The Topeka Capital Journal, April 28
Now that the State Department and the state of Nebraska have signed off on an expansion of the Keystone pipeline, there seems to be little reason for President Barack Obama not to approve the project as soon as possible.
That means the pipeline expansion should get this country's OK in mid-May. The State Department issued a report March 1 that raised no objections to proceeding with construction of the pipeline expansion. That report started the clock on a 45-day period for public comments, after which Obama will decide whether to approve the project.
Nebraska has some issues with the pipeline's route through that state — it was proposed to cut through some environmentally sensitive areas — but Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman earlier this year signed off on an alternate route that avoids the state's Sandhills region.
With the State Department and Nebraska on board, there is no reason for further delay.
Opponents of the expansion project content the Canadian crude the pipeline would transport significantly increase greenhouse gases because it is the "dirtiest" crude to be found and requires additional refining.
That said, the original pipeline has been in operation for years and is carrying the Canadian tar sands crude to refineries in Oklahoma and Illinois.
Canada, having found an abundant source of oil, isn't going to stop its production. The tar sands crude will find its way to refineries and that work can create jobs at U.S. refineries and spin-off jobs.
The pipeline expansion also will create a more cost-efficient method for moving oil from fields in Montana and western North Dakota to U.S. refineries. Much of the oil from those states now is being transported by rail to refineries in the west.
The original Keystone pipeline enters the U.S. in North Dakota and runs south through that state, South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas to Cushing, Okla. An intersecting line carries some crude to Patoka, Ill. The pipeline expansion, known as Keystone XL, would enter the U.S. in Montana and cut diagonally across Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska, where it would connect with the existing pipeline.
The project also calls for extending the current pipeline from Cushing, Okla., to refineries on the Gulf Coast. Obama already has said he doesn't object to that segment of the expansion.
Given that tar sands crude already is being refined in the U.S., and that more would be with the addition of the Oklahoma-Gulf Coast link to the existing pipeline, Obama should have an easy decision to make. He should keep in mind that the pipeline also will be carrying a lot of U.S. crude in a more economic manner, which would impact the final cost of the refined product.
It's time to approve the project and increase the flow of crude to U.S. refineries.
The Garden City Telegram, April 28
District wrongly clears way for crusade by creationists.
The Creation Truth Foundation declares Charles Darwin's theory of evolution to be wrong and promotes Bible-centered science for students.
Yet last week in Hugoton, school officials thought it OK to go ahead with school assemblies from a speaker affiliated with the Oklahoma-based group.
Hugoton USD 210 officials allowed Matt Miles to speak at the school assemblies on the topic of dinosaurs. Miles also gave evening, public presentations on creationism that took place on school property.
Resulting controversy, however, centered on the school assemblies for students. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) understandably protested and labeled the assemblies for students unconstitutional.
"Even if Miles never overtly mentions the Bible or creationism," stated a letter from the ACLU to the school district, "public schools are not permitted to present students with false information, which the legitimate scientific community has universally rejected, as part of an anti-evolution, pro-creationist effort."
Hugoton Superintendent Mark Crawford accused the ACLU of bullying the district. But considering the well-publicized mission of the group involved, the school district only invited the controversy in approving the assemblies.
The presentations on dinosaurs and fossils — and from someone with a questionable scientific background — could have taken place elsewhere, giving parents the opportunity to decide whether the material was appropriate.
Of course, the situation wasn't a surprise in a state where ultraconservative Republicans have doggedly pursued changing science standards in school curriculum as a way to reject evolution — the cornerstone of modern biology — and open the door to religion in science classes.
A number of teachers in Hugoton reportedly were upset about the assemblies, and for good reason.
Moves to downplay evolution in science standards and schools in general have cast negative light on a state that should provide a world-class science education to help graduates compete in today's world.
Youngsters have ample opportunity to learn about creationism or other specific religious beliefs at church, in a private school or at home. In Hugoton and elsewhere, parents should take the lead in addressing those beliefs with their children.
Public schools, meanwhile, should follow the law and refrain from promoting religion-based ideology in any way.
