Bullying and Budgeting

Feb 20, 2019 by

A solid week of bullying bills!

This is turning out to be the week of the bully under the dome. It started with a Valentine’s Day hearing on HB 2150, a bill that allowed any child who reported bullying – just reported it; it didn’t have to happen to him/her and it didn’t actually have to happen at all – to be offered a voucher to attend a private school where, we guess, bullying must not happen.

Okay, it wasn’t a bill to address bullying, it was a bill to create vouchers. Now this week, we have hearings on two more bullying bills.

One, HB 2257, was drafted by Equality Kansas, an advocacy organization for LGBTQ Kansans. Equality Kansas took the time to confer on their draft with education organizations including KNEA and was receptive to suggestions resulting in a bill that is generally considered the best one out there at this time.

The second bill is HB 2330. This bill was based on the infamous Walt Chappell drafted bill that was so much overkill that even advocates for stronger bullying laws opposed it. The bill was given to freshman Representative Mark Samsel (R-Wellsville) who worked to purge it of some of the more onerous provisions. Samsel has also reached out to KNEA, KASB, and USA for input in the hope of creating something that everyone can agree to – perhaps a melding of HB 2257 and HB 2330. Complicating the problem is that the bills are having hearings in two different committees!

Bullying legislation is a perennial issue in the statehouse with education organizations looking for local control on the issue and other organizations seeking statutes with “more teeth.”

KNEA opposed HB 2150 for what it is – a voucher bill. We are appearing neutral on the other two and encouraging legislators to deal with this issue as they did with the other perennial issue, dyslexia. Last year, with the leadership of Rep. Brenda Dietrich (R-Topeka), a controversial dyslexia bill was transformed into the establishment of a task force made up of teachers, administrators, State Board members, parents, legislators, and advocacy organizations.

The Dyslexia Task Force met over the summer and fall and managed to collaboratively develop a set of recommendations – unanimously adopted by the members of the task force – that will hopefully satisfy all of the interested parties. We believe the same process should be used to come up with a solution to bullying that helps schools, protects students, and deals with the underlying issues.

HB 2257 had a hearing today; HB 2330 will get a hearing tomorrow. And that voucher bill, HB 2150? It is scheduled for a vote in committee tomorrow.

Money mess

Since budgeting, spending, and taxes are all intertwined, we thought it best to let you know where things are as of today.

The mostly corporate tax giveaway, SB 22, has passed the Senate with 26 votes and is getting a hearing in the House Tax Committee today and tomorrow. It reduces revenue by nearly $190 million.

Both the Senate and House Tax Committees are hearing bills this week to lower the food sales tax rate. Lowering the rate by one cent, from 6.5% to 5.5% would cost the state about $60 million.

The Senate has also passed SB 9 which would require the state to immediately pay back $115 million in funds delayed to KPERS. This bill has had a hearing in the House Appropriations Committee and was voted out of committee favorably. It awaits action in the full House probably this week. It represents a reduction of $115 million from the treasury which would make the budget harder to balance.

Governor Kelly had recommended the re-amortization of KPERS in order to lower the immediate costs and help balance the budget. Her re-amortization bill was soundly defeated on the House floor.

So lots of things are happening that will make it more difficult to balance the budget and meet the priorities for Kansas that Governor Kelly highlighted in her state of the state address – funding schools, repairing the foster care system, hiring correctional officers to end the crisis in Kansas prisons, and expand Medicaid to provide health insurance to 150,000 uninsured working Kansans.

We are approaching the half-way point of the session. There is much still to be done!

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Sad news; Then hearings on buying classroom supplies & taxing food

Feb 19, 2019 by

Representative Greg Lewis resigns for health reasons

In very sad news today, Rep. Greg Lewis (R-St. John) announced his resignation from the House of Representatives. Lewis won re-election in November after a bruising primary. In December he found himself with vision problems, feeling lightheaded and unstable. During the holidays, he found himself facing a diagnosis of a serious cancerous brain tumor that grows rapidly.

