Kansas Governor Slashes University Budgets, Highway Fund, Medicaid Funding
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Facing a shortfall of more than $290 million, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback signed a budget bill Wednesday that makes significant cuts to the state highway fund, Medicaid and higher education and trims most state agency budgets by 4 percent. The governor also warned that more cuts could be made to Medicaid and the higher education system if the Kansas Supreme Court orders an additional $40 million or more in school funding. A ruling is pending on whether a school funding measure that passed earlier this year provides equitable funding to the state's 286 school districts.
Some Kansas agencies escaped the cuts: the Department of Corrections, the Kansas Highway Patrol, the Kansas Bureau of Investigation and state hospitals. A provision in the bill also prohibited Brownback from slashing the more than $4 billion in aid to K-12 public schools.
The plan, as the state stares at a $290 million shortfall this year and in the fiscal year beginning July 1, includes cutting $185 million from the highway fund, which was announced last month, and over $97 million from most state agencies. State universities and most Medicaid provider rates will be reduced by 4 percent, but exempts providers that care for people with mental illnesses or disabilities and almost 100 hospitals in rural areas. Kansas has struggled to balance its budget since GOP lawmakers slashed personal income taxes in 2012 and 2013 at Brownback's urging in an effort to stimulate the economy. Legislators sent Brownback a budget bill this year designed to shift most of the work of balancing it to him after he refused to back off key cuts.
Cindy Samuelson, spokeswoman for the Kansas Hospital Association, said that the cuts will encourage some providers to withdraw from the Medicaid program, which offers health care to poor and disabled residents. "These cuts will threaten access to care for all Kansans and they will place an additional burdens on already financially stressed hospitals," Samuelson said. "For some of those smaller hospitals, any cut can be threatening."
The plan also cuts more than $30.6 million from the higher education system, with the University of Kansas and Kansas State University shouldering over half of that. Kansas' state universities are calling for tuition increases of up to 5 percent, at least for now. The universities submitted their tuition proposals Wednesday to the Kansas Board of Regents, but the slash in funding was higher than the universities had expected. Kansas State, Wichita State, Fort Hays State and Pittsburg State each propose a 5 percent increase for the coming academic year. The University of Kansas and Emporia State seek a 4 percent rise. The regents will vote on the proposals next month.
Senate minority leader Anthony Hensley, a Democrat from Topeka, said the budget bill placed an unfair burden on Kansas State and the University of Kansas and it was a politicized move. "They smack of political favoritism, because KU and K-State are represented by Democrats, Democratic legislators, and the other institutions aside from Wichita State, which is represented by both ... are represented by Republicans," Hensley said. Shawn Sullivan, Brownback's budget director, said the cuts leave an ending balance of $21.5 million for this year and $87.5 million in the 2017 fiscal year. "These were not easy decisions, but the governor developed a plan that protects public safety, supports our state hospitals and maintains our ability to provide government services without interruption," Sullivan said. Hensley disputed that the governor prioritized public safety. "He would rather protect income tax cuts for the wealthy at the expense of Medicaid recipients and hospitals," Hensley said.
Kansas Changing Interagency Policies for Voter Registration
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach has told a federal court he is changing interagency policies that will improve the state's ability to verify proof of citizenship for people who register to vote at motor vehicle offices. The notice filed shortly before midnight Wednesday comes a day after a federal court ruled thousands of Kansans who did not provide such documents must be added to voter rolls for federal elections. The judge stayed her ruling until May 31 so the state could appeal. Kobach contends the new policies were being implemented prior to that ruling. Motor vehicle offices now accept and scan documents proving U.S. citizenship. Another change gives the secretary of state's office and county election officers internet access to check whether motor vehicle offices possess such documents.
Kansas Universities Seek Tuition Hikes but Requests Could Rise
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — State universities are calling for tuition increases of up to 5 percent, at least for now. Yesterday (WED), the schools submitted their tuition proposals to the Kansas Board of Regents. But those proposals came before the governor announced his budget cuts. The governor cut higher education by 4 percent - one percent more than the universities had expected. Kansas State University, Wichita State, Fort Hays State and Pittsburg State each propose a 5 percent increase for the academic year that begins this fall. The University of Kansas and Emporia State are seeking a 4 percent rise. It's likely those proposals will be adjusted upwards in light of the governor's budget cuts to state universities. The regents will vote on the proposals next month.
