Recent Kansas editorials

By

The Topeka Capital-Journal, Aug. 17

Money from the dark side:

Shortly after the primary elections earlier this month, The Topeka Capital-Journal advised its readers to do some research on the issues important to them and learn the candidates' positions on those issues.

Recent events prompt us to repeat that advice today. And there's a good chance we may find need to visit the subject again before the November general election.

Gov. Sam Brownback's re-election campaign staff was up in arms Wednesday about ads that a "dark money" group had released attacking the governor's record on public education and the economy. "Dark money" groups are third-party organizations that don't have to report where their funding comes from because they are established to "educate" voters on issues rather than advocate for one candidate's election.

Some organizations are very loose with the definition of "educate," however. And a lot of their ads are designed more for distortion than education.

Republicans and Democrats alike benefit from "dark money" campaign ads. It is not a game played just by supporters of one political party.

Brownback is the one calling foul now, but his opponent, Democrat Paul Davis, no doubt will have opportunities before Election Day to take issue with "dark money" ads that address votes he cast as a legislator.

A story published Friday in The Topeka Capital-Journal reported on the American Association of Political Consultants' "Pollie Awards." The association's categories for awards includes one for negative/contrast ads (attack ads). Two ads related to a Kansas Senate race in 2012 received awards for their creators.

Despite arguments to the contrary from an official with the political consultants association, it's clear the awards recognize the work of those who create attack ads that do little to educate the voters.

Over the next 11 weeks, Kansans are going to be subjected to a lot of "dark money" ads from groups supporting Republican and Democrat candidates. The governor's race is expected to be a tight one and such races attract a lot of attention from third-party organizations. If the race for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Republican Pat Roberts is anywhere near close, it too will draw its share of "dark money."

Voters should not consider as gospel what they read and see in those ads. The candidates have records that can be researched, and they will be out and about campaigning. Pay attention to their records, what they say and the information in advertisements produced by their campaigns. A voter swayed by "dark money" is not an informed voter.

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The Kansas City Star, Aug. 16:

Why Sam Brownback is not an education governor

Facing a tough road to re-election, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback is fighting to brand himself as an education governor.

His campaign this week accused a rival group of committing "bold-faced lies" when it accused him of cutting education funding. On the contrary, Brownback says, he has increased school funding by record amounts.

"One of the myths is that you can't cut taxes and invest in education," the governor said at a campaign event on Friday.

Actually, the Brownback camp is spinning a myth.

While many states have begun to replenish school funding after the recession, Kansas is held back by the devastating income tax cuts that have drained the state's treasury without yet producing the promised economic growth. The money school districts rely on to make their payrolls, purchase classrooms supplies and meet other day-to-day expenses is $548 less on a per-student basis than it was six years ago, when funding reached a high mark.

That's in real dollars. Adjusted for inflation, the picture looks even worse.

In a lengthy analysis, Mark Tallman, an official with the Kansas Association of School Boards, put it this way: "When measured against changes in the cost of living, funding for educational programs that can actually be spent on teachers, administrators and student support programs has declined by $500 million since 2009."

Brownback makes his claims of "record school funding" based on increased contributions to the pension system for school employees and more money for school districts to meet building and other capital costs.

Indeed, Brownback deserves credit for progress on shoring up the state's long-troubled pension fund. But being a "pension governor" isn't the same as an education governor.

And even the existing funding is precarious. Some analysts believe the overall state of the Kansas budget is so tenuous that Brownback may have to make cuts in this fiscal year. If that happens, schools will have to get by with less.

A few months ago, Brownback was touring elementary schools and proclaiming the need to move toward universal all-day kindergarten. He's right. Kansas needs to make that investment.

Reading to kindergarteners makes for a great photo op, but the governor's priority was a pipe dream and everyone knew it. Kansas cannot afford that level of investment in its children, and the biggest reason is the Brownback income tax cuts.

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The Hutchinson News, Aug. 16

Brownback lacks credibility given results of first Road Map:

Maybe, like computer software, version 2.0 of Gov. Sam Brownback's "Road Map" for Kansas is intended to improve upon the flaws in version 1.0. But it is hard to have much confidence the latest release will perform any better.

The governor on Aug. 12 began to unveil his re-election platform, the centerpiece of which is a goal to grow the Kansas economy by 100,000 private-sector jobs over the next four years.