Facing surgeries, chemotherapy, and radiation, Lewis realized he needed to focus all his energy on his health and family.

Rep. Greg Lewis has been a steadfast supporter of public schools, school employees, and public policy that supports a good quality of life in Kansas. We will miss Greg tremendously and pray that both Greg and his family might have the strength to face this challenge.

A stipend for every teacher?

The House Education Committee held a hearing on HB 2233, a bill that would require all school districts to provide a stipend of $500 to every teacher for the purpose of buying classroom supplies.

Sounds good? Well, not necessarily. The bill does not include any funding so school districts would be forced to take this money out of other funding sources. So they might have to reduce money for pay raises, or covering health insurance premium increases, or providing more classroom instructional support.

Further, the bill is written in such a restrictive fashion that the $500 can be used for essentially only those things that are on supply list sent to parents every year. The stipend cannot be used to purchase anything that is not entirely consumed in the school year it was bought. So if you want to buy books for your classroom library or a class set of novels, you can’t. And even though food products are entirely consumed, food is specifically prohibited by the bill. So no use trying to use the stipend for cooking projects in your classroom; forget the Kindergarten Thanksgiving feast!

Three things need to happen before this bill is a good idea: 1) schools need to be fully funded as per the Gannon decision; 2) an additional appropriation must be made to pay for this bill ($17.350 million); and 3) the bill needs to be rewritten such that the teacher can decide for him/herself what is necessary to move children to higher levels of achievement.

Should Kansas lower the food sales tax?

Kansas is one of only seven states that imposes the full sales tax on groceries and our rate is the second highest in the nation.

House Bill 2261 would lower the state food sales tax from 6.5% to 5.5%. The bill had a hearing in the House Tax Committee. KNEA has a position supporting the reduction or repeal of the food sales tax. Our testimony in support of the bill focused on the impact of the food sales tax on low-income families and their ability to purchase nutritious fresh foods for children.

Others supporting the bill included rural communities, pediatricians, healthy food advocates, dietitians, and local health departments. Opponents were the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and the Kansas Farm Bureau.

Kansas Action for Children testified as neutral, telling the Committee that there were other options to do the same thing such as expansion of the food sales tax credit or making that credit fully refundable.

No action was taken on the bill at this time.


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Bullying for Vouchers; Re-amortizing KPERS

Feb 14, 2019 by

When is a bullying bill not a bullying bill? When it’s a voucher bill instead!

Today in the K-12 Budget Committee, Chairperson Kristey Williams held a hearing on a bill which purports to help victims of bullying, but which really advances a voucher scheme. According to many advocates who track these bills, this bill was born from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) a conservative think-tank and driver of conservative policy and was recently passed and put into law in the “sunshine state” of Florida. Like the Floridian version of the bill, this bill is entitled the “Hope Scholarship Act” and its proponents – including legislative sponsors Renee Erickson (R-Wichita) and Susan Humphries (R-Wichita) – believe that it would give families a choice to transfer bullied students to both public and private schools. Proponents included the bills co-sponsors as well as lobbyists from American’s for Prosperity, the Kansas Policy Institute (both Koch-aligned “think tanks” and the Kansas Catholic Conference.

In its current form the bill, HB 2150, would allow students to receive up to 96% of base aid for the purposes of leaving their current district and moving to a new school. In order to receive this “voucher” students only need to report that they believe bullying has occurred; they don’t actually have to have been the target of a bully. The district where the report was received would have 15 days to offer those students the voucher option. There would be no requirement that the alleged bullying actually took place – the report is sufficient to trigger the voucher.

The opponents of this bill pointed out its many flaws. Chief among them is the fact that the bill does nothing to address the root cause of bullying, leaves the bully in place to victimize others without any intervention services, all while sending the message to the bullied student that the only way to solve their bullying is to ship them out. Ironically, the bill does pay for the victim’s bus fare off campus as there is a provision to include transportation costs for the student to get to the new school.