The Wichita Eagle, April 26
Funds needed for schools
Good for Gov. Sam Brownback for recognizing that the state may lose its lawsuit over school funding and need more tax revenue. But where is this reflected in his budget? And hasn't he already pledged increased sales-tax revenue for other purposes, including further reducing the state's income taxes?
In arguing that the state should make its temporary sales-tax increase permanent, Brownback said last week that the state may need this revenue in case the Kansas Supreme Court rules against it on school funding. He noted that the state already has lost in the lower court, which ordered it to increase spending by at least $440 million. Brownback said lawmakers should consider the impact a final ruling against the state could have on the state's budget.
"You could get yourself where you'd be in a crisis position, and I don't think that's prudent," Brownback said.
He's absolutely correct. But he's also late in acknowledging this.
This editorial board and many citizens across the state raised this same concern before Brownback signed massive income-tax cuts last year. How could the state afford to lose that much tax revenue, especially when it likely would lose the school-funding lawsuit?
Keeping the statewide sales-tax rate at 6.3 percent, as Brownback proposes, rather than letting it drop to 5.7 percent on July 1, would provide about $262 million in additional state revenue a year. That's about 60 percent of the school funding increase that the lower court ordered.
But Brownback also has been saying that the additional sales-tax revenue is needed to prevent funding cuts to higher education. And he wants the extra revenue to help further phase down state income taxes.
The higher sales tax isn't like the biblical account of Jesus and the loaves and fishes - it can't feed a multitude of state budget needs.
Still, Brownback and the Legislature had been acting as if it won't matter how the court rules. They cut base state school aid to a level lower than it was before the state lost the last funding lawsuit. Then when the economy improved, they chose to cut income taxes rather than restore this funding.
So it was good to hear Brownback admit that the state could lose the lawsuit and need to significantly increase school funding. That should have been obvious, but it's progress.
The Hays Daily News, April 23
Do more with less
With state lawmakers on break until May 8, there are a lot of unknowns surrounding what next year's budget will look like. Given the massive tax reductions put in place last year, it won't be pretty for any entity supported by state funding.
Institutions of higher learning are feeling particularly singled out. According to a flyer from Fort Hays State University, higher education cuts account for 40 percent of all the cuts proposed for 2014 and 2015.
"Did we make somebody mad?" asked Kansas Board of Regents member Christine Downey-Schmidt. "Why are we such a target?"
Board member Robba Moran, formerly from Hays, lamented: "I know there are states that are increasing their higher education budgets right now. I'm having a really hard time with a supposed 'pro-growth' philosophy."
That pro-growth approach being pushed by Gov. Sam Brownback and fellow conservatives in the Legislature is code for starving state government and hoping for an economic miracle. For colleges and universities attempting to prepare the next generation of skilled employees and leaders, the decreases could result in larger class sizes, fewer offerings and higher tuition. That hardly appears to be a successful formula for recruiting or retaining students, let alone preventing them from fleeing immediately upon graduation.
Still, legislators are having trouble making ends meet with the loss of revenue caused by last year's tax cuts. Still to be resolved in the Statehouse is the upcoming budget, which has at least three competing plans in play. The Senate version would cut higher education spending by 2 percent, which would result in $700,000 less for Fort Hays State. The House proposal cuts deeper, with FHSU receiving $2.5 million less. Only the governor's budget maintains higher education spending at current levels.
Naturally, that is the budget being endorsed by the Board of Regents and member institutions. FHSU President Edward Hammond is urging citizens to contact their lawmakers to adopt the governor's plan.
Unfortunately, the governor's plan merely transfers the cuts to other entities. It also requires a permanent extension of the existing higher sales tax rate to pay for it. Unless the Legislature decides otherwise, the 6.3 percent state sales tax rate is supposed to drop to 5.7 percent this summer. And the $300 million-plus that 0.6 percent generates is needed to plug holes in the "pro-growth" budget. ...
Fort Hays State and others are trapped in a corner on this one. The lesser of three evils, from their perspective, is the governor's plan. Yet none of them are good for the state overall. ...
Perhaps our elected leaders believe FHSU can continue doing more with less. It can't. Nor can the rest of the state. ...