Are We Ready for Tomorrow?

Apr 25, 2018 by

The Legislature is set to return on Thursday, April 26 and at the top of everyone’s list of questions is “What about the school finance error?”

Maybe not everyone’s, but it’s on the top of our list!

We’re working on rumors and some good intelligence gathering to try and figure out how things will go down come Thursday.

First, we know there is a planned fix for the error which is tied to Rep. Clay Aurand’s (R-Belleville) effort to mandate a certain level of LOB effort and label it as part of BASE aid. The error can be fixed simply by repealing that provision and we are hopeful that will be the first order of business.

Of course, in the meantime, the state has received more good news about revenue collections and that has spurred a lot of talk about what to do with this “extra” money.

Rumor has it that the some in the House will again try to add to the school finance bill perhaps by pursuing either an amendment offered earlier by Ed Trimmer (D-Winfield) to change how the CPI was calculated in determining  a funding level or one by Jeff Pittman (D-Leavenworth) that would boost the reimbursement of special education funding to the statutory 92%. Both amendments were considered in floor debate on SB 423 earlier and were not adopted, having received only 41 and 43 votes respectively.

If SB 423 is amended to fix the LOB issue and restore the $80 million, we believe there is a chance that the Court will still believe the bill falls short of constitutional adequacy either for the overall increase or for the five-year phase in. Such a Court decision could result in a special legislative session this summer. There is also a chance the Court could call this bill a “good faith effort” and give the Legislature another year to augment the future-years in the plan. We’ll just have to wait and see.

If either the Trimmer or Pittman amendments were to be added, it increases the chances that the Court will approve the plan but it may also create a greater challenge getting the bill through the Senate – we are confident Senate President Wagle (R-Wichita) and Majority Leader Denning (R-Overland Park) will oppose such increases. We just can’t predict what might happen to the 21 votes in the Senate if the bill gets costlier.

KNEA supports the Trimmer and Pittman amendments because both align with our Legislative Agenda and priorities. But we also believe that, should they be offered and fail, that is not a reason to vote NO on the $80 million fix. To allow SB 423 with the error to stand as the proposed solution to Gannon would be irresponsible, to say the least. And it would guarantee a negative reception in the Court, a special summer Legislative Session, and the possibility that our schools will be closed come August.

Now throw into this the Senate’s massive, “Brownbackian” tax cut bill, HB 2228. This bill, which now goes to the House, gives away more than $500 million in new tax cuts and tax adjustments. Coincidentally, the new school finance bill with the fix costs more than $500 million. Passage of HB 2228 cancels out the revenue needed for SB 423!

The Court has been very clear that they want a school finance plan that has the money in it. They have essentially said, “show us the money.” To pass a $500 million finance plan concurrent with a $500 million tax cut would be a disaster. Remember that in the early stages of Gannon, the State argued that there was no revenue for increased school funding and the Court responded that the money was there but the Legislature gave it away in the 2012 Brownback tax cuts. Deja Vu all over again!

Our hopes for the next nine days?

Fix the mistake. Repeal the Aurand LOB amendment. That will restore the bill to the level of funding that was intended on April 7 and take care of new equity challenges.

If the votes are there to increase the funding, do so. We support full funding of special education – we always have and always will. If such amendments are not adopted, pass the underlying bill that fixes the error. Do not use a desire to do more as an excuse to not fix the underlying problem.

Resist the temptation to cut taxes again. Kansas is still in recovery from the Brownback disaster. Things are looking good but this is not the time to cut taxes. We still have to meet school funding adequacy and we also need to address the mess in our foster care system, the challenges faced in public safety, the restoration of funds taken from the highway program and KPERS, and many other vital services. Tax cuts can wait. Remember that voters in 2016 sent many new legislators to Topeka specifically to restore our revenue system. It’s only been 10 months since that happened.

Good Revenue News Means We Can Have Necessary Things Again

We, like all Kansans, are happy to see continuing good news about revenue collections. We’ve repeatedly exceeded estimates thanks to the work of a bipartisan group willing to vote to repeal Brownback’s income tax changes and then vote to override his veto of their action. It looks like the state is on a path to stability once again. We’re not out of the woods but, as Sam would have said, “The sun is shining in Kansas.”

The revenue news means different things to different legislators. Some, as we noted earlier, want to go back to handing out tax cuts as if we had already satisfied the Court school finance ruling, restored the highway plan, paid KPERS back, found the 70 missing children in DCF, and so much more.

In truth, the news means that while we can have some necessary things, we still have a lot to do to get back to our beautiful Kansas.

For the first time in a long time, the legislature is looking at budget profiles with ending balances above zero. In fact today the budget committees are looking at reports that show the state meeting the required 7.5% ending balance. HB 2228, the tax cut bill would wipe that out of course but in the meantime, they can look at other things to fix.

Governor Colyer has submitted a Governor’s Budget Amendment (GBA) that would take funds above the 7.5% ending balance and make an early payment to KPERS. The Legislature is supposed to be making back payments to KPERS by 2020 and this GBA would bring a portion of that payment up now. KNEA supports this GBA. It is critical that KPERS be paid back and the sooner, the better.

This one opportunity and action should be enough to convince responsible lawmakers to step back from the temptation to return immediately to the tax policy decisions that led Kansas to the brink of disaster. We don’t need another radical tax cut – that’s how the Legislature created the problems we are facing today. Now that things are turning around, we hope the Legislature will focus on restoration of services and programs that have made Kansas a great place to live, work, and raise a family.

Join with Our Partners and Urge Your Legislators to Reject Irresponsible Tax Cuts

KNEA is working with other organizations to make sure that our state has ample time to recover from the Brownback experiment before considering any reductions in taxes. As they return to Topeka, it’s important for them to hear that voters want them to act responsibly to ensure our economic and budget recovery. Please take the time to email your Legislators.

Click here to send a message to your Legislators.