As the opponents outlined a litany of concerns, other committee members asked the bill co-sponsors if it was possible that a private school could – in fact – tell a bullied child, “we don’t want you,” and deny admission even with a voucher. After responding with a conflated argument about schools’ rights to tell students how they may or may not dress, it was agreed that private schools could – for example – tell bullied LGBTQ kids that they are unwanted.

A very impassioned plea came from Liz Meidl representing the Mainstream Coalition who carries significant expertise in SPED research and the effective application of SPED programs in public schools. She shared a story of a student who was essentially told by a private Catholic school in Wichita that she was no longer welcome as a student at the school. Rep. Brenda Landwher questioned Ms. Meidl first suggesting and then openly accusing her of making an “insulting accusation” about the Wichita Catholic Diocese. Landwher went on to say that she would be shocked if a Catholic school had unfairly treated any children, let alone the child in this particular anecdote.

We would ask our readers to educate yourselves on all bills that impact education policy, because many – like this one – sound good in title, but really carry a different purpose entirely. Hiding a voucher bill within a bill which purports to address issues of bullying where the resolution of the issue is to send the victim away simply empowers the bully and stigmatizes the target.

We support providing adequate and equitable resources for our schools, educators and parents of both the victims of bullying and the bullies themselves rather than shifting more dollars to private schools via another voucher scheme. And if you read about a “school choice” program, remember that this is exactly what it is – the school gets to choose the students they will take, not the parents.

There will be another, more rational bill to address school bullying issues up for a hearing next week.

KNEA was joined in opposing this bill by KASB, United School Administrators, Schools for Quality Education, the PTA, Game on For Kansas Schools, the Mainstream Coalition, Equality Kansas, the Kansas Council for Exceptional Children, Olathe Public Schools, and Basehor-Linwood Public Schools.

KPERS Re-amortization bill killed on the House floor

House Bill 2197, Governor Kelly’s proposal to re-amortize KPERS in order to bring down the required payments by spreading them out over additional years (remember – it’s like refinancing your home loan) was debated on the House floor this morning and defeated on a vote of 36 to 87. All Republicans were joined by Democrats Tom Burroughs (Kansas City), Henry Helgerson (Wichita), Tim Hodge (Newton), and Jeff Pittman (Leavenworth). Elizabeth Bishop (D-Wichita) and Greg Lewis (R-St. John) were absent.

During debate, three amendments were offered, none of which were adopted.

And amendment by Rep. Pittman to add a three-tiered cost of living adjustment for current retirees failed on a vote of 49 to 73, getting 10 Republican and 39 Democratic votes. Another two-tiered cost of living amendment was offered by Rep. Dave Benson (D-Overland Park) but failed on a vote of 48 to 75. A third amendment offered by Rep. Cindy Neighbor (D-Shawnee) would have immediately put $115 million into KPERS as in the recently passed Senate bill but was ruled non-germane on a challenge by Dan Hawkins (R-Wichita).

Republicans voting to support both cost of living amendments were: Ken Corbet (Topeka), Tom Cox (Shawnee), Diana Dierks (Salina), Brenda Dietrich (Topeka), Ronald Ellis (Meriden), Ron Howard (Wichita), Jim Karleskint (Tonganoxie), Fred Patton (Topeka), and Tom Phillips (Manhattan). Democrat Henry Helgerson (Wichita) voted no on both. All other Democrats voted yes (Elizabeth Bishop was absent). Republican Bradley Ralph (Dodge City) voted yes on the first COLA amendment and no on the second. Republican Greg Lewis (St. John) was absent.

Actions by both the House and Senate have put Kansas in a difficult place when it comes to financing the priorities of the state – education funding, Medicaid expansion, repairing the broken foster care and prison systems, and restoring the highway fund. Senate actions on Senate bills 22 and 9 would take about $307 million out of the treasury before the budget has even been considered. Now the House has refused the re-amortization proposal which would have saved money in the treasury.

