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Regional Headlines for Monday, February 18, 2013



UPDATE: Kansas Budget Director Apologizes for Numbers Error 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Governor Sam Brownback's budget director has apologized publicly for supplying him with an incorrect figure that led the Republican governor to make erroneous claims about his Democratic predecessor. Budget Director Steve Anderson said in a statement Monday the mistake occurred in entering data on an internal administration spreadsheet tracking total state spending. The error showed total state spending peaking at $16 billion during the state's 2010 fiscal year, under Democratic Governor Mark Parkinson. The actual spending for fiscal 2010 was about $14 billion. In recent presentations to groups, Brownback has contrasted the purported $16 billion figure with lower total spending since he took office in January 2011. Spending was $14.4 billion for the fiscal 2012, which ended in June. Anderson said the spreadsheet has been corrected.

Analysis: Move in Kansas Tax Debate Indicates Conflicted GOP

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republican leaders in the Kansas Senate are signaling nervousness over the fate of legislation to further overhaul the state's tax system after massive income tax cuts last year. The tipoff was a change in the Senate's handling of a technical bill correcting flaws in last year's tax-cutting law after the House passed it early last week. GOP leaders initially planned to have the full Senate debate the measure within days. They anticipated it would pass unchanged and go to Republican Governor Sam Brownback. But top senators postponed the debate until at least this week. Brownback wants to enact a second round of cuts in individual income tax rates over the next four years. His plan also promises further reductions in future years if the state's economy is robust enough.


Job Vacancies Could Reduce Kansas Delinquent Tax Collections 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — More than two dozen job openings in the Kansas Department of Revenue could lead to a drop in the collection of delinquent taxes this year. The Kansas City Star reports that delinquent tax collections could drop by $18 million — about 10 percent — because the department's collection division as 28 unfilled job openings. The administration is asking the Legislature to raise or impose new fees on delinquent taxpayers to pay to fill those positions. Revenue officials say the unfilled jobs grew because the department can no longer move people from other areas to collections. In its current form, the bill before the Legislature would allow the revenue department to fill 12 to 14 positions for collections.


Kansas House Approves Telecom Deregulation Bill

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas House has approved a bill that reduces the state's regulation of telecommunications companies and begins phasing out a special charge consumers pay each month to ensure universal land line service. The House's 118-1 vote Monday sends the measure to the Senate. The bill resulted from a compromise between AT&T, the state's largest telephone service provider, and other telecommunications companies. It follows up on a 2011 law that allowed companies to avoid state by state price caps on local land line service. This year's bill would allow those same companies to avoid the state's consumer protection and minimum service quality regulations. In exchange, the companies would get smaller subsidies from the state to ensure universal service. Consumers now pay a charge to finance the subsidies.


Kansas Senate Committee Moves Forward with $10M Cut to KU Med Center Project

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas Senate committee has ratified a conservative Republican lawmaker's proposal to deny $10 million to the University of Kansas Medical Center for an expansion. The Ways and Means Committee backed Senator Tom Arpke of Salina on a voice vote Monday before endorsing spending recommendations for the state's higher education system. Those recommendations overall are largely in line with Republican Governor Sam Brownback's proposals for about $2.5 billion in annual spending. But Brownback wanted the $10 million for the expansion of the Medical Center in Kansas City, Kansas. The total project is expected to cost $75 million, with the rest of the funds coming from private donations. Arpke argues the University of Kansas isn't operating as efficiently as it could, and can tap reserve funds for the project.

Kansas Education Budgets Advance in Committee

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Budgets for Kansas public schools for the next two academic years are moving forward with slight increases in per-student spending in fiscal year 2015. The House Appropriations Committee accepted a subcommittee's report on K-12 spending on Monday. Both budgets would have Kansas spend more than $3 billion on public schools annually. The budget per pupil would remain at $3,838 in fiscal year 2014 but increase to $3,852 in fiscal 2015, starting July 1, 2014. The Senate Ways and Means Committee will review funding proposals for the University of Kansas and its medical center, as well as Kansas State, Wichita State, Pittsburg, Emporia and Fort Hays State universities. All of the spending recommendations will be folded into a state government budget bill to be debated in the coming weeks.

