Posts tagged with Kansas Politics

Brownback’s CITO resigns amid controversy over controversy on resume

Gov. Sam Brownback’s chief information technology officer resigned Tuesday after a controversy erupted over the degree he listed on his resume.

Jim Mann, 58, who had started his $150,000 job last week, said he had a business administration degree from the University of Devonshire, which has been cited in several reports as a diploma mill and not an actual school.

On Monday, Brownback held a news conference to introduce Mann, of St. Augustine, Fla., and to announce his hiring. Brownback said Mann was a crucial hire to improve the IT capabilities of the state.

But when news stories about Mann were filed online, reader commenters almost immediately started questioning the validity of his degree.

On Tuesday morning, Brownback defended Mann to reporters based on Mann’s private sector work, but conceded that his administration had not looked into Mann’s educational background.

“The education was not a factor in hiring,” Brownback had said.

He added that he didn’t believe Mann tried to mislead his administration when interviewing for the job.

Brownback said it was not unusual for information technology employees to lack degrees. He said when he was state agriculture secretary from 1986 to 1993, “My IT guy was a former meat cutter.”

But by late afternoon Tuesday, Mann submitted his resignation to Brownback and the governor accepted it, effective immediately.

Mann wrote a letter to Brownback that said, “The questions surrounding my qualifications to perform and deliver in this position have compromised confidence in me and in my integrity. As such, I am no longer an asset to your team and your IT mission.

“Please accept my sincerest apology, and I wish you and all Kansas nothing but the best as you strive to bring excellence to Kansas’ information technology systems.”

The governor’s office said it has reopened the search for the position.

By Scott Rothschild

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Brownback sets up meetings across state to discuss child poverty

Child welfare advocates say they are pleased that Gov. Sam Brownback has initiated meetings to address childhood poverty but are concerned about some earlier Brownback actions.

“We’re delighted to see the governor elevate the conversation,” said Shannon Cotsoradis, president and chief executive officer of Kansas Action for Children.

But Cotsoradis said she is worried about a directive from Brownback to state agencies to reduce Children’s Initiatives Fund expenditures in their proposed budget submissions. Some of those submissions have proposed cuts of nearly 30 percent, she said.

If approved by the Legislature next year, those cuts “would have a devastating impact,” on programs that provide newborn screenings, early childhood education and other services to children and their families, she said. Funding for the CIF comes from payments made to the state from the master tobacco settlement, which in turn goes to programs that serve about 200,000 Kansas children.

Nearly a quarter of Kansas children are living in poverty, the governor’s office said.

Brownback has said reducing the percentage of children living in poverty is one of his top goals.

“Studies show children who grow up in poverty are less likely to succeed in school and later in life,” Brownback said.

Brownback has set up three meetings “to gather insights and strategies to reduce childhood poverty, increase childhood educational outcomes and decrease child abuse and neglect.”

He has put Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services Secretary Robert Siedlecki Jr. in charge of the meetings.

“Every Kansan has a stake in the outcome of this initiative,” Siedlecki said. “I am hoping that everyone concerned about childhood poverty will attend these meetings and participate in these discussions, regardless of their vocation or background,” he said.

But the format and times of the meetings have raised some concerns.

The meetings are from 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., which will decrease the chance of people who work during the day to attend.

And the format of the meetings, which Brownback has called “town hall meetings,” will have those attending divided into small groups for discussions with a facilitator at each table. Attendees also are being asked to register before attending.

Kari Ann Rinker, state coordinator of Kansas National Organization for Women, said the format and time of the meetings will thwart open dialogue.

“It prevents the expression of legitimate public concerns about the issue of childhood poverty,” she said.

Brownback’s office disagrees. The format allows all participants to be heard and have input, said Brownback’s spokeswoman Sherriene Jones-Sontag.

It is the same format the Brownback administration used for meetings held on Medicaid issues, which Jones-Sontag said received a lot of positive impact.

As far as having the meetings during the day, she said that will give advocacy groups more of an opportunity to participate. Nighttime meetings are more difficult to attend, she said, especially for people who have children.

By Scott Rothschild

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Debate on tax cuts, spending intensifying

The debate over state spending and taxes intensified Friday as financial experts released new revenue forecasts for Gov. Sam Brownback and the Legislature to use in forming a budget for the next fiscal year.