These issues still have a long way to go before they are finally resolved – luckily we are a bicameral Legislature and it takes action by both chambers to make something happen. Keep watching and be ready to take action when we need you to!

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What’s coming up?

Feb 8, 2019 by

The Reamortization of KPERS remains a hot topic

Many people are wondering and worrying about a proposal to reamortize KPERS and rightfully so. We know how important a secure retirement is to school employees and to all Kansans. KPERS benefits are spent by retirees over and over in our communities supporting local businesses and local economies. So we will do everything to protect your retirement. We are following KPERS issues in the Statehouse and working with our many partners – other labor organizations, state and municipal employees, and current KPERS retirees to make sure the right decisions are made.

But the first question is, “Why are we here?” Well, it’s a long story starting with the continued failure of many legislatures to meet their actuarial obligations to the system. The unfunded liability grew to a point that lawmakers really began to sit up and pay attention a few years prior to the election of Sam Brownback as governor. Legislators increased employer payments, issued bonds and worked with employee groups to restructure retirement plans without ending the defined benefit system.

Then along came Brownback in 2010 and the passage of his reckless tax overhaul in 2012. He and his allies passed tax cuts that put the state on the brink of collapse and drained the state treasury. There was no money for schools, highways, social services, and public safety. And funding for KPERS also suffered. In recent years, the legislature just stopped making payments, offering promises to pay it back but then not doing that.

Today, thanks to actions taken in 2017 to reverse the Brownback tax disaster, our state has been in recovery. Revenues are improving and the fiscal condition of the state is looking better. But Kansas is not yet out of the woods. We need time to finish the work started in 2017. Today we have a new governor and Laura Kelly’s priorities are much different from those of Brownback. She has pledged to fund our schools, repair our damaged foster care system, and secure health care for 150,000 uninsured Kansans through Medicaid expansion.

Governor Kelly proposed a budget that does those things without raising taxes because she believes big tax changes while in this recovery are not wise. In her budget, she proposed reamortization of KPERS in order to bring down the annual cost (much like refinancing your home loan) so that priorities can be met and the state can have an ending balance as a safety net. You can see Governor Kelly’s explanation of this by clicking here.

Everything that is happening now is mixed up with the budget and taxes. And right now there are forces in the Kansas Senate who appear to want to do everything they can to see that Governor Kelly’s priorities are torpedoed. That’s why this week, the Senate passed legislation that takes more than $300 million out of the state treasury before any other decisions are made. Senate Bill 9, sponsored by 18 conservative Republicans, would immediately put $115 million into KPERS. Senate Bill 22, Senate President Susan Wagle’s tax cut bill, will cost the treasury $191 million in mostly cuts for multi-national corporations.

Taking $306 million out of the treasury before deciding what is necessary for a responsible budget is irresponsible legislating! Let’s be clear, we would love to see KPERS repaid the money that was withheld to pay for Brownback’s failed tax policy. There was a plan in place to make those payments. If the state had plenty of money and could repay KPERS in full while also funding our schools AND our highways, AND our public safety programs, AND the foster care system, then making the full payment immediately would be the right thing to do. As the situation is now, passage of SB 9 only makes fixing the Brownback damage more difficult. And that is compounded if SB 22 should pass.

We would be remiss if we did not point out that there is some serious hypocrisy here. The same legislators who have sought to do away with our defined benefit pension, who made the decisions year after year to not meet the actuarial rate in employer payments, and who voted to strip the KPERS payments out of the budget entirely, now seem to have had an epiphany. Frankly, if one really cared about school and state employees, it would be reflected in one’s votes every day of every year and not just when it might help discredit a governor you don’t support.

We at KNEA believe in and support KPERS. We have been unwavering in our advocacy for our teachers, our education support personnel, our school administrators, and our friends working in state and municipal jobs. We will continue to fight this fight and work with our friends to protect the system.