Kansas Bill Seeks to Help Students with Dyslexia

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Advocates of children with dyslexia are hoping Kansas lawmakers will pass a bill this year that spells out how schools serve students with dyslexia. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that a bill in the Senate would require schools to offer 90 minutes of specialized instruction per day outside the student's regular classroom time. That instruction would take place in smaller groups or one-on-one. Some parents contend the measure is necessary because they say many children with dyslexia go undiagnosed and that if they are diagnosed, those students often don't receive the specialized instruction they need. Dyslexia is a learning condition that involves difficulty with reading and spelling. Under federal law, students with dyslexia qualify for special education services. Opponents say the bill is redundant and a violation of federal law.

Kansas Lobbyist Spending Reported at $765K for 2012

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Lobbyists in Kansas reported spending almost 6 percent more in 2012 to influence state government officials than they did in 2011. A report released this month by the state Governmental Ethics Commission said 550 lobbyists reported spending a total of $765,000 last year. That's $43,000 more than the figure for 2011. The biggest jump in spending was on newsletters and other communications from groups to their members or from companies to their employees, urging them to contact state officials. The figure for 2012 was almost $115,000, compared to less than $20,000 in 2011. But spending on media advertising dropped to about $135,000 last year from $186,000 in 2011. Lobbyists also reported spending almost $477,000 on providing free food for state officials.


Man Leaves Hospital After Lottery Celebration Blast

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — One of two south-central Kansas brothers whose drug-fueled celebration of a winning $75,000 in the lottery resulted in an explosion in their duplex has been released from a hospital. The Wichita man suffered second-degree burns to his hands, arms and chest Friday night after he refueled butane torches that he and his brother planned to use to smoke drugs. A woman at Via Christi St. Francis Hospital on Monday said the burn victim had been released, but she didn't have further details. The other brother told police Friday they had purchased marijuana and methamphetamine to celebrate their lottery win. He was arrested, but details about charges were not available Monday because of the President's Day holiday.

Utility Says Power Lines for Pipeline Won't Be Done in 2014

COLUMBUS, Neb. (AP) — A Nebraska utility says the new route for a proposed oil pipeline that would carry Canadian crude oil through the state will delay work on electric transmission lines for the pipeline. Nebraska Public Power District officials say they won't be able to build the transmission lines by the deadline TransCanada set for the end of 2014. The Columbus Telegram reports NPPD Chief Operating Officer Tom Kent says there's no way the transmission lines will be ready by 2015. TransCanada's proposed Keystone XL pipeline will carry Canadian crude across Kansas if it can win President Barack Obama's approval. Environmentalists have opposed the project because they worry the pipeline could contaminate groundwater reserves and threaten ecologically sensitive areas in Nebraska and other states along its 1,700-mile path.

Topeka High School Students Help at Public Cafe

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A new cafe in Topeka is serving breakfast and lunch to the public while providing valuable experiences for Topeka students and those who haven't graduated. The Kanza Cafe opened last month in a building owned by the Topeka School district. The cafe's food serving manager, Jake Taylor, says adult staff operates the cafe, with volunteer high school students helping out. Volunteers also include students in the Next Step program, which teaches job and life skills to 18- to 21-year-olds who haven't graduated from high school. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that Taylor said the students learn such skills as customer awareness, food service, graphic design and entrepreneurship. He hopes students will eventually use the cafe for business planning, marketing and menu development.

Wichita Elementary School Draws $56K Bid

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Wichita housing developer has offered the winning bid for a vacant elementary school in the northeastern part of the city. The Wichita Eagle reports that Mark Cox, owner of Vintage Construction, offered $56,000 at last week's auction of the former Mueller Elementary School. The Wichita school board will now decide whether to approve the sale. The 61-year-old school and the surrounding property of roughly four acres are zoned single-family residential. Cox says the building is in good shape, and he hopes to convert it into housing. Mueller was one of five Wichita school buildings that closed last spring as part of cost-cutting measures and new attendance boundaries.

