senate president, but they get to make committee assignments and control the chamber.

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As Election Day closes in, it's time to get down to brass tacks. 

 

Our collaborative team covering elections in Kansas has been answering your questions, big and small. 

 

Katie in Shawnee has the essential question: 

 

“What’s the best place to find who will be on the ticket for my district, and what’s the best way to look at their platform?”

 

Stephen Koranda / KPR

The number of registered voters in Kansas has risen by more than 40,000 since the 2012 presidential election, according the Secretary of State’s office. But it’s a different story in Wyandotte County. Even though the population of the big county in the Kansas City metro is growing, voter registrations are down by around 4,000 from four years ago.

In the days before the Oct. 18 registration deadline, a few volunteers were working to change that. They had unfolded a table in front of a Dollar Tree store to register voters in Kansas City, Kansas.

Stephen Koranda / Kansas Public Radio

Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle and Republican candidates for that chamber have released a series of policy proposals, which include the possibility of amending tax cuts made in recent years.

The plan includes overarching themes on topics such as balancing the budget, writing a new school funding formula and creating fairness in the tax code.

Wagle is working to harness voter frustration with the Legislature and the budget. She's laying out a message aimed squarely at those Kansans.

Secretary of State Kris Kobach says the voting in yesterday’s primary election went smoothly across Kansas, with no significant problems. But one issue that remains is how many Kansans cast provisional ballots after a judge allowed 17,000 previously suspended voters to take part in the election.

The provisional ballots from those voters will be hand counted in the coming days. Kobach says he does not expect any issues handling those extra votes.

Gov. Sam Brownback and the Kansas Legislature continue to be unpopular, and the primary race in the 1st Congressional District is in a dead heat, according to a new survey from the Fort Hays State University Docking Institute. 

With the presidential nominations settled and Kansas races heating up ahead of the Aug. 2 primaries, Brad Pendergast, with the Docking Institute, says it was time for some new polling numbers.

Stephen Koranda / Kansas Public Radio

The Kansas Bioscience Authority will soon go on the auction block. A state panel Wednesday officially merged the KBA into the Kansas Department of Commerce, the first step in selling off the state-funded investment organization.

Commerce Secretary Antonio Soave says the agency will be taking bids to purchase the organization in the comings months. He says they’re hoping for a buyer with a connection to the state of Kansas.

Stephen Koranda / KPR

A state Senate race in the Topeka area shows how complicated this election cycle can be for some candidates. Kansas Republicans are running at a time when polls are showing the state’s Republican governor – and the Legislature itself – with pretty low approval ratings.

Senator Vicki Schmidt, a moderate Republican from Topeka’s 20th District, is not shy about the fact that she often doesn’t see eye-to-eye with Gov. Sam Brownback.

Kansas Elections Director Bryan Caskey and state Sen. Vicki Schmidt discuss the proposed voting rule during the  Kansas Rules and Regulations Board meeting.
Stephen Koranda / KPR

With little advance notice of the hearing, a state panel has approved a temporary election rule that will have some Kansans vote with provisional ballots, but only their votes in federal races will be counted. Votes for state and local races will be tossed out.

Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach proposed the rule. The Kansas Rules and Regulations Board approved it Tuesday morning after notice of the meeting was sent out Monday afternoon.

Stephen Koranda / KPR

 

It’s time to start voting, Kansas.

From the top of the primary ballot to the bottom there are important decisions to make by Aug. 2.

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Kansas lawmakers have approved a school funding plan that they say will end the risk of a legal fight closing Kansas schools. The bill is in response to a Supreme Court ruling that says the funding system was unfair to poorer school districts.

Democratic Sen. Anthony Hensley joined a large bipartisan majority Friday night that supported the bill.

“Regardless of who came up with the plan, what matters is that what we did today was put the children of Kansas first. This is a responsible plan that solves the problem,” said Hensley.

The Kansas Senate has narrowly defeated a constitutional amendment that would have prevented courts from closing public schools in the future. Lawmakers are currently in a legal dispute with the Kansas Supreme Court over education funding that could result in schools closing July 1.

The proposal was designed to prevent courts as well as lawmakers from shuttering schools. Republican Sen. Jeff King said he pushed the amendment so that Kansas voters could consider the idea on the November ballot.

Stephen Koranda / Kansas Public Radio

A school funding plan has been making fast progress in the Kansas Legislature, passing out of both House and Senate committees Thursday. The proposal will cut the general state aid all school districts receive by .5 percent, then redistribute that money to assist poorer school districts.

It also takes funding from several other places for a total of $38 million. Republican Sen. Ty Masterson believes the bill can win legislative and judicial approval and prevent schools from shutting down.

Stephen Koranda / KPR

Thousands of people in Kansas have incomplete voter registrations, which means they haven’t been able to vote. They were caught up in the state’s requirement that some people provide citizenship documents when registering. Now, a federal appeals court says many of those people should be allowed to vote in federal elections.

Republican Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach has pushed for the more stringent voter registration rules to ensure security in elections, but voter advocacy groups say the cost has been too high.

Stephen Koranda / KPR

Republican Kansas Governor Sam Brownback says he will call state lawmakers back to Topeka for a special session to work on school funding issues. In a statement, Brownback said he made the decision after consulting with legislative leaders.

Brownback spokeswoman Eileen Hawley says the governor’s priority is avoiding a school shutdown caused by a lawsuit over school funding.

“They’re going to work very hard to keep the special session focused on the issue of education to make sure the courts do not close our schools and the kids can go back to school,” says Hawley.

A deadline is looming for Kansas voters who want to change political parties in time for the August primary election.

State law says voters can’t switch party affiliation for the primary after June 1. This is only the second election affected by the new party registration deadline.

Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew says some voters were caught unaware two years ago.

“We had a number of people -especially in July because of the old registration deadline which happens in July- who were used to redeclaring a party and they couldn’t,” Shew says.

Stephen Koranda / Kansas Public Radio

Critics of a proposed rule change regarding birth certificates criticized the policy at a public hearing Thursday. The proposal would make it virtually impossible for transgender people to have the sex changed on their Kansas birth certificate.

Stephanie Mott, who is transgender, says government documents that don’t match a transgender person’s identity make it more likely they’ll face discrimination and harassment. She says this policy would further stigmatize transgender Kansans.

Stephen Koranda / KPR

Kansas lawmakers struggled over the weekend working late nights trying to craft a budget solution. Ultimately, they approved a plan in the early hours of Monday morning.

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,’”

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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.

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