Monthly Archives: February 2011

In his State of the State speech last month, Governor Brownback said that one of his administration’s top priorities is to protect Kansas families. “Kansans are can-do people. We take care of each other, even when circumstances are difficult, as they surely are now. We help those in need,” he remarked.

Unfortunately, a bill approved by the Senate last week directly contradicts that message. Senate Bill 77, which was introduced on behalf of Brownback’s newly-appointed Labor Secretary, raises unemployment taxes on Kansas employers, reinstates the waiting week and eliminates trailing spouse benefits for non-military families.

All totaled, SB77 eliminates more than $13 million in annual unemployment compensation. And while it begins to replenish our UI Trust Fund, it does nothing to address those Kansas employers who have paid out nearly seven times more in unemployment benefits than they have contributed.

Because claims were initially processed manually, a “waiting week” was necessary at one time. But there is no logical reason to have a delay in benefits in today’s computer age – which is exactly why the Legislature eliminated it in 2007. Reinstating the waiting week only serves to keep needed benefits out of the hands of out-of-work Kansans and prevents those who are out of work less than 26 weeks from receiving benefits they’re rightfully due.

Eliminating “trailing spouse” benefits will make it more difficult for families to stay together when one spouse has been transferred out of the region. It sends a terrible message to Kansans about the value we place on family and marriage; and it is a step backward for thousands of Kansans trying to balance the needs of work and family.

Kansas’ home mortgage foreclosure rate is at a sobering 7 percent, while our unemployment rate is at 6.8 percent. Kansas families are in need right now!

Now is not the time to eliminate benefits that unemployed workers rely on to survive. Now is not the time to turn our backs on the promises we made to the people of Kansas.

In his State of the State Address last month, Governor Brownback emphasized a need to restructure state government, stating “the days of ever expanding government are over – and under my administration, they will not return.” The governor has subsequently signed 34 Executive Reorganization Orders (EROs), needed to combine or eliminate state agencies.

In light of our tight revenue projections, state agencies must be scrutinized. Their missions, policies, and processes must all be thoroughly reviewed to ensure that our state is operating as efficiently as possible. That’s why I support the Governor’s proposals to eliminate Kansas, Inc. and move the Kansas Health Policy Authority (KHPA) back under the Executive branch.

As a director on Kansas Inc.’s Board, I have had the opportunity to work with their management team and am impressed with the quality work they do. But I have always felt that their mission was much better served by the Kansas Department of Commerce.

I also believe that KHPA never should have been its own agency in the first place. In 2005, then-Governor Sebelius proposed that KHPA exist under the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. Instead, the legislature chose to set KHPA up as a separate entity outside of the Executive branch.

While these changes will eliminate inefficiencies and improve responsiveness, I have serious reservations about a number of Governor Brownback’s other restructuring proposals. In particular I am concerned with his proposals to eliminate the Kansas Technology Enterprise Corporation (KTEC) while transferring its functions into the Department of Commerce, and elimination of the Kansas Arts Commission.

KTEC is a private/public partnership that promotes technology-based economic development in Kansas. It is a critical component of promoting innovation and creating high-paying jobs for our citizens. Eliminating KTEC investments and Pipeline programs will not only make it more difficult for Kansas entrepreneurs in the short term, but will stymie development over the long haul.

Changing the Kansas Arts Commission into a private, nonprofit Kansas Arts Council would eliminate annual state funding of $815,000 and another $778,300 in annual federal matching funds. More than $400,000 in annual grant from the Mid-America Arts Alliance would also be lost. As a result of these funding cuts, nearly 4,000 full-time jobs supported by the non-profit arts sector would also be on the chopping block.

As our new governor, Mr. Brownback has an opportunity to take a fresh look at state organizations and challenge “business as usual” practices. With proper planning, I believe some government restructuring will be good for our state. But we mustn’t restructure so quickly as to force the elimination of services to needy Kansans.

I hope that Governor Brownback and his team carefully consider the adverse impact these decisions may have on Kansas citizens. If not, we’ll be putting our state through a lot of unnecessary transitional turmoil.

Paid for by Tom Holland for Kansas Senate
Kris Marsh, Treasurer