Wichita School Board Approves $18M in Cuts, Including Jobs
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The Wichita school board has voted to eliminate more than 100 district positions, close a high school and stop bus transportation for thousands of students. The Wichita Eagle reports that these and other cuts will trim about $18 million from the district's budget. Six board members voted unanimously to approve superintendent John Allison's first three phases of budget cuts for the upcoming school year. Board member Sheril Logan was absent. Allison says the district will need to trim an additional $5 million to make up for projected cost increases. Wichita schools have projected nearly $23 million in cost increases next year, with revenue under the state's block grant funding system expected to be flat. Under the cuts, Metro-Meridian Alternative High School will close and 65 teacher positions will be eliminated.
Kansas Woman Arrested in Death of 13-Month-Old
ENTERPRISE, Kan. (AP) — Authorities say a 29-year-old woman has been arrested in the death of her toddler in central Kansas. The Salina Journal reports that the Enterprise woman is jailed in Dickinson County. Sheriff Gareth Hoffman says the injured 13-month-old was brought Monday night to a hospital in Abilene after the mother reported finding the child unresponsive. The toddler died a short time later. The sheriff's office began investigating after determining that the toddler's death was suspicious. The investigation included an autopsy and several interviews.
Ottawa Man Convicted of Killing Four People Sentenced to Death
OTTAWA, Kan. (AP) — A man convicted of killing two men, a woman and her 18-month-old daughter on a farm outside of Ottawa has been sentenced to death. Victims' relatives applauded yesterday (WED) when Franklin County judge Eric Godderz announced the sentences against 30-year-old Kyle Flack, of Ottawa. Jurors convicted Flack of capital murder in the deaths of 21-year-old Kaylie Bailey and her daughter, Lana, at a farmhouse about 50 miles south of Kansas City. They convicted him of first-degree murder in the death of 30-year-old Andrew Stout and second-degree murder in the death of 31-year-old Steven White. Investigators believe Flack killed Stout around April 20, 2013, and killed the other three a little more than a week later. A clear motive for the killings has never been determined. Kansas hasn't executed anyone since it reinstated capital punishment in 1994.
Manning Appeal Seeks Reversal of Charges or Reduced Sentence
Imprisoned national security leaker Chelsea Manning is asking a military appeals court to reverse her conviction for sending classified information to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks, or reduce her 35-year sentence to ten years. Manning's lawyers released the appeal Thursday after a security review. They filed the document Wednesday in the U.S. Army Court of Criminal Appeals at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. It calls Manning's sentence "grossly unfair and unprecedented." The document says Manning meant to reveal the toll of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and that her disclosures harmed no one. Manning is imprisoned at Fort Leavenworth. The transgender soldier, formerly known as Bradley Manning, was convicted in 2013 of espionage and other offenses for sending WikiLeaks more than 700,000 digital files including battlefield logs, diplomatic cables and video clips.
Brownback Rejects Federal Guidance on Transgender Students
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Governor Sam Brownback is criticizing the Obama administration's directive on the treatment of transgender students at public schools as "an unprecedented example of executive over-reach." The U.S. departments of justice and education said last week transgender students must be allowed to use bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender identity because federal law prohibits discrimination against those students. The administration says schools that refuse to comply could face federal lawsuits and lose federal aid. Brownback said in a statement Wednesday that states, not the federal government, have primary responsibility for education policy. He says local schools, communities and parents are best equipped to respond to situations involving gender identity. The governor's spokeswoman says he doesn't plan any further response to the federal guidance beyond the statement.
Man Pleads Guilty in Wichita Couple's 2014 Slayings
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A man charged in the shooting deaths of a Wichita couple during a robbery has pleaded guilty. The Wichita Eagle reports that 19-year-old Carlos Delacadena-Edwards pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree intentional murder and one count of aggravated robbery on Monday as part of a plea agreement. Delacadena-Edwards and 21-year-old Steve Wade Edwards II are accused of killing 72-year-old Godofredo Moreno and his 71-year-old wife, Martha, in October 2014 while trying to collect a debt from the couple's son. Delacadena-Edwards was 17 at the time, but he was tried as an adult. He is scheduled to be sentenced July 13. Edwards II pleaded guilty last week to two counts of first-degree felony murder, aggravated robbery and aggravated burglary.