We want to assure you, as KPERS has, that no benefits are in danger if reamortization passes. Yes, it will take longer to pay off the unfunded actuarial liability but you can rest assured that your benefits are safe.

Time for school finance to move?

Governor Kelly’s school finance plan, Senate Bill 44, is in the middle of a hearing in the Senate Select Committee on Education Finance chaired by Sen. Molly Baumgardner, R-Louisburg. The hearing began on Wednesday with many superintendents, Schools for Fair Funding, and the Mainstream Coalition all testifying in favor of the bill.

The hearing will continue on Tuesday of next week with KNEA, KASB, the PTA, and Game On For Kansas Schools – all testifying in favor. The only opponent, also testifying on Tuesday, will be the Kansas Policy Institute.

The most notable testimony came from Schools for Fair Funding (SFFF), representing the Gannon lawsuit districts.

SFFF told the committee that should the legislature pass SB 44 without amendment and with no changes to the school finance formula, they would stipulate to the Kansas Supreme Court that the solution met the funding needs of schools providing the Court retained jurisdiction in order to ensure that future legislatures do not renege on the promises made in this legislation.

Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, R-Overland Park, pressed SFFF repeatedly on this issue to make it clear that the bill would be acceptable despite the fact that the inflation factor used in the bill – and recommended by the Kansas State Board of Education – is somewhat lower than the actual Consumer Price Index, or CPI.

Here is what is most important to understand: If SB 44 were to pass the legislature WITHOUT AMENDMENT, if no other changes were made to the school finance formula, and if the Court retains jurisdiction (to make sure promises are not broken in the out years), then the plaintiffs and the state would agree to end the litigation.

In other words, the legislature has the opportunity right now to “end the cycle of litigation.”

Time is of the essence here. The Court hearing is scheduled for this April 15. Both sides must be ready for that day. Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, asked Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt to weigh in on when he needed the legislature to act in order to be ready.

Schmidt said, “Assuming we can timely obtain from the legislature all necessary documents and explanations regarding legislative history, it would seem to me we could properly prepare the State’s briefing if the new enactment becomes law by March 15, 2019.”

Schmidt went on to say, “On the other hand, if the legislature were to decided to make other material changes in school finance law, or if the legislature and governor were to disagree about the appropriate enactment this year, then I would respectfully request enactment into law by March 1, 2019.”

You can read AG Schmidt’s letter to Senator Hensley by clicking here.

What can you do? This is the time to start contacting your state senators and urging them to support SB 44 without amendment and to move this process forward. Start with email messages to the members of the Senate Select Committee on Education Finance – Molly Baumgardner, Jim Denning, Anthony Hensley, Bud Estes, Dan Goddard, Dan Kerschen, Carolyn McGinn, Pat Pettey, and Eric Rucker. You can email them using the format firstname.lastname@senate.ks.gov. After you email those committee members, email your local senator using the same email format.

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Wasn’t that a mighty storm?

Feb 8, 2019 by

One storm was on the Senate floor

Senate President, Susan Wagle

The tax debate storm hit the Senate floor Wednesday night as the ice was moving in on most of the rest of Kansas. And frankly, some of the exchanges in the debate were a tad icy as well!

Senate President and self-appointed chair of the Senate Select Committee on Federal Tax Code Implementation Susan Wagle (R-Wichita) brought her pet project, Senate Bill 22, to the floor for debate. While Wagle has tried to portray her bill as real help for working Kansans, it is in reality a large corporate tax giveaway with little benefit for individual tax filers and no relief to working families.

