The Kansas City Star, Aug. 8
Thoroughly investigate fatality at Schlitterbahn water slide:
A thorough investigation must follow the tragic death Sunday of 10-year-old Caleb Thomas Schwab at the Schlitterbahn water park in Kansas City, Kan.
The boy, the second oldest of Kansas state Rep. Scott Schwab's four sons, died on Verrückt, which opened in July 2014. At 17 stories tall, it is billed as the tallest water slide in the world.
Little was known about how the accident occurred Sunday afternoon when admittance to the water park was free for area elected officials and their families. Schlitterbahn said on its Facebook page that it was saddened by Caleb's death.
The ride will remain closed "pending a full investigation," Schlitterbahn said. "Our thoughts and prayers are with the family during this difficult time." Officials at the water park have said nothing about what may have happened to cause Caleb's death.
The water slide had been a major tourist attraction. It's good that the state mandates a qualified inspector's approval before any amusement ride reopens after a major accident.
Certainly no more tragedies need to occur at Schlitterbahn. Riders on Verrückt must be at least 54 inches tall. Each three-person raft holds people with a combined weight of 400 to 550 pounds. Passengers are secured with straps across the waist and one shoulder.
The ride includes 264 steps to the top and call boxes for people to report emergencies. The chute drops 168 feet 7 inches, sending the raft at speeds up to 70 mph. The ride then climbs a second hill, plunges into a 50-foot drop and then continues to a stop. Officials weren't commenting on where things may have gone wrong, resulting in Caleb's death.
A police investigation is underway. The Wyandotte County medical examiner was doing an autopsy, but Monday evening Kansas City, Kan., police said Caleb Schwab died from a fatal neck injury.
Amusement ride injuries and fatalities have occurred in other cities in the U.S. After investigations to determine the cause, the attractions have reopened with improvements geared toward prevention.
For the sake of public safety, people need to know the cause of what happened to Caleb at Verrückt. They also need to be assured that safeguards will be put in place after more details are known to ensure that no more injuries or deaths will occur again.
A Go Fund Me fundraising page has been set up to cover the funeral and other expenses for Caleb. By Monday afternoon, it had raised more than $23,000.
Meanwhile, Rep. Schwab, his wife, Michele, and their family need time with friends and loved ones to grieve over the loss of Caleb.
The Wichita Eagle, Aug. 7
Will Brownback change course?
When Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce, R-Hutchinson, lost in Tuesday's primary, he conceded that the voters "have spoken and they wanted to go in a new direction." The question is whether Gov. Sam Brownback was listening and is willing to change course.
A statement from his office the morning after the election was not encouraging.
After moderate Republican challengers defeated Brownback-aligned conservatives in races throughout the state, Eileen Hawley, Brownback's spokeswoman, tried to downplay and deflect the meaning of the results.
"Kansas is not immune from the widespread anti-incumbency sentiment we have seen across the nation this election season," she said.
The problem with that spin is that the anti-incumbency sentiment in Kansas was focused nearly exclusively on conservatives. Moderate incumbents won their primaries.
In fact, many primary races were very much a referendum on Brownback's policies and the budget problems he created.
In Johnson County, GOP moderates defeated House and Senate incumbents, campaigning on support for public education and against Brownback policies endorsed by the incumbents. There were similar results elsewhere in the state, as conservative incumbents were weighted down by their ties to Brownback and his policies.
Sedgwick County was an outlier, as all incumbents won their primaries — including Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairman Ty Masterson, R-Andover, one of the architects (and chief deniers) of the state's budget mess.
Brownback could lose even more of his grip on the Legislature after the November elections. Democrats are fielding strong candidates in several races — such as longtime Wichita school board member Lynn Rogers, who is running in Senate District 25.
The new lawmakers won't be the compliant yes-men that Brownback has controlled in recent years. They will demand changes, including votes on expanding Medicaid and eliminating the tax exemption on pass-through business income. And if the Kansas Supreme Court rules that the state is not adequately funding public education — as seems likely — the new lawmakers won't throw a fit and threaten to defy the court.
Brownback could still veto policy changes, which perhaps might survive an override attempt. But rather than dig in and become even more hardheaded, Brownback should show some humility and flexibility.
A recent poll found that only 15 percent of Kansans were satisfied with Brownback's job performance. Tuesday's election was another strong statement of disapproval.
Brownback should learn from these results and accept what voters had to say — that they want a new direction.
The Salina Journal, Aug. 6
Income shortfalls continue:
In the same manner spring lifts the human spirit with a sense of renewal, a new fiscal year rekindles optimism for companies and organizations. Particularly if the preceding year was one to forget, as was the case for the state of Kansas.
