The Wichita Eagle. Sept. 22, 2010.
Wichita still waiting to feel recovery
If the Great Recession officially ended more than a year ago, when is the Wichita economy going to get the memo and start acting accordingly?
True, the local jobless rate improved from 8.5 percent in July to 8.2 percent in August, having slid a full percentage point over the past year.
That's moving in the right direction, if not at the desired pace.
But Sept. 21 brought more alarming news: Another 700 jobs are being cut at Cessna Aircraft in Wichita, along with a downward adjustment in the production schedule.
That will make the company's local work force half the size it was just two years ago, when Cessna employed 12,000 people in Wichita.
The job cuts, announced just three days after Cessna dodged a strike called for by the Machinists union leadership, mean more area families will go into the holiday season fretting about how to cover bills and find new employment and income.
It also would seem to guarantee a continuing need for the Laid-Off Workers Center and the other countermeasures coordinated and funded by the United Way of the Plains, which just launched its fall campaign aiming to raise $15 million. Other area social service agencies will feel the jolt, too, and need more help from the community to respond.
South-central Kansas' continuing challenge merits special attention in Topeka, especially with the Wichita jobless rate still so much worse than the statewide 6.6 percent. State spending that has a direct, demonstrable effect on Wichita-area economic development needs to be treated as a priority in the next legislative session. That includes the $5 million a year the state has invested in affordable air service at Wichita Mid-Continent Airport, a five-year commitment set to expire next summer.
Members of the Kansas delegation also must continue to do all they can to ensure that the Air Force's aerial-refueling tanker contract goes to Boeing and its jobs go to Americans, which should include Wichitans. The next round of Pentagon decision making, expected late this year or early next year, must be the last round.
The mission of the Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition and the area investment of the Kansas Bioscience Authority take on special urgency as well, underscoring the need to diversify Wichita's economy in the way of versatile composite materials, renewable energy technology and more.
Wichita's aviation cluster will be back on top — and can claim to be there now, thanks to a recent Brookings Institution study naming it the No. 1 American metropolitan area in export growth.
And growth in the aviation industry typically lags growth in corporate profits. Before planemakers can start hiring again, unsold aircraft must find customers and new orders must be placed.
Too bad knowing that doesn't make the wait any less painful, or ease the pain for those who just want to get back to work.
The Kansas City Star. Sept. 25, 2010.
Two Kansas amendments deserve approval
State constitutions are something like basements. Every now and again they require some housekeeping.
An old provision in the Kansas Constitution, for example, technically limits gun ownership to militias. Another provision enables the state to deny voting rights to people with mental illnesses. The Kansas Legislature wants voters to clean up the language in both those instances, and correctly so. ...
Here are The Star's recommendations for some of the lesser-known issues that will confront voters on Nov. 2.
Kansas Amendment 1: In 1905, the Kansas Supreme Court interpreted the state constitution's right to bear arms to be a collective right. If enforced, this would essentially empower militias to arm, but would deny, for instance, hunters' constitutional protection for gun ownership.
In November, voters are being asked to fix this imbalance. The proposition changes the wording from "The People" to "A person," who can bear arms "for the defense of self, family, home and state, for lawful hunting and recreational use, and for any other lawful purpose."
That language is a close echo to recent rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court, which has noted "the Second Amendment protects a personal right to keep and bear arms for lawful purposes, most notably for self-defense within the home."
While the amendment in a practical sense doesn't change anything, it's worth getting in line with federal law. We urge a yes vote on Amendment 1.
Kansas Amendment 2: Back in 1973, when Kansas reworked its constitution, lawmakers slipped the phrase "mental illness" into a law empowering the state to "exclude persons from voting because of mental illness or commitment to a jail or penal institution."
Mental health advocates want that phrase stripped from the constitution, and for good reason. The idea of mental illness covers a lot of ground. Using different definitions, anywhere from one-third to one-sixth of all Americans qualify. Potentially, that's a lot of folks banned from the ballot box. And there's no evidence someone with a mental illness is incapable of making a rational decision at the polls.
Similar to Amendment 1, the legislature has never moved to lock the mentally ill from voting booths. Still, that language in the constitution creates an unfair stigma for those dealing with mental illness. The wording should be changed. Vote yes on Amendment 2. ...