This was the economic piece of his Road Map and included making Kansas "the top location for companies considering reshoring their facilities from overseas," creating urban opportunity zones to lift high-poverty areas, helping veterans re-enter the private-sector job market, growing ag exports and stimulating value-added specialty production, and recruiting more advanced manufacturing to Kansas.

This all sounds great. But promises are empty when the results don't materialize, and the outcome of Brownback's Road Map 1.0 four years ago doesn't lend him much credibility with 2.0.

Four years ago, Brownback also promised voters private-sector job growth. And indeed Kansas has added 55,100 private-sector jobs since Brownback took office in January 2011. Problem is that just as many government jobs have been slashed, leaving Kansas with no net job growth.

Moreover, the job creation in Kansas lags neighboring states and the rest of the country. And it is woefully short of being sufficient to be the economic stimulus promised to balance state revenue lost to massive tax cuts handed out to business owners and high wage-earners. And even if Kansas doubled its job creation over the next four years, it still wouldn't be enough to save the state from serious budget deficits.

Likewise, the other goals in Road Map 1.0 largely are unrealized almost four years later. Goals of increasing personal income, raising the percentage of fourth-graders reading at grade level and decreasing childhood poverty turned out to be empty promises. Brownback's policies have not matched the goals, and in fact the state has slid backward on these metrics.

The governor showed some initiative on one of his Road Map 1.0 goals — improving the college — and career-readiness of the state's high school graduates. Brownback has made technical and vocational training a priority. However, it would be hard to say that improved college readiness has been an achievement. Outside of vo-tech, Brownback hasn't been an education governor.

So now we have Road Map 2.0. It will be a stretch for voters to have much faith, especially as he moves in the coming weeks from his economic plan to education and childhood poverty initiatives, where it will be even harder for voters to take him seriously.

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Lawrence Journal-World, Aug. 15

KanCare bumps:

It would have been surprising if the state's switch to a new managed-care Medicaid system had occurred without any bumps, but 18 months after the program was implemented, some troublesome issues continue to plague the system and, consequently, the patients and health care providers who work with that system.

The most recent report came from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, which oversees the Medicaid program, known as KanCare. In January 2013, the state entered into contracts with three for-profit companies — Amerigroup, Sunflower Health and United Healthcare — to provide KanCare services in the state. This week, KDHE reported that none of the three companies was able to meet the state's goal for timely processing of claims during any month in 2013.

This comes as no surprise to health-care providers across the state who are waiting for KanCare claims to be processed and paid. In April, a representative of Children's Mercy Hospitals and Clinics told a state legislative committee that the hospital's balance of accounts receivable for 90 days or more had risen by 130 percent under KanCare in 2013. He also noted that the managed care companies often were unclear about why claims were denied, making it necessary for the hospital to investigate every claim and denial to get companies to pay appropriate claims.

The KDHE report also tracked KanCare progress from January to June 2014. During that time, 8 million KanCare claims were made and about 15 percent were denied. That's about 1.2 million denials. Maybe that's not an unusual number, but it's easy to see how following up on that many denials could be costly to care providers.

So many medical providers aren't entirely happy with the KanCare system, but how is it working for the three for-profit companies? Well, in 2013, all three companies lost money on their KanCare contracts. KDHE officials say it isn't surprising that the companies would lose money during the first year of the new system but they expect that situation to turn around before the end of the companies' three-year KanCare contracts.

The companies may not be so philosophical about those losses. In fact, Wichita newspaper reports cite instances in which all three of the KanCare contractors have left similar Medicaid programs in other states because of financial and contract issues.

All of these issues raise continuing concerns about KanCare, its long-term viability and its interaction with both Kansas health care providers and recipients. According to state officials, a major impetus for the KanCare switch was to reduce the state's costs to provide Medicaid services. That's a good goal but only if those savings don't result in reduced care for patients and inadequate reimbursement for providers.

Health care — whether it is the KanCare program, programs in other states or Obama's Affordable Care Act — is experiencing serious and frustrating "bumps" in the road. Health insurance companies are confused as to what their futures hold, as are private companies that provide health insurance options for their employees.

It is a huge problem that touches most every American one way or another. All parties are quick to say they are trying their best to provide good health care at a reasonable price. The public deserves better performance by all those in the health care business. The time for excuses has passed. Now it is time for positive results.

Why not have Kansas be a leader?

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