Tractor-Trailer Driver Arrested in Fiery Kansas Crash
SALINA, Kan. (AP) — A tractor-trailer driver from Texas is charged in Kansas in a fiery Interstate 70 crash that killed the driver of another rig. Thomas County court documents say 45-year-old Fednor Duclona, of Fort Worth, Texas, attempted a U-turn on the interstate on the same day as the January crash that killed 52-year-old Rodney A. Hongsermeier, of North Platte, Nebraska. He faces charges that include vehicular homicide and reckless driving. Duclona was released Wednesday from the Johnson County Jail on a $200,000 bond. It wasn't immediately known if he had an attorney.
Shawnee County District Attorney Denies Sexual Discrimination Claims
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Shawnee County District Attorney Chad Taylor says claims of sexual discrimination raised in a lawsuit by two former employees are inaccurate and unsubstantiated. The two-term Democrat says the lawsuit had nothing to do with his decision, announced earlier this month, not to seek re-election. He says he made it clear when he ran that he would only serve two terms. Recent filings in the 2012 federal lawsuit have made public alleged sexist comments and other issues the two women contend created a hostile work environment. Those details surfaced as Taylor seeks to have the case decided in his favor. The fired employees say Taylor made derogatory comments about women. Taylor says their court filing is nothing more than muckraking.
Former Merriam City Official Pleads Guilty to Misconduct
MERRIAM, Kan. (AP) — A fired suburban Kansas City public works director has pleaded guilty to stealing fuel. Sixty-one-year-old Randall Carroll admitted Thursday in Johnson County District Court to a felony count of official misconduct. The Kansas City Star reports that a second charge of theft was dismissed as part of the plea. The Olathe man worked for the city of Merriam for 34 years before he was fired last September after the crimes were discovered. Court documents say the thefts began in October 2014. Prosecutors say other public works employees became suspicious when they noticed fuel missing from a large tank. A camera captured Carroll repeatedly putting gas from the tank in his personal vehicle. He also was seen erasing tire tracks from his vehicle. Sentencing is set for July 11.
Slain Detective's Handcuffs Used to Escort Man Suspected of Killing the Officer
KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Colleagues of a slain Kansas police detective say the late officer's handcuffs will be used on the man charged in the killing when the suspect is released from the hospital. Kansas City, Kansas, Police Chief Terry Zeigler described the plan in a tweet that says "words cannot express what this means to our department." Curtis Ayers is accused of fatally shooting Kansas City, Kansas, police Detective Brad Lancaster. Ayers has been hospitalized since being shot by police hours later.
Arkansas Court: Taxes Due from Kansas-Based Construction Company
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — The Arkansas Supreme Court says a Kansas company that built an elaborate system to treat water from the Illinois River for use by the city of Russellville isn't entitled to claim tax exemptions on some equipment it bought for the job. Russellville's City Corporation hired the Carrothers Construction Company of Arkansas, which is based in Kansas, to build a three-phase water-treatment system. Carrothers bought machinery for the job and claimed a manufacturers' tax exemption for some of it. The Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration said items bought out-of-state didn't qualify for the exemption and billed Carrothers $94,994.89. Carrothers paid $5,191.16. Justices said Thursday what the plant does isn't manufacturing and sent the case back to a lower court with directions to calculate the actual tax due. Two justices dissented.
Survey Suggests Rural Economy Remains Weak in 10 States
OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — The economy remains sluggish in rural areas of 10 Western and Plains states. The monthly survey of rural bankers released Thursday shows the overall remains in negative territory even though it increased slightly. The index increased to 40.9 in May from April's 38.2. Creighton University economist Ernie Goss, who oversees the survey, says weak grain prices and farm values continue to weigh on the economy in rural areas. On the survey indexes any score below 50 suggests that factor will decline. The farm equipment sales index remained exceptionally weak at 10.7 in May, just below April's 11.1. Farmers are delaying major purchases because of the environment. Bankers from Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming were surveyed.
Royals and Red Sox Split Wednesday's Doubleheader
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Royals won the opener 3-to-2 yesterday (WED) afternoon... but lost the nightcap, 5-to-2. Still, Kansas City took two out of three games from Boston, so Royals fans have to be pleased.