The Topeka Capital-Journal. Sept. 25, 2010.
Rising tuition, declining enrollment: Cause and effect?
The University of Kansas released figures last week showing its overall enrollment has undergone a decline of about 2 percent.
Meanwhile, 200 miles southwest of Lawrence, enrollment at Hutchinson Community College is so much they're housing students in a local hotel because they've run out of on-campus dorm space.
Why is KU's enrollment shrinking while HCC's has grown 5 percent this year after posting a 13 percent increase in 2009-10?
It doesn't take a college degree to draw a conclusion on that one.
KU's tuition is more than $8,000 for an in-state student this year.
HCC's is $2,370.
With the recession still at the throats of Kansas families, it's pretty clear that many are either opting for institutions offering relatively low tuition or are being forced to do so.
KU is among four Kansas Board of Regents schools where fewer students enrolled this year than last, bringing overall enrollment at the Regents schools down for the first time in more than 10 years. Meanwhile, enrollment at community colleges edged up 3.3 percent overall. Technical colleges grew even more, at 5.7 percent.
Clearly, years of skyrocketing tuition have caught up to KU and other four-year schools in the Regents system. The base cost for students entering KU's four-year tuition compact — a deal in which tuition stays constant for four years has climbed to $7,874 this year from $6,390 just four years ago. That's an increase of a whopping $1,484, and it's the tip of the iceberg of increases over the last decade.
Other Regents schools also bumped up their tuition at a dizzying rate.
Nothing, it seemed, could slow down the train. Not increasingly ominous signs that the economy was headed for a major setback, nor the recession itself.
Granted, Regents administrators and the universities' proponents said the tuition increases were made necessary in large part because of a decline in state funding, and it's true that support from the state has dwindled over the past several years.
But in some cases, the major universities did too little to reduce their own costs of operation as state dollars shrunk, and instead passed the burden along to students and their families. KU's operating budget, as pointed out in this space last week, rose from $413 million in 2006 to $515 million last year.
Now, it appears it's time to pay the piper through an enrollment decline. Despite years of warnings, it appears KU and other schools have put themselves beyond the price range of an increasingly large number of families and students.
Maybe the enrollment decrease will send college administrators the message they seem to have been reluctant to hear in recent years: It's time to find more budget reductions and bring down the cost of tuition.
Garden City Telegraph. Sept. 23, 2010.
Kansas employment picture cause for cautious optimism at best
Gov. Mark Parkinson said he senses a positive turnaround in the state economy.
The governor recently pointed to a report showing a slight gain in jobs compared to last year as one sign of better times ahead. Department of Labor officials reported a gain of 6,900 jobs this August over the same month in 2009, employment growth of about 0.5 percent.
Unemployment, however, showed a bit of an increase from July to August in Kansas. The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 6.6 percent last month, compared with 6.5 percent in July. The rate has dropped from 7.2 percent in August 2009.
But more troubling economic signs linger, and ample proof came in the announcement of the planned layoffs of 700 workers at Cessna Aircraft in Wichita, in addition to the 8,000 jobs lost there since 2008.
Even Garden City, which had avoided much in the way of job losses during the height of the recession, recently saw 17 jobs cut from the local Temple-Inland manufacturing plant.
Not surprisingly, a job sector that experienced an over-the-year decline in Kansas was the critical area of manufacturing, which saw 1,200 fewer jobs this August, for a 0.7 percent decline.
Of course, a portion of the gain in Kansas jobs that pleased Parkinson could be attributed to a 3.5 percent increase in government positions. Government employment was 8,300 jobs higher in August than in August 2009, with some of that due to the temporary employment of census workers involved in the once-a-decade count of the population.
Parkinson understandably seized an opportunity to spotlight an encouraging report. After months of negative developments, most everyone has been eager for signs of a turnaround in Kansas and the nation.
Economists looking back even decided the nationwide recession came to an end in June 2009. Yet more than a year later, job losses and other problems created by the economic downturn persist.
While it's nice to focus on the positives, it's also necessary to acknowledge the challenges that remain amid the fallout of the recession.
Consider it a time to move forward with optimism — cautious optimism, that is.