We’ve been reporting on this bill as it was discussed in Committee but just to review, here are the facts in a nutshell:

  • It decouples the Kansas income tax code from the federal income tax code,
  • It stops retroactively the collection of Kansas income taxes on overseas earnings by multi-national corporations through the repatriation of overseas earnings,
  • It protects multi-national corporations from paying additional Kansas income taxes under the GILTI tax provisions,
  • It allows individual tax filers who will not longer itemize on their federal taxes due to the increase in the standard deduction to continue to itemize on their Kansas income tax forms

The bill has an estimated fiscal note of $192 million with $137 million of the benefit going to the multi-national corporations. $54 million would go to Kansas individual taxpayers who cannot itemize on federal taxes but would benefit by doing so on state taxes.

In the debate Sen. Wagle noted that 9% of Kansas tax filers can continue to itemize under the federal law and see a tax decrease under the Trump tax cut. Those 9%, the wealthiest Kansans, get no benefit from SB 22.

Another 9% of Kansans will see a tax benefit by no longer itemizing on their federal taxes and will see a modest tax increase in Kansas as a result. This 9% of Kansas tax filers will get a small benefit from SB 22.

The other 82% of Kansas tax filers – those working families and low income workers – get no benefit at all. Talking about this bill as tax relief for working Kansans is just not right. It really only benefits the wealthiest individuals and multi-national corporations.

What the bill will do, especially coupled with Senate Bill 9, is to drain much of the state treasury before a budget can be adopted making it much harder for Governor Kelly to address school finance, the failing foster care system, highway maintenance, health care, and the mess in our prison system. This bill is essentially a cynical political attempt to hamstring the Governor.

The only amendment considered last night was offered by Senator Dennis Pyle (R-Hiawatha). The Pyle amendment would have exempted social security income from state income taxes. Pyle asserted that retirees are fleeing Kansas seeking homes in those states that don’t tax social security. Pyle also admitted he had no research or data to prove his point. His amendment received only five votes. Pyle had asked for a roll call vote but failed to get five senators to support him on that.

Senator Tom Holland (D-Baldwin City) moved to send the bill back to committee with the intent of splitting the corporate and individual tax provisions and considering alternatives to simply decoupling from the federal code. His motion failed on a vote of 12 – 28 with Senator Mary Jo Taylor (R-Stafford) joining the Democrats in supporting the motion.

In the end the bill was advanced to final action on a voice vote.

Overnight storm closes almost everything…but not the Statehouse

While most of Northeast Kansas was closed due to a nasty ice storm and a dusting of snow on top of slick roads, Wagle announced that the Legislature would open so she could get her bill voted on final action.

In explanations of vote, Senator Bollier (D-Mission Hills) noted that the bill was fiscally irresponsible, that the fiscal note was speculative, and that the budget should be settled before considering tax changes. Senator Hensley said, “Kansans made it clear they don’t want more irresponsible policy when they elected Laura Kelly.”

“For the cost of this bill,” said Hensley, “the food sales tax could be cut in half.”

Republican Senator Mary Jo Taylor voted NO and suggested that the Legislature should first address their responsibilities before considering this bill.

In the end the bill was adopted on final action on a vote of 26 to 14. Senators John Doll (I-Garden City), John Skubal (R-Overland Park), and Mary Jo Taylor (R-Stafford) joined all 11 Democrats in voting no. The bill must now go through hearings and votes in the House before it can go to the Governor for signature or veto.

Governor’s school finance plan hearings in Senate Ed Finance Committee

Senate Bill 44 is currently in the Senate Select Committee on Education Finance. The hearing on the bill began yesterday and will continue on Tuesday next week.

This week many superintendents from around Kansas testified in favor of the bill, as one might expect. But the most notable testimony came from Schools for Fair Funding (SFFF), representing the Gannon lawsuit districts.

SFFF told the committee that should the Legislature pass SB 44 without amendment and with no changes to the school finance formula, they would stipulate to the Court that the solution met the funding needs of schools providing the Court retained jurisdiction in order to ensure that future Legislatures do not renege on the promises made in this legislation.

Senator Denning (R-Overland Park) pressed SFFF repeatedly on this issue to make it clear that the bill would be acceptable despite the fact that the inflation factor used in the bill – and recommended by the Kansas State Board of Education – is somewhat lower than the actual CPI.