Topeka Teen Waits for Double-Lung Transplant

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Topeka teenager is in North Carolina awaiting a double-lung transplant. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that 19-year-old Michael Pry was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis when he was 3 months old and his health has been declining since August. He received word in January that he needed to begin preparing for the transplant. His mother, Paula Pry, says Michael is in North Carolina with his father preparing for the double-lung transplant at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina. But he needs to gain 20 pounds before he can have the eight-hour transplant surgery. He also has to complete several fitness therapy sessions and have minor surgeries to remove a kidney stone and his tonsils. Pry says she she's hoping Michael and his father will be home by August.

Wichita Airport Reports Slight Drop in Passengers

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Wichita's Mid-Continent Airport says the number of passengers in 2012 fell 2 percent. The airport says the decline is the result of some airlines dropping flights from Wichita. Frontier Airlines halted service to Denver in November, a loss of about 200 seats each way. And Allegiant Air stopped seasonal service to Los Angeles in August 2011. Air carriers offered 33 daily departures out of Wichita in December, down from 53 daily flights in 2003. At the same time, 1.51 million passengers flew in and out of the airport, compared with 1.41 million in 2003. Passenger traffic in Wichita peaked in 2008 at 1.62 million. The Wichita Eagle reports that Southwest Airlines plans to enter the Wichita market on June 2, which is expected to add flights and service.


Arvest Wins Approval to Purchase 29 BOA Branches, Including One in Kansas

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) — Arvest Bank has obtained approval from regulators to buy 29 branches from Bank of America Corp. Fayetteville, Arkansas-based Arvest said Monday that the branches in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri represent about $750 million in total deposits. Arkansas Business reports that Arvest expects to close on the branches by March 22, with most operating under the Arvest banner by March 25. All of the branches are within or near current Arvest markets. The agreement includes 15 branches in Missouri, nine in Arkansas, four in Oklahoma and one in Kansas.

Missouri Man Arrested After Chase with Toddler in Car

GRANDVIEW, Mo. (AP) — A 23-year-old northwest Missouri man is in jail after police say he led officers on a chase while his 2-year-old child was unrestrained in the car. Grandview police say the chase early Sunday sometimes reached 100 mph before officers stopped following the car. Eventually, the car was abandoned and police found the 2-year-old boy in the back seat, not in his car seat. Kansas City and Grandview police searched the area where the car was abandoned and found the man hiding in a creek in waist-deep water. The man was taken to a hospital for hypothermia. Police say he appeared to be under the influence of drugs. The man faces possible charges of child endangerment. KCTV reports that the boy was placed in state custody.

Call for Prostitute Ends with 3 in Jail in Wichita

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Wichita police say three people were arrested after a man couldn't pay for the prostitute he called to his home. Police went to the 33-year-old man's home early Sunday after a neighbor reported a disturbance. Spokesman Sergeant Bart Brunscheen says the man apparently wasn't able to pay the full amount he owed the prostitute. She and an associate returned and forced their way into the man's home, where the woman took his cell phone. The homeowner was charged with soliciting a prostitute. The 24-year-old woman was charged with burglary and prostitution and her 28-year-old associate was charged with aggravated burglary and being a felon in possession of a firearm.


Governor's Financial Numbers Differ from State Figures

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Republican Governor Sam Brownback's recent presentations about the state's finances are apparently at odds with other state figures. The Wichita Eagle reports that Brownback has recently blamed the previous administration for a $2 billion spending hike that didn't happen and has also taken credit for spending cuts that he didn't make. The newspaper also says Brownback has said in recent public presentations that only 54 percent of the money spent on education in Kansas finds its way into the classroom. But that figure is at odds with the nearly 62 percent the state reports to the federal government. Brownback and his staff said they'd provide a detailed explanation of the governor's numbers, but didn't do so despite repeated requests.

**this story has been updated. Please see above. 

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