State revenue estimators signalled cautious optimism for the economic road ahead, revising upward by $200 million the expected revenue in the current fiscal year from about $6 billion to $6.2 billion. Slow growth is expected to continue in the next fiscal year, bringing the state $6.3 billion in receipts.

“Overall, the economic outlook assumes continued growth in the Kansas economy,” said Alan Conroy, director of the Kansas Legislative Research Department.

Gov. Sam Brownback’s budget director, Steve Anderson, sounded a more cautious tone, saying that nearly half of economists are warning of a possible “double-dip” recession.

“The real issue is we still have so much uncertainty,” Anderson said.

But in recent months, state coffers have received healthy hikes in revenue based on increased receipts of personal income tax and sales tax, officials said.

At the current pace, the state will have an ending balance on June 30, 2012, of nearly $320 million — a far cry from the nearly zero ending balance of a year ago.

Brownback issued a statement on the new revenue figures, saying, “The latest revenue projections show the power of economic growth and controlling spending. It proves the long-term solution for our state involves more jobs and limited government.”

Whether the increased revenue is used to fill in Great Recession budget cuts in education, social services and public safety, or used to provide tax cuts, will be the main fight of the legislative session that starts in January.

Brownback and the state income tax

On the tax front, Brownback supporters hit the highway on a bus tour campaigning for abolishment of the state income tax.

“The only way to spur economic growth is to eliminate the income tax,” said Ashley McMillan, president of Kansans for No Income Tax.

The Kansas group, partially funded by a Missouri billionaire and using a bus with an Alabama license tag, started its tour outside the Statehouse and planned stops in Leavenworth, Pittsburg and Wichita.

Brownback, a Republican, did not appear at the Topeka event, but his chief of staff, David Kensinger, did. Kensinger said he showed up because he was promised hot chocolate.

Brownback has said he wants to reduce the state income tax and his administration is working behind closed doors to propose a major tax overhaul for the 2012 legislative session.

Brownback, and Kansans for No Income Tax, say getting rid of the levy will spur economic growth, similar to Texas, which doesn’t have a state income tax.

Cuts to schools felt as enrollment increases

But Democrats and some Republicans say eliminating the state income tax will force increases in other taxes, cuts in services, or both. They also say Kansas shouldn’t follow Texas’ tax policy since Texas lags behind Kansas in many quality of life areas, such as education, roads and social services.

The issue is likely to be one of the most contentious of the upcoming session. Eliminating the state income tax would take a huge chunk out of state revenue.

In the last fiscal year, Kansas brought in about $5.9 billion in tax revenue. Of that amount, about $3 billion came from state income taxes — about $2.7 billion from individual income taxes and the rest from corporate income taxes.

Meanwhile, the Kansas Department of Education released a report showing that state budget cuts to public schools have resulted in fewer teachers and more-crowded classrooms.

The total number of teacher positions statewide in the current school year is 34,075.

That is a drop of 256 from last year and 1,363 since the 2008-09 school year total of 35,438.

Meanwhile, student enrollment has increased from 473,097 in 2008-09 to 482,798 in the current school year. That is an increase of 9,701 students. During that time, the Lawrence school district grew from 11,007 students to 11,613 students, an increase of 606 students.

The elimination of teacher positions coincides with cuts to school funding.

In the 2008-09 school year, base state aid to public schools was $4,400 per pupil. That figure is now $3,780 per pupil following several rounds of cuts, including the latest one of $232 per pupil approved by Brownback.

House Democratic Leader Paul Davis, of Lawrence, said he hoped the increased revenue figures would persuade Brownback to help schools.

“It is encouraging to see that the Kansas economy is on the uptick. Earlier this year Gov. Brownback made the largest cut to Kansas schools in state history. I hope he will see this as an opportunity to renew our commitment to public education so that our children will have a competitive advantage in the 21st century economy,” Davis said.

Tax-cutting group has out-of-state ties

But Kansans for No Income Tax focused on cutting the budget.

Outside the Statehouse visit, about 35 people gathered, mostly Republicans and Republican staff members.