Revenue figures reported from Topeka one month into this new year, however, evoke nothing but disgust and ire. Once again, Kansas tax collections missed budget. Overly rosy projections by Gov. Sam Brownback, the conservative Republican-dominated Legislature and a team of financial advisers weren't even close to the reality of a slowing economy.
For July, the $14.3 million shortfall marks the 11th time in the past 13 months the estimates have been off. For a cash-strapped state trapped in a cycle of late and skipped payments, higher interest rates, credit downgrades, account raiding and sleight-of-hand accounting — and still unable to pay all of its obligations — this isn't a good way to start the new fiscal year. It sounds more like a continuation of the FY16 disaster.
And because lawmakers abdicated their responsibility to the governor's office to make adjustments, expect Brownback to announce soon further agency cuts or confiscate somebody's reserve funds.
Optimism has not disappeared completely, as evidenced by remarks from Kansas Revenue Secretary Nick Jordan.
"We are pleased to start the new fiscal year with positive individual income tax growth," Jordan said in a news release, "but concerned with the continued weak corporate tax receipts, which many states in our region are experiencing. Sales tax receipts remain weak in counties with significant agriculture and oil economies."
Actually, sales tax collections were up 3.2 percent from the same month last year. That doesn't sound too weak. Perhaps it was the forecasted 8.9 percent increase that was the problem.
That big of a jump should be expected only from a robust economy that had received a shot of adrenaline of some sort. We know the governor still is waiting for his glide path to zero income tax plan to produce that shot, but it hasn't happened since the cuts first were implemented in 2012.
There should have been no rational justification for anybody involved in the budgeting process to believe Kansas retail sales would jump 9 percent in July. In April, when the revenue consensus group last met to revise Kansas figures downward once again, national retail sales were up only 1.3 percent. That 1.3 percent was the high mark for the preceding 12 months; the second-highest was 0.6 percent. And remember, the national economy is growing slowly while the Kansas economy is in free-fall.
The governor has lamented poor forecasting for the past two years, seemingly at a loss as to where the process is failing. Plugging in wildly absurd figures on the retail sales tax line, which is the single-largest source of revenue for the state, guarantees disappointment.
But that's the plan, isn't it? Disappointment will lead to public hand-wringing, then to more cuts. Brownback and his legislative lackeys simply feign surprise each time revenue targets are missed, and the process of starving state government continues unabated.
Based on Tuesday's primary results, it appears Kansans finally are catching on. At least 11 conservative allies of the governor were defeated by moderate Republicans. Add in the neo-cons who did not stand for re-election, and Brownback's veto-proof super majority is gone.
Kansas voters need to finish the job in November and throw out the remaining lawmakers who've assisted the governor's destruction.
The Hutchinson News, Aug. 5
Child care a concern that requires community consideration:
For families with young children, decisions about child care are extremely personal and individual issues. But when there's a lack of affordable quality child-care options, it becomes very much a community issue.
In Hutchinson, apparently the issue is so serious there's a joke that a pregnant mother had best find a daycare provider before she even tells her husband they're expecting a child.
The expense of child care, however, is no laughing matter. A family with two children can expect to pay roughly $1,000 a month for daycare. For many families, the amount represents a significant chunk of a family's income. In Hutchinson, with a median income of $44,673, that amount represents about 27 percent of a family's annual income. In a place where nearly 16 percent of families live below the poverty level -- $23,550 for a family of four -- daycare easily could eat up more than half of family income. The cost is higher with infants in the family.
Sometimes families decide that it's more financially viable for one of the parents to drop out of the workforce to care for young children. In other cases, families struggle to find suitable daycare that provides them with the reliability and flexibility to continue working at a cost that doesn't undermine the family.
Despite the cost to families, however, being a daycare provider is neither easy nor lucrative. It's an industry known for low wages and thin profit margins -- if there's profit at all -- and the regulations surrounding child care can make it a prohibitive business venture.
Such a dynamic calls for a community solution that doesn't rely on the structure in which the original problem exists, and in which it was created.
One such solution being explored is a synergistic approach between local churches and philanthropic organizations to subsidize the start of a new child-care center at Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, scheduled to open next summer. Other churches, such as The Father's House, which is host for Abundant Life Childcare and Preschool, also help support these centers to provide reasonably priced daycare for families. Despite that church's support, and help from the United Way, it still struggles to make ends meet, or pay its staff an adequate wage.
If a solution is to be found, it likely will be found through a joint effort -- one that examines the issue of child-care availability and affordability not as a family issue but as a community issue. Because so long as people have to choose between work and child care, employers will miss out on access to the entire qualified workforce. So long as daycare centers can't pay living wages to those entrusted with children's well-being, parents will rightly worry about the quality of care their child receives. And so long as parents and employers struggle with those concerns, the community at large also will.