Hutchinson News, Aug. 20

Election for sale

Increased PAC spending sends message Legislature can be bought

Apparently, the cost of winning an election in Kansas is suffering from a bad case of inflation.

With an outspoken desire to rid Topeka of legislators who didn't march in lockstep with Gov. Sam Brownback's aggressive economic and social experiment for Kansas, outside groups answered the governor's call with buckets of cash. That, in turn, brought out additional money from groups who sought to keep moderates in office.

The result was that the 2012 primary election resembled something more like a shopping spree than a free election.

A Kansas Governmental Ethics report found that political action committee spending on Kansas elections increased exponentially this year from 2008. Since the beginning of 2012, PAC spending in Kansas reached $2,135,220. Last minute spending by PACS, which came after the official reporting deadline, surged to $798,000 — a nearly six-fold increase over the $134,162 spent during the same period in 2008.

The leader in PAC spending was the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, with $675,709 spent since Jan. 1. In addition to PAC money, candidates for the House and Senate collectively raised $3.9 million during the campaign season.

While that is a staggering amount of money for groups to spend on what should be public service, it doesn't include the untold — and unknowable — amount of money spent by non-profit issue groups such as Americans For Prosperity.

Such groups aren't required to report their involvement in political races and insist they use their money to inform voters about issues rather than to alter elections. Yet such groups frequently point out which candidates align with their policy positions and encourage voters to "thank" or support them.

Kansans should be concerned that special interest groups hold such interest in who wins a part-time legislative job in Topeka. The message from PACs and non-profit groups is that with enough money the Legislature can be purchased and remit payment in the way of favorable legislation. To think that these groups would make such a large investment for the wellbeing of Kansans is simultaneously foolish, naive and dangerous.

In the future, legitimate political candidates likely will find it difficult to stand against the blitzkrieg of even a weak opponent who has the backing of a well-financed non-profit group or PAC willing to spend countless dollars on its financiers' behalf.


St. Joseph News-Press, Aug. 17

Connect the dots: Local food has value

Growers in Northeast Kansas and Northwest Missouri have an expanding opportunity to market their produce to willing buyers.

Buying local is becoming a higher priority among consumers. For farmers, it creates a new, largely untapped niche, a study by a Kansas State University researcher has found.

"The theme of supporting local agriculture found appeal across all ages, genders and income levels," researcher Sarah Bernard says.

The appeal of buying locally grown food includes supporting the community, environment and better health. Women are more motivated on these factors, as well as shoppers over age 55. Since women tend to be the primary shoppers for food products, local growers have a chance to reach new customers, Ms. Bernard says.

Price, inconvenience and an unfamiliar brand were barriers to buying local food. But once people try local beef, as one example, those factors fade away. The taste and quality apparently make up for any inconvenience and price gap. K-State research suggests producers should give people a chance to sample their food or offer an incentive for a small purchase.

Some local brands have overcome the odds by becoming household names. Shatto Milk Co. and Schweizer Orchard are just two examples. Also, several greenhouses around the region have established reputations of excellence.

Traditional agriculture produces abundant, affordable food for people here and around the world. Local businesses can fill in the gaps with fresh, high-quality meat and produce that meet consumer needs.

Escalating fuel prices likely will make local foodstuffs more competitive. These products also contribute to the regional economy.

The road to value-added agriculture has been a rocky one, but the time appears ripe for farmers to capitalize on their location and help shoppers keep it local.


The Topeka Capital-Journal, Aug. 17

Olympians shouldn't be tax-exempt

A bill has been introduced in Congress — with bipartisan support, if you can imagine that — that would exempt from federal income taxes the cash awards to this country's athletes who won medals at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.

Gold medal winners receive $25,000 from the U.S. Olympic Committee. Silver medalists receive $15,000 and bronze medalists get $10,000.

We recently praised as heroes all this country's Olympic participants and recognized the hard work they had undertaken to represent the United States, which they did in exemplary fashion. We still laud their accomplishments and think the money medal winners stand to collect from the U.S. Olympic Committee has been well-earned.

But it should be taxed.

The movement afoot to exempt the direct financial reward that accompanies a medal is one of those things that feels good as we still bask in the glow of the athletes' triumphs. But the athletes who traveled to England for the 2012 Olympics aren't the first to bring back medals or receive cash for doing so. Why should such feats now be worthy of a tax break that wasn't bestowed upon their predecessors?

Our country has other heroes, lots of them, and they pay taxes on their income.

The men and women serving in our armed forces pay taxes. Law enforcement officers and firefighters pay taxes. Emergency preparedness personnel and others who respond when needed — whether it be to assist tornado survivors or rescue people from floodwaters — also pay taxes.

Granted, comparing Olympic medal winners to everyday heroes is an apples-and-oranges argument. But it does lend some perspective to the issue of rewarding specific groups of people with income tax favors.

Proponents of the federal tax break for Olympic medalists contend the winner of a gold medal would pay $8,986 of the $25,000 cash award in income taxes.

Perhaps, if that is the athlete's only income for a year and he or she has no deductions to offset part or all of the tax bill.

Many Olympic athletes earn money from sponsors and train at facilities supported by the Olympic Committee or other organizations. But surely most of them have incurred out-of-pocket expenses related to their training that could be included on a tax form to reduce the amount owed.

We also should note that several members of the U.S. Olympic team are in a position to parlay their medals into endorsements, personal appearance deals or careers that will make $25,000 seem like pocket change.

Others won't be so fortunate, but they shouldn't find their final tax bill overbearing. And Congress shouldn't now rush to create tax breaks simply to reward athletic performance.


The Wichita Eagle, Aug. 16

Bardo off to fast start at WSU

When asked recently by the Eagle editorial board what advice he might offer Wichita State University's new president, Kansas State University President Kirk Schulz recommended going slow during the first year. "Don't do stuff too quickly," Schulz said, noting how it takes time to learn the culture of a university and a state.

Too late for that.

John Bardo, who officially began at WSU on July 1, is off to a fast start and already has big plans for boosting and transforming the university. His goals include increasing student enrollment, building a new residence hall in the center of campus, expanding research, turning more research into products in the marketplace, and improving the quality of student experience.

Bardo intends to begin a strategic planning process this fall in which half of the task force members will be from the community. He wants to have the plan ready by next June.

"It's a big agenda," Bardo told the Eagle editorial board.

It sure is. But it's on target.

Bardo was able to hit the ground running because he was already familiar with WSU and Wichita. Bardo taught at WSU from 1976 to 1983, and his wife is from Wichita. They made regular visits back to Wichita after they left and considered Wichita their home. "I never gave up loving this university," he said.

This also isn't the first time Bardo has led a university. He was chancellor of Western Carolina University from 1995 to 2011, and he held key administrative jobs at several other universities.

Though he was familiar with WSU, Bardo has been pleasantly surprised by what he has seen. He has been particularly impressed by the quality of the faculty and staff and the research being done at the university.

"We've got people who can do a lot," he said.

Bardo has been spending much of his time meeting with faculty, staff and students and connecting with people in the community. He was on hand Sunday to greet students moving into WSU's residence halls.

Bardo knows he has a big challenge filling the shoes of former WSU President Donald Beggs. But because of Beggs' good work, Bardo is in a position to help the university take some needed steps forward.

"If I sound excited, it is because I am," Bardo said.

Wichita should be, too.