Reps. Richard Carlson, R-St. Marys, who is chairman of the House Tax Committee, and Joe Patton, R-Topeka, spoke, as did Dave Trabert, president of the Kansas Public Policy Institute, and representatives from FairTaxKC.

It was reported in recent days that Missouri anti-tax billionaire Rex Sinquefield has contributed to Kansans for No Income Tax. Sinquefield and McMillan have refused to say how much he contributed.

“We enjoy support from folks in Kansas and like-minded folks throughout the United States, and we are very pleased with that,” McMillan said.

When asked why the Kansans for Income Tax bus has an Alabama tag, McMillan said, “That’s the bus that was available to us.”

During the 2010 gubernatorial campaign, Brownback was criticized by some for leasing a campaign bus from an Alabama company for use on his campaign.

By Scott Rothschild

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Brownback hires $150,000 information technology chief from Florida, but questions arise about qualifications

Gov. Sam Brownback on Monday introduced Jim Mann as his new $150,000 chief information technology officer from Florida, but hours later the Brownback administration was fielding questions about Mann’s educational background.

Mann lists a business administration degree from the University of Devonshire. The Chronicle of Higher Education and other reports list that school as among a group of unaccredited schools called diploma mills.

Mann’s online resume says he attended the University of Maryland from 1972 to 1974 and the University of Devonshire from 1993 to 1995.

But Sherienne Jones-Sontag, a spokeswoman for Brownback, said Mann was hired based on his “20 years of top-flight private sector experience.”

She said where Mann received his degree wasn’t as important as his work experience because information technology is such a fast-changing area.

Earlier Monday, Brownback said Mann was an important hire.

“This is a position the state desperately needs in order to catch up with advances in technology, to improve communication among and between state agencies and to boost business efficiency, saving taxpayers’ money,” Brownback said at a news conference.

Brownback also issued an executive order that directs all executive branch agency IT directors and staff to report to Mann. That order excludes regents universities.

Mann, 58, said he hoped to centralize IT operations to drive down costs, reduce redundancies and improve communication. He was unavailable for comment when questions came up later about his degree.

Before joining the state, Mann had a consulting business in St. Augustine, Fla.

Before that, he was the chief information technology officer for Service Brands International. He resigned after one year with that company after a dispute with management, he said. Previously, he owned Irishmann Enterprises and served as vice president and chief information officer of Havi Foodservice Worldwide.

Jones-Sontag said Mann’s salary of $150,000 was a bargain. The previous person in that position made $100,000 per year, she said. But Mann is also overseeing the responsibilities of another position called state information technology architect, Jones-Sontag said. The last person in the position retired Oct. 31 and was making $76,887, she said.

By Scott Rothschild

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Anti-tax Missouri billionaire contributing to effort to repeal Kansas state income tax

A Missouri billionaire and Ronald Reagan economist are driving the anti- income tax bus in Kansas.

And Gov. Sam Brownback is ready to turn the ignition key.

Brownback says in a video on his Facebook page that he wants a tax system that is “flatter, simpler, fairer.”

“That is going to be a centerpiece issue in the legislative session,” which starts in January, he said.

Coinciding with Brownback’s previous statements to reduce state income taxes is a new group called Kansans for No Income Tax, which will be taking a bus tour Friday and Saturday to spread its message.

The group, led by Republican operatives, is being funded in part by St. Louis anti-tax billionaire Rex Sinquefield, according to the Kansas City Star.

Sinquefield is also working to abolish the state income tax in Missouri and replace it with a higher state sales tax on a wider variety of goods and services.

His spokesman declined to say how much Sinquefield has contributed to the anti- income tax group in Kansas. Since Kansans for No Income Tax is registered as a nonprofit, its donors and how much they gave can be kept secret. In Missouri, Sinquefield contributed $1.3 million to a group seeking to do away with the income tax there. Last year, he contributed $11 million to other initiatives to repeal taxes in Missouri.

Kansas Democrats criticized the involvement of a Missourian in the Kansas tax debate. “KNIT (Kansans for No Income Tax) claims it’s working for the best interest of Kansans. If that were the case, they’d give Rex Sinquefield his donation back,” the party said.

Ashley McMillan, president of Kansans for No Income Tax, said she wouldn’t comment on the Democrats’ suggestion to return the donation.

