The Hutchinson News, Jan. 18
Waiting on courts:
With all due respect to Kansas' Supreme Court justices, they need to wrap up their decision on the pivotal lawsuit over state spending on public schools so the Legislature can get on with business.
Some legislators might opt to ignore the decision anyway, but the issue of public school spending — along with the larger state budget — seems suspended while everyone waits in anticipation of the ruling. The 2014 session of our part-time Legislature has begun, and, typically lasting just three months, the business of government needs to proceed. Public education being a huge chunk of the state budget, most all other fiscal decisions — if not the whole legislative session agenda — are contingent on this ruling.
The decision, we keep being told, is due any day now.
This lawsuit is the latest in a long saga pitting school districts against legislators and the governor over how much money is sufficient to fulfill the state's constitutional guarantee for adequately financing its schools.
The last round of litigation concluded in 2006, when the state Supreme Court attempted to put a figure to it, based on studies the Legislature had commissioned. The legislative branch complied at that time, though much to the displeasure of some lawmakers who thought the judicial branch was overstepping its authority.
The public school system got a financial boost out of that litigation, but when the economy collapsed a few years later, legislators rolled back spending. Then, when budgets weren't restored after the economy rebounded enough to pay for deep cuts to income taxes championed by Gov. Sam Brownback, school districts went back to the courts.
The state's basic aid to schools per pupil for the 2015 fiscal year is $3,852, down from a peak of $4,433.
And so now we wait.
The current lawsuit was filed more than three years ago. It worked its way through a lower court first, and the state Supreme Court heard arguments back in October.
Of course, the courts often seemingly work at a snail's pace, and maybe this delay is one way for the courts to prove a point about their own budget cuts at the hand of legislators. But time is of the essence in this case.
The Iola Register, Jan. 16
According to Gov. Brownback's speech Jan. 15, Kansas is leading a moral renaissance by evidence of our superior family values and work ethic.
Education remains a top priority, the governor said in his annual State of the State address.
"Kansas ranks fourth among all states in the percentage of our budget committed to education," Brownback said, leading listeners to believe we are a top-tier funder.
That's a half-truth. Twenty years ago Kansas changed how it funds education by cutting property taxes. Today's levy for schools is capped at 20 mills, down from 35 mills.
Overall, base aid to Kansas schools is significantly lower compared to other states — and slipping.
The same goes for higher education.
Not one word was said about restoring recent cuts to education.
In fact, Brownback bolstered legislators to keep this de-funding mechanism on track. He took umbrage at the Kansas Supreme Court, saying justices have no role in saying what a suitable education for Kansas children should be, in spite of the Kansas Constitution.
Kansas legislators need no guidance, he said.
Can't you tell?
As for rural Kansas, the Rural Opportunity Zone program is such a success that "we now have a housing shortage in many of our rural communities," Brownback crowed. As if the decline in rural housing stock is due to a massive influx of new residents.
No governor, the reason we lack adequate housing is because we are not replacing those that fall into disrepair, because of a lack of good jobs in our area, because of a decline in educational opportunities. Children get one shot at a good education.
The future of rural Kansas, especially, is dim if we continue to have crowded classrooms, old textbooks and inadequate supplies, all of which hamper the educational experience.
To his credit, Brownback advocated all-day kindergarten and its statewide implementation. The program would not only provide a better educational foundation for Kansas children, but also relieve school districts that charge parents for such programs.
Kansas is leading an "American Renaissance," Brownback said, with a return to the strong traits exhibited by our forefathers.
"We know the way," he said. "God wrote it on our hearts."
The Hays Daily News, Jan. 19
Wind farms and airport safety:
Ground-breaking research from the University of Kansas is bound to catch the attention of any city or county in Kansas looking to jump on the wind-power bandwagon. As wind farms proliferate throughout the state, it appears consideration of their proximity to airports is important beyond the obvious obstacle presented by the turbines' height.
Researchers at KU's School of Engineering concluded small aircraft can be affected dramatically by the turbulence produced by wind turbines.
"We're really looking at two potential threats," said Tom Mulinazzi, professor of civil, environmental and architectural engineering. "These turbines can set up a circular vortex that can roll a plane if it gets in there. And they can increase crosswind speeds above what's expected, which can be a real danger to small aircraft, which don't typically take off and land with crosswinds stronger than about 12 miles per hour."
The KU team said the turbulence created can stretch out nearly 3 miles, depending on wind speed.
The potential danger strikes us as real. There have been many alleged nefarious outcomes attributed to wind turbines; hardly any withstand the scrutiny of peer-reviewed scientific research. The circular vortex was measured utilizing advanced aerodynamics modeling, as were rotational vortices generated by the spinning blades.
Kansas has about 140 public-use airports and many more private-use airports. There are 16 wind farms operating in Kansas today, but there are proposals for an additional 58, with some planned in close proximity to existing airports.
Researchers are hoping their findings will make their way in planning and zoning regulations in any locale considering a wind farm.
"So as state and local leaders consider these proposals for new wind farms, we're hoping to provide them with specific information they can use to create guidelines to ensure aircraft safety," Mulinazzi said. "Right now, there's really nothing on the books."
We believe there is an easier fix, particularly if this research is accepted by the Federal Aviation Administration. The KU team did point out FAA currently only evaluates vertical structures from a static perspective within an airport zone.
But federal regulations instruct the FAA to determine "the potential hazardous effect of the proposed construction on air navigation" and "identifying mitigating measures to enhance safe air navigation." There appears to be room for interpreting these words to include measurable vortices generated by wind turbines.
Already, the FAA must be notified about any proposed 200-plus-foot-tall structure within 10,000 feet of a public-use airport with runways shorter than 3,200 feet, or within 20,000 feet if the runways are longer. Cities or counties attempting to allow wind farms anywhere close to an airport already would run afoul of federal law if they didn't notify the FAA.
The KU team is to be congratulated for potentially saving lives with their research. However, it is up to the FAA to incorporate the findings into its safety inspections. Local and state officials shouldn't have to amend all existing ordinances. Still, it wouldn't hurt to be aware of what wind turbines can do.
The Wichita Eagle, Jan. 17
Debate medical marijuana:
Unlikely as it seems that conservative Kansas will join anything-goes Colorado in decriminalizing pot, Kansas advocates of medicinal marijuana are due committee hearings and a full debate at the Statehouse.
So are Kansans, given that 70 percent of those polled a year ago by SurveyUSA for KWCH, Channel 12, favored legalizing medical pot. A more than two-thirds majority of the Kansas Silver-Haired Legislature also recently recommended a bill to allow people to use marijuana if they have certain medical conditions and a physician's recommendation.
Such endorsements merit notice by the full Legislature, apart from the rapid gains that the legalization movement is making elsewhere in the country.
And how interesting it would be to see a medical marijuana bill voted on in even one chamber in Topeka.
Would the GOP's traditional tough-on-crime stance prevail? Or would the majority conservatives sympathize with the libertarian case for individual freedom and personal responsibility, and for allowing legal access to an alternative medical treatment found to ease suffering for the ill and dying?
Then there's the appeal of the new revenue stream that legalized medicinal marijuana could provide as Kansas tries to eliminate state income taxes. Colorado collected $5.4 million in sales tax from $199.1 million in medical marijuana purchases in fiscal 2012.
State Rep. Gail Finney, D-Wichita, and others have had no success with medical marijuana bills since 2009. But to his credit, House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, has indicated he won't block such a bill (though he wouldn't favor it either).
There are worthy arguments against joining the more than 20 states that allow medicinal use of marijuana, including the problems created by its continuing illegality at the federal level. Let's hear both sides debated at the Statehouse.