We will see if this information has an impact. If adopted as is with no changes to the formula, SB 44 could actually end the Gannon school finance lawsuit.

This hearing will continue next week when KASB, KNEA, Game on for Kansas Schools, and the PTA will testify in favor. The only opponent will be the Kansas Policy Institute who consistently asserts that schools have more than enough funding right now and are failing.

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On a mission to wreck the Governor’s budget? Pass Brownback 2.0.

Feb 5, 2019 by

Brownback-style tax bill up this week in Senate

Susan Wagle & Sam Brownback

Senate Bill 22, the tax bill created and rammed through committee by Senate President Susan Wagle (R-Wichita), will be debated on the Senate floor this week.

If passed, this bill will take Kansas back to the Brownback tax disaster of 2012 – 2017 when revenues to the state treasury plummeted, schools and all other state services were slashed, the state’s credit rating was repeatedly downgraded, and we were on brink of fiscal collapse. Luckily voters sent a new Legislature to Topeka in 2017 and they worked quickly to reverse the so-called “tax experiment.” Since then revenues have been rebounding and Kansas is now at the point where we can begin to rebuild our state.

Wagle’s bill is estimated to reduce revenue by $191.6 million immediately with almost all of the benefits going to corporations. Another part of the bill would allow wealthier individuals to continue itemizing deductions and would provide those individuals with a small tax reduction. The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) estimates that only about 11% of individual taxpayers earning less than $111,000 would benefit from being able to itemize on their Kansas tax return. Even the section of Senate Bill 22 intended to benefit individual taxpayers is highly skewed to benefit the wealthiest Kansans!

In a recently written op-ed authored by Wagle, she asserts that SB 22 “will return the unexpected windfall from federal tax reform back to Kansas families.” Nothing could be further from the truth. The Kansas Department of Revenue estimates that of the $191.6 million in “returned” taxes, $137.2 million would go to corporations while only $54.4 million would to to individual taxpayers with the vast majority of that money going to the wealthiest individuals. SB 22 is not about helping Kansas families – it is about benefiting large corporations. It’s just the newest version of the Brownback tax experiment.

Senate advances bill to send $115 million to KPERS

On Monday, the Senate advanced SB 9 to final action on a voice vote. The bill was adopted on final action on Tuesday and now goes to the House for consideration.

Senate Bill 9 would repay $115 million to KPERS this year – money that was withheld by the Legislature in an attempt to balance the budget in a prior session.

While we are happy to see legislators who have willingly voted to decrease and withhold KPERS contributions over the years suddenly come to the conclusion that those actions were wrong and need to be rectified, it is hard to see this action as anything more than an attempt to remove as much money as possible from the state treasury in order to prevent Governor Laura Kelly from achieving her budget prioriteis.

Kelly’s budget includes money to satisfy the Supreme Court order on school finance, to expand Medicaid in order to provide health care to 150,000 uninsured Kansans, repair and restore the state’s disastrous foster care system, and give state employees a long overdue pay increase. By depleting the treasury, her goals become far more difficult. It will make it much easier for conservatives to argue that Medicaid, pay raises, and hiring more case workers at the Department for Children and Families are unaffordable. (We assume they still want to address the school funding fix, but we’ll see!)

Just to put this in a little historical context, in FY 2015, 2016, and 2017, the Legislature reduced the statutory rate for KPERS payments, putting less into the system. In FY 2016 they reduced payments to KPERS by $97 million, promising to pay it back with interest and then reneging on that promise. In FY 2017 they reduced payments to KPERS by $64.1 million and scheduled the repayment over 20 years. In FY 2019 they reduced KPERS school contributions by $194 million and scheduled repayment over 20 years.

So again, while we are glad to see that so many conservatives who repeatedly voted to under-fund KPERS have suddenly had an epiphany, we remain skeptical of their motives.

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