McMillan said her group enjoys broad support from Kansans as well as like-minded people across the nation. She declined to say how much the group has received in donations and from whom.

Sinquefield is also president of the Show-Me Institute, which describes itself as a think tank that advocates free-market principles.

At the institute’s 2010 open house, economist Arthur Laffer gave the keynote speech. Laffer, who has been hired as a consultant by the Brownback administraiton, gained prominence during the Reagan administration when he served as an economic adviser. He and Brownback espouse tax cuts as a way to generate economic growth.

Laffer helped write the most recent edition of the American Legislative Exchange Council’s “Rich States, Poor States.” The foreword was written by Brownback.

The Brownback administration is paying Laffer $75,000 to help with plans to reform the Kansas tax code.

That plan is being designed behind closed doors but is expected to be rolled out soon after Friday’s new state revenue estimate.

Kansas Democrats and some Republicans have voiced concerns about doing away with the state personal and corporate income tax, saying that would result in cuts to needed services and increase local property and sales taxes.

By Scott Rothschild

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Anti-tax Missouri billionaire contributing to effort to repeal Kansas state income tax

A Missouri billionaire and Ronald Reagan economist are driving the anti- income tax bus in Kansas.

And Gov. Sam Brownback is ready to turn the ignition key.

Brownback says in a video on his Facebook page that he wants a tax system that is “flatter, simpler, fairer.”

“That is going to be a centerpiece issue in the legislative session,” which starts in January, he said.

Coinciding with Brownback’s previous statements to reduce state income taxes is a new group called Kansans for No Income Tax, which will be taking a bus tour Friday and Saturday to spread its message.

The group, led by Republican operatives, is being funded in part by St. Louis anti-tax billionaire Rex Sinquefield, according to the Kansas City Star.

Sinquefield is also working to abolish the state income tax in Missouri and replace it with a higher state sales tax on a wider variety of goods and services.

His spokesman declined to say how much Sinquefield has contributed to the anti- income tax group in Kansas. Since Kansans for No Income Tax is registered as a nonprofit, its donors and how much they gave can be kept secret. In Missouri, Sinquefield contributed $1.3 million to a group seeking to do away with the income tax there. Last year, he contributed $11 million to other initiatives to repeal taxes in Missouri.

Kansas Democrats criticized the involvement of a Missourian in the Kansas tax debate. “KNIT (Kansans for No Income Tax) claims it’s working for the best interest of Kansans. If that were the case, they’d give Rex Sinquefield his donation back,” the party said.

Ashley McMillan, president of Kansans for No Income Tax, said she wouldn’t comment on the Democrats’ suggestion to return the donation.

McMillan said her group enjoys broad support from Kansans as well as like-minded people across the nation. She declined to say how much the group has received in donations and from whom.

Sinquefield is also president of the Show-Me Institute, which describes itself as a think tank that advocates free-market principles.

At the institute’s 2010 open house, economist Arthur Laffer gave the keynote speech. Laffer, who has been hired as a consultant by the Brownback administraiton, gained prominence during the Reagan administration when he served as an economic adviser. He and Brownback espouse tax cuts as a way to generate economic growth.

Laffer helped write the most recent edition of the American Legislative Exchange Council’s “Rich States, Poor States.” The foreword was written by Brownback.

The Brownback administration is paying Laffer $75,000 to help with plans to reform the Kansas tax code.

That plan is being designed behind closed doors but is expected to be rolled out soon after Friday’s new state revenue estimate.

Kansas Democrats and some Republicans have voiced concerns about doing away with the state personal and corporate income tax, saying that would result in cuts to needed services and increase local property and sales taxes.

By Scott Rothschild

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Rep. Davis says Secretary of State Kobach should focus on his job, not ‘personal crusade’ against illegal immigration

House Democratic Leader Paul Davis of Lawrence says Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a Republican, needs to focus on his job and not his “personal crusade” against illegal immigration.

But Kobach said Davis’ criticism didn’t make sense and Kobach reiterated that he works full time on his job as secretary of state and does outside legal work on his own time.

Davis said the recent fine levied by state ethics officials against Kobach’s campaign for campaign finance reporting violations showed that Kobach “is spending too much time traveling around the country on a personal crusade and not enough time doing the job the people of Kansas elected — and pay — him to do.”

