The Garden City Telegram, Sept. 24
It's no time to eliminate programs that create jobs.
News of Kansas Main Street's demise wasn't a surprise.
With Gov. Sam Brownback's administration on a mission to eliminate state-funded endeavors, even a proven economic development program such as KMS wasn't safe.
The Kansas Department of Commerce recently announced termination of the 27-year-old state program that has helped many Kansas communities, Garden City included, revitalize downtown districts.
It's not as if the community-based organizations relied on the state for operational funding. Garden City Downtown Vision, for example, enjoys strong support from members and sponsors, along with local government, and will stay viable.
Local Main Street organizations did, however, benefit from KMS training and expertise in crafting strategies that spurred job growth.
State officials cited shrinking federal and state budgets in defending the move. But in their haste to erase KMS, they didn't bother to address the fallout, including the fate of one effective KMS program.
Through the Incentives Without Walls program, individual Main Street organizations could apply for zero-interest loans of up to $20,000 each to assist businesses with specific projects. The money was matched, and as loans were repaid those dollars went back into a revolving loan account.
It's been a prudent economic development strategy in Garden City, with more than two dozen such loans helping to launch new ventures or assist existing businesses.
Knowing active IWW loans are in place, state officials have yet to explain to Garden City and other Main Street communities what will happen with that particular program, and how they're supposed to move forward in general without valuable KMS support.
Downtown districts and their small businesses warrant the attention and support. A drab, uninviting downtown sends the wrong message to prospective businesses and residents.
Plus, the Main Street program has helped create and maintain jobs, something Brownback has deemed a priority.
Kansas needs to invest in such initiatives. State lawmakers who reportedly knew nothing of the plan to scrap KMS should speak up in defense of the program.
And the governor should explain how eliminating an effective economic development program makes sense, and what the state will do to replace those vital efforts.
The Kansas City Star, Sept. 22
Obesity burdens states with more costs, illnesses
Missouri's weight problem is the public's business. Ditto for Kansas.
Dealing with it head-on could save billions of dollars for taxpayers in both states.
A report released last week showed the two states creeping perilously close to the top 10 in the nation's obesity rankings. Researchers projected Kansas would be tied with Louisiana as the seventh most obese state by 2030, with Missouri right behind in ninth place.
Right now, Missouri is the 12th most obese state, and Kansas is tied with Ohio for 13th.
The report, by Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, projects that two-thirds of adults in both Kansas and Missouri will be obese by 2030 unless people make substantial changes in food and lifestyle patterns.
That is a frightening forecast. Obesity is a cause of diabetes, heart disease, strokes, depression, multiple types of cancer and other afflictions. It also is already a leading factor in staggering state Medicaid costs borne by taxpayers, and those will accelerate unless something is done.
The obesity question made for a rare moment of agreement Friday between Democrat Claire McCaskill and Republican Todd Akin, who are running for the U.S. Senate seat from Missouri now held by McCaskill.
Both said government had no business telling Americans what and how to eat.
Of course no one wants Uncle Sam roving the supermarket aisles, shooing shoppers away from the potato chips and toward the broccoli. But public officials make a big mistake by ignoring the obesity problem, or trying to pack it into a "big brother" box.
The financial and physical health of states and their populations depends on getting obesity under control. As last week's report pointed out, Missouri could save $5 billion between now and 2030 by reducing its overall body mass index by 5 percent and preventing 180,000 cases of diabetes. Kansas could prevent 77,000 cases of diabetes and save $2.4 billion in health care costs.
One leader who gets it is Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback. A few weeks ago he called together more than 200 state officials, health workers and members of the Governor's Council of Fitness for a day-long summit on obesity.
By the end of the session, Brownback had assigned the secretary of the state's Department of Health and Environment to assess how to get healthier foods and more opportunities for activity into all state cafeterias and residential facilities. Brownback also pledged to pull together a friendly competition to encourage "walking teams" around the state.
Participants came up with a host of other ideas for the public sector to influence food and lifestyle choices in a positive way. A sample:
—Encourage more physical activity in child care centers, perhaps through licensing incentives.
—Promote wellness programs in workplaces.
—Work with retailers to encourage healthier food in underserved areas.
These aren't huge, intrusive steps, but efforts elsewhere to get people moving and eating more fruits and vegetables have shown positive results. Kansas leaders should be commended for addressing the problem.
