Hodge attempts 1% budget cut


Flint Hills photos hit newsstands soon

Grand views

A 22-page photo spread of the Flint Hills by Lindsborg photographer Jim Richardson is featured in April’s issue of National Geographic, set to hit newsstands this week.

But the magazine won’t be the only way Kansans can take in Richardson’s shots of the state’s rolling landscapes.

At the Statehouse Monday, Richardson and Gov. Kathleen Sebelius will unveil an exhibit of the magazine spread that will tour the state in 2007 and 2008.

The show features more than 30 large-scale prints, including an 8-foot wide, multi-panel photograph of a tree standing against a backdrop of stars and the Milky Way.

The exhibit is slated for one-week stops in Hutchinson, Abilene, Hays and Salina, among others. A full schedule is at http://www.travelks.com.

Richardson proposed the Flint Hills story to National Geographic editors two years ago as part of the magazine’s ongoing coverage of the nation’s great landscapes.

Storm aid

House members turned down a request Thursday to prepare for a multi-million-dollar package to leverage federal aid for damages from December’s severe winter storm in western Kansas.

The House voted 57-61 against an amendment sought by Chanute Rep. Jerry Williams to begin setting aside money for the required state match.

“Let’s make a down payment. Let’s put $2 million into disaster relief to draw down federal funds,” said Williams.

The Democrat warned the chamber that the amount would likely be much higher – from $15 million to $40 million – once the Legislature returns for its final budget session in mid-April. A complete report on damage costs is expected by then.

But House Appropriations Vice Chairman Lee Tafanelli, R-Ozawkie, suggested the money be allotted in April after lawmakers have a better picture of the actual cost.

Beats deer

In Senate Natural Resources Committee few issues stir more debate than bills about deer.

But committee Chairwoman Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick, is now finding that another topic – water – can be just as contentious.

Her committee recently passed a bill to create a new payment program to encourage farmers to retire water rights along the upper Arkansas River. The measure easily passed the Senate this week and is now pending before the House.

“This has topped any deer bill I’ve had in my committee. This has been an emotional issue,” McGinn said.

She’s unapologetic for helping launch the voluntary program.

“This is about the most-valued natural resource we have – water. Folks, if you don’t have water there’s no reason to discuss oil or any other natural resource.”

The Ogallala Aquifer, which supplies much of western Kansas, recharges slowly – on average less than an inch of water per year – making it no match for the decades of rapid depletion by irrigators.

“We cannot continue the practices of the past,” McGinn said.

Top inaugural

This year’s inaugural celebration for Gov. Kathleen Sebelius and other elected state officials proved the most expensive on record.

The four-city, three-day event cost $539,967, according to a report filed this past week with the state. It’s the highest total since 1994, when a law first required reporting of inaugural funds.

Spending on Sebelius’ 2003 inaugural reached $476,000, while inaugurals for former Gov. Bill Graves cost $350,000 in 1995 and $336,000 in 1999, said Carol Williams, executive director of the state Governmental Ethics Commission.

In addition, private donors and special interests continued to bankroll much of the event in 2007.

Ticket sales raised $152,892 or 27 percent of the funds for the event while donations added $401,600 or 72 percent.

Unions, corporations and interest groups also provided the bulk of funding for the 2003 inaugural, with ticket sales funding 19 percent.

By contrast, ticket sales funded 64 percent of the 1995 Graves event and 41 percent in 1999.

The state’s reporting law for inaugurals was passed in 1994 after 90 corporations paid several thousand dollars for tables at Gov. Joan Finney’s 1991 inaugural bash.

Impending crisis?

Funding for the state’s higher education system is vulnerable to a slow-down in the state’s economy – and tax cuts could make the situation worse, a higher education group warned this past week.

Citizens for Higher Education, an advocacy group based in the Kansas City area, presented a report to the state Board of Regents showing that the state’s dependence on volatile corporate and income tax revenue could wind up hurting colleges and universities.

“State income is good now. There is even talk of tax cuts in the Legislature,” said Bill Taylor, one of the group’s founding members. “But every economic cycle comes to an end.”

Taylor went on to say that the ability of higher education to increase tuition could work against it during hard economic times.

“When a downturn comes and belt tightening occurs, higher education will be among the first areas to be cut because they have alternate sources of revenues – parents and students.”

Despite recent tuition hikes, in-state rates at the University of Kansas and Kansas State University still rank in the middle among institutions in the Big 12 Conference.

But faculty salaries still lag most of the conference’s averages, the group reported.

Crunching numbers

House Republicans firmly declared this past week that they’d hold down spending in crafting a budget for next year.

However, freshman Rep. Ben Hodge, R-Overland Park, took the effort a step further during House budget debate Thursday.

Hodge proposed an amendment to cut state budgets across the board by 1 percent, except for education, the state pension plan and debt service.

Rather than just slowing the rate of growth in government, Hodge said lawmakers needed to stop it.

“I don’t believe our citizens need government,” he said.

The amendment failed with just 18 supporters.

“I think it would be irresponsible to do this at this time,” said House Appropriations Chairwoman Sharon Schwartz, R-Washington.