Last week, Kobach’s campaign was fined the maximum amount of $5,000 for failing to report accurately nearly $80,000 in contributions and expenses in Kobach’s successful 2010 campaign for secretary of state.

During the last legislative session, Davis had proposed a measure that would require statewide elected officials to refrain from outside employment during their time of public service.

The measure was aimed at Kobach, who as an attorney has worked nationally to assist cities and states in drafting illegal immigration laws. Kobach has co-authored the most controversial of those laws in the nation, including those in Arizona and Alabama, and is in frequent legal battles over the issue of illegal immigration.

“I’m once again calling on Secretary Kobach to end his private legal practice, which is obviously taking up so much time that he can’t even follow the laws that his own office helps to enforce, and become a full time secretary of state,” Davis said.

But Kobach said, “Mr. Davis’ complaint makes no sense. The reports filed by my campaign treasurer in 2009 and 2010 bear absolutely no relationship to how I have spent my spare time since being inaugurated in 2011.”

Kobach has often said that he works in his spare time on immigration issues in other states and that work does not detract from his duties as secretary of state.

His office said Monday that Kobach spends 40 hours to 50 hours per week on secretary of state business and five hours to 15 hours per week of his spare time on legal work “helping cities and states to stop illegal immigration.”

Kobach’s salary as secretary of state is $86,003 per year.

In a Statement of Substantial Interest filed with the secretary of state’s office in April, Kobach listed 10 clients who paid fees or commissions to him of at least $2,000 in the preceding calendar year. Kansas law doesn’t require a state official to list an exact amount of compensation.

According to the Statement of Substantial Interest, Kobach’s clients included the Immigration Reform Law Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based group that fights illegal immigration. He also did work for the city of Fremont, Neb., and Maricopa County, Ariz., on immigration issues. His other clients included Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak and Stewart, of Greenville, S.C.; CMP Susquenhanna Corp., of Atlanta, Ga.; Snell & Wilmer of Phoenix; The Federalist Society, of Washington, D.C.; Digital Ally Inc. of Overland Park; The Eagle Forum Education and Legal Defense Fund of St. Louis; and the 7th District Missouri Republican Assembly of Springfield, Mo.

In June 2010, when Kobach was a candidate for secretary of state, he had seven clients listed on his Statement of Substantial Interest form.

By Scott Rothschild

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State tax receipts for Oct. below estimates

State general fund receipts for October fell slightly below projections for the first time in seven months, officials reported Monday.

The state collected $457.5 million in October, which was $4.2 million, or 0.9 percent, less than previously estimated.

The state would have exceeded the estimate but for the payout of a large one-time refund from prior years, officials said.

“We need to continue to focus on fiscally responsible spending so the state is in a position to accommodate unanticipated revenue events,” said Kansas Department of Revenue Secretary Nick Jordan. The agency did not identify the recipient of the refund.

Even with the slight drop below projections, Kansas is $62 million ahead of estimates for the fiscal year that started July 1. In addition, October tax receipts were $123.2 million more than what was collected in October 2010. Year-to-date, state receipts are running 7 percent more than last year.

By Scott Rothschild

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Revenue secretary headed to western Kansas to hear views on overhauling state tax code

Gov. Sam Brownback’s point man on overhauling the Kansas tax code is headed out to western Kansas on a listening tour about tax policy, officials announced Monday.

Kansas Department of Revenue Secretary Nick Jordan will hold meetings in Great Bend, Garden City and Colby Tuesday, and Hays and Salina on Wednesday.

The meetings have been arranged with the help of the Kansas Farm Bureau and Kansas Rural Economic Development Alliance, the Revenue Department reported.

“This is part of our ongoing effort as part of the Brownback Road Map for Kansas to gather input on tax policy and economic growth from a wide array of Kansans,” Jordan said.

Brownback, a Republican, has said he wants to cut the state income tax as a way to spur economic growth. Brownback’s administration has been working behind closed doors on a plan that will be unveiled sometime in November and forwarded to the Legislature for consideration.