Missouri should take a lead from its neighbor. Though scattered anti-obesity efforts exist in the state, some of them coordinated by the Missouri Council for Activity & Nutrition, there has been no high-profile, concerted campaign to tackle this public health problem.
Missouri cannot afford to be in denial. Top leaders should get out in front of a campaign for healthier lifestyles.
The Topeka Capital-Journal, Sept. 21
Time to build NBAF
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano says she thinks it's time "to fish or cut bait" on proceeding with construction of the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility.
We, too, think it's time to proceed with the project. But we don't think there's any decision to be made as to whether Homeland Security should "fish or cut bait" on the issue.
The country needs the research facility and the decision to locate it in Manhattan has been made, more than once. Napolitano says Homeland Security still favors building NBAF in Manhattan.
That's great. Now it's time to release the funding to make it happen.
Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., reminded Napolitano of that fact during a recent Senate committee hearing and noted that if $90 million already approved for the project wasn't released soon — a matter of weeks — several contracts on the project would have to be rebid.
Manhattan was selected in 2008 as the site for an NBAF to replace an outdated facility on Plum Island, N.Y. Delays and studies, some prompted by other states that had hoped to land the facility and questioned Kansas' suitability for the project, have cost the country four years that could have been devoted to building and opening NBAF, which will conduct research on animal diseases.
The latest review of the project again confirmed the necessity of such a research facility and stated the Plum Island laboratory, even if renovated, was inadequate.
The General Services Administration has even scheduled a hearing on Oct. 18 to discuss its plan to sell Plum Island after its animal disease laboratory closes. The GSA and Homeland Security have recommended selling the 840-acre island but haven't established a minimum price for the property.
Some political officials in that area, however, still oppose closing the lab, which employs about 200 people. Others support turning the island into protected open space while still others support development of the property.
Frankly, we don't care what the government does with Plum Island once the laboratory is closed. What is important is that Homeland Security and the GSA know Plum Island is no longer suitable for the research to be conducted at an NBAF and are prepared to close the old lab and sell it.
So it's not time to "fish or cut bait." It's time to release $90 million set aside for the NBAF project — $40 million for a utility plant to power the facility and $50 million to begin construction — and get things moving.
Napolitano says she's eager to release the $40 million. She should make it happen.
The Wichita Eagle, Sept. 18
Shame on Kobach
The absurd suspense now over, President Obama's name will be listed on the state's ballots for the Nov. 6 general election after all. Too bad Kansas can't un-ring the bell heard far and wide when the State Objections Board hesitated to deny a Manhattan resident's challenge to Obama's citizenship.
National headlines casting three top statewide elected officials as birther sympathizers were not what Kansas needed as it attempts to recruit new businesses and grow its economy and population.
To their discredit, Attorney General Derek Schmidt and Lt. Gov Jeff Colyer had the votes on the board to toss out the challenge last week but didn't, sanctioning the need to receive more documentation confirming the president's citizenship status. Their absences at Monday's follow-up meeting, and the zeal of their deputies to end it quickly, signaled their lack of interest in prolonging the nonsense.
But the real shame falls on Secretary of State Kris Kobach. As the state's top elections official, he lent credibility to Joe Montgomery's ridiculous complaint in his statements at both meetings and to the media. Then Kobach let California attorney Orly Taitz, the mother of birtherism, speak at Monday's meeting, even though Montgomery already had dropped his objection.
Nor did Kobach help himself or the situation he'd put the state in by saying afterward, "That, for me, settles the issue" and "I have no doubts now."
So he did, in fact, have doubts before? Come on.
Many Kansans are losing patience with their secretary of state, and no wonder. Nearly two years into his tenure, Kobach seems less interested in the job than in crusading against so-called voter fraud and illegal immigration all over the country, influencing the GOP platform, and supposedly advising GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney. (That's a relationship of some mystery, by the way; the Romney campaign has called Kobach an "informal adviser," but Romney told Univision Monday, "I have not met with him." His campaign spokesman later said that Kobach and Romney have met at campaign events but that Kobach doesn't participate in policy meetings.)
Regarding his moonlighting as the author of other states' anti-immigration laws, Kobach has said, "I use my spare time to defend American sovereignty." But he needs to understand that everything he does, on or off the clock, reflects on Kansas.
And his handling of the birther challenge made Kansas look ridiculous.