Asked why Jordan was not traveling to other areas on the listening tour, his spokeswoman Jeannine Koranda said Jordan has been in other areas of the state and received input on tax issues. He has yet to travel to western Kansas as revenue secretary, she said.

Meanwhile, a group headed by former Kansas Republican Party officials who helped elect Brownback, are embarking on a short bus tour to advocate for eliminating the state income tax.

The Kansans for No Income Tax bus tour will start on Friday in Topeka and travel to Leavenworth and then Lenexa. On Saturday, the bus will hit Pittsburg and Wichita.

“The elimination of the state’s income tax gives wage earners an immediate pay raise and encourages economic growth in our state,” said Ashley McMillan, president of Kansans for No Income Tax and former executive director of the Kansas GOP.

But Kansas Democrats say cutting income taxes will result in either cuts in services or forcing local governments to increase sales and property taxes to pay for services.

By Scott Rothschild

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NEA delivers bad news to Kansas Arts Commission

Kansas has been told again by the National Endowment for the Arts that it’s not eligible for federal funds, prompting the state Arts Commission’s chairwoman to declare that the group will move forward with a “truly Kansas” plan for supporting arts programs with private money.

An NEA official told Gov. Sam Brownback’s office in a letter this week that the Kansas Arts Commission remains ineligible for funds because it hasn’t demonstrated that it’s supported financially by the state. The letter, obtained Thursday by The Associated Press, says private contributions would not fulfill the requirement for state support.

Brownback vetoed the commission’s entire budget in May, making Kansas the only state in the nation to eliminate its arts funding. Brownback, a Republican who took office in January, has said the arts still can flourish with private dollars and the state must focus on “core” functions such as education, social services and public safety.

The governor’s veto prompted the NEA and the Mid-America Arts Alliance, a private group based in Kansas City, Mo., to cut off funds as well. The Arts Commission lost nearly $2 million — the $689,000 legislators set aside and $1.3 million from the NEA and the alliance. But Brownback’s actions didn’t eliminate the law creating the commission, and he’s since replaced seven of its 12 members.

The NEA also had said Kansas still could submit a new plan for promoting the arts that could qualify the state for federal funds next year. The commission was preparing to do just that to meet an Oct. 31 deadline.

But in a letter dated Tuesday, Karen Elias, the NEA’s general counsel, told Caleb Stegall, the governor’s chief counsel, that if Kansas uses private donations to finance the Arts Commission, the state still “does nothing” to financially support it.

“The arrangement contradicts the notion of a federal/state partnership, and does not meet the eligibility requirement of being ‘financially supported by the state,’” Elias wrote, quoting NEA requirements posted on its website.

Meeting this week

The Arts Commission met Wednesday, with members initially disagreeing on whether they should submit a plan to the NEA anyway, according to Kansas Public Radio, which first reported the developments. Commission members ultimately decided against it.

Commission member Sandra Hartley, a recent Brownback appointee, told Kansas Public Radio that she’s upset the NEA waited so long to tell the state.

“You could have told me this in August, and I would have been out raising money instead of doing all the things that the NEA required,” said Hartley, a Paola attorney who’s also secretary of a local arts coalition.

On Thursday, in response to questions, the NEA issued a statement saying that Kansas still could file an application by the deadline but adding, “All of the application requirements for state partnership are publicly available.”

The federal agency’s website also says that to be eligible for funds, state arts agencies must have “a designated budget” and “designated staff with relevant experience.”

Fundraising plans

Chairwoman Linda Browning Weis, another Brownback appointee, said the commission will revive a plan to issue “support the arts” license plates to raise funds.

“Commissioners remain united and focused on how to expand and support the arts in Kansas by maintaining and creating relationships with other arts agencies and developing an innovative funding plan,” Weis, a Manhattan real estate broker with a background in music and music education, said in a statement.

Brownback had proposed eliminating the commission and reduce the state’s funding for the arts to a $200,000 subsidy for a private, nonprofit Kansas Arts Foundation. The group formed in February, with Weis as its chairwoman, a position she still holds.

But legislators rejected Brownback’s plan and set aside tax dollars to fund the commission in the current state budget. The governor vetoed not only the money but the commission’s authority to retain its small staff, leaving commissioners to handle day-to-day administrative tasks.

By Scott Rothschild

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