Week Four Begins

May 22, 2017 by

Both chambers were on the floor at 10:00 this morning for very brief meetings before recessing until late afternoon.

The House this morning did adopt the conference committee report (CCR) on SB 21, the KPERS working after retirement changes that we reported here on May 17 (CLICK HERE).  The Senate will likely vote on the report late today or tomorrow.

We made sure we had seats for the noon meeting of House/Senate Conference Committee on Taxes. Word was that they were close to agreeing on some changes to the CCR on SB 30. This was a plan that was not run earlier when it was found that they did not have the votes to pass it.

SB 30 would enact some very good policy changes that are widely supported. It would restore three income tax brackets somewhat higher than they are now, it would end the Brownback glide path to zero, and it would repeal the LLC business income tax loophole. Passage would restore common sense tax policy to the Kansas income tax and set the path on the right path going forward but unfortunately would not raise enough revenue to provide for significant school funding increases to meet Gannon. If SB 30 were to be adopted, a second bill would be required to fund K-21 education.

The conference committee did convene at noon but only to say they weren’t yet prepared and then agreed to return at 2:30. At a later meeting, they did agree to send the report to the House floor in SB 30. The Rise Up Coalition, of which KNEA is a member, supports this bill. It is the first step in saving Kansas from the Brownback experiment.

The House was scheduled to reconvene at 7:00 tonight and we are now waiting for the vote. If it passes the House, it may go to the Senate late tonight.

Major Opposition to Denning’s Utility Surcharge Likely to Lead to Changes

Senator Jim Denning (R-Overland Park) included an education “pay for” in SB 251, his school finance overhaul. Denning proposed a surcharge of $2.25/month/utility for residential customers; $10/month/utility for business customers; and a $120 annual fee for agricultural irrigation. Needless to say, there was heavy opposition from agricultural interests and utility companies. Word today was that there would be consideration of changing from a surcharge to a sales tax on utilities such that the more gas or electricity or water one uses, the more one will pay in taxes.

Look for a follow-up report late tonight or tomorrow morning!

 

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Senate School Funding Hearing Wraps Up; Work Starts Monday

May 19, 2017 by

The Senate Select Committee on Education Finance reconvened this morning and entertained a long list of conferees on this, the second day of a hearing on SB 251, the Senate’s school funding bill.

While the morning started with educators including United School Administrators and the Kansas City, KS School District, much of the testimony came from utility companies, agricultural interests, and municipalities. It’s surprising to see these lobbyists in an education committee but this education finance bill contains elements that they vigorously oppose.

The bill would fund schools by creating a special “tax” on utilities. Residential utilities would include a fee of $2.25/month for utility and businesses would pay a $10/month fee. If one has a gas, electric, and water bill, it would be $6.75/month for residential bills and $30/month for business bills. Agricultural interests oppose the bill for this and a $120 annual fee imposed on irrigation rights. And municipalities oppose the exemption of the 20 mill statewide property tax levy for schools on economic development initiatives. When municipalities allow property tax abatements for economic development, there is often no property tax levied for schools for the life of the abatement.

The hearing ended shortly before 1:30.

Written testimony will be accepted through the close of business Monday.

The committee will meet again on Monday at 1:00 when they will begin working the bill.

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Senate School Finance Bill Comes Together; Taxes Not So Much

May 18, 2017 by

Senate President Susan Wagle with Governor Brownback

The Senate Select Committee on Education Finance has been holding committee meetings lately to talk about what the House has done so far on an education finance bill. The House bill, Sub for HB 2410, is sitting in limbo, not yet scheduled for debate on the House floor so, in reality, the final House bill is not done. When it does finally reach the floor it will be subject to amendments and most people feel that it very likely to be amended.

So we found it interesting that the Senate Committee, chaired by Sen. Jim Denning (R-Shawnee), scheduled hearings on Sub for HB 2410 starting today. This left many of us in a bit of confusion. Denning has been announcing his ideas on school finance – or at least on adjustments to HB 2410 – that will make up a Senate position.

While we (KNEA) wrote our testimony purely on HB 2410 as it came out of the House Committee, we did get a quick look at Denning’s bill (SB 251) and listened to the revisor’s explanation which allowed us to speak to the differences between it and HB 2410.

Senate Bill 251 started with the House bill and made a few adjustments.

  • They kept the at-risk weighting at the lower weight (.454) instead of the .481 in the House bill (KNEA supports the House position),
  • keep the first year base foundation aid at $4006 but then apply a formula to determine the second year based roughly on the successful schools model used in a prior study and set the second year base at $4080 (KNEA believes the original House version prior to the Monday changes is the best of the options proposed),
  • beginning in the third year they propose a formula to raise base funding through a rolling 3-year average of the CPI-U rather than the actual CPI-U as in the House version (KNEA supports an inflation measure going forward and will have to study this proposal more closely),
  • eliminate the mandate for ABA therapy for children with autism (KNEA supports the Senate position), and
  • eliminate the local enhancement fund for schools with the least at-risk students (KNEA supports the Senate position).

Both bills provide for all-day kindergarten, mentor teacher program funding, and professional development funding (KNEA supports all three).

What might be Denning’s most troubling idea is to fund schools through a surcharge on utilities. He proposes putting a $2.25/month charge on all three residential utility bills (gas, electric, and water) and a $10/month charge on those bills for businesses. Every Kansan would pay an additional $6.75/month for utilities to fund a school finance increase. There are other parts to this as well such as a $120 annual charge on farmers who irrigate.

This proposal has already come under widespread disapproval as regressive and unfair. It’s hard to see much support for the idea in either chamber.

Testifying on the bill today were Olathe Schools, City of Olathe, Pratt Schools, Bonner Springs Schools, KASB, Insight Virtual Schools, The Alliance for Childhood Education, Kansas Policy Institute, and of course KNEA.

The hearing will continue tomorrow morning. All testimony is expected to be finished tomorrow and Chairman Denning suggested he might begin working the bill tomorrow. He has also suggested that they may work on Saturday.

No Agreement on Taxes

The Tax Conference Committee met this evening we had hoped that they would produce an agreement on the House proposal to simply repeal the 2012 Brownback tax disaster.

At issue was which chamber would run the proposal first. When the Senate conferees said they would not entertain the idea of both chambers running it simultaneously, the conference committee ended without agreement.

And so we go back to waiting. We’ll see what shakes out tomorrow.

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Short Days; No Movement on Taxes or School Funding also NRA’s Hired Legislative-guns Fire Back & Agreement Reached on Working After Retirement

May 17, 2017 by

With the completion of the school finance bill (Sub for HB 2410) done Monday evening and a new proposal on taxes (complete repeal of the Brownback tax failure), things seem to have come to a block under the dome.

The school finance bill is ready but as of yet no debate has been set for the floor. And we have yet to see the tax proposal together.

The Senate Select Committee on Education Funding is already studying the House bill, having scheduled briefings on it and announcing today that there would be a hearing beginning tomorrow. So the Senate Committee is not wasting any time and working as if the bill has already passed. The interesting twist in this is that the bill we will be testifying on in the Senate is the one that came out of the House committee and there is a strong possibility that the bill will be changed dramatically in House floor debate. On the positive side, this speeds up the process a little bit.

We are of course wondering why the hold-up and can only speculate. Leadership may be debating whether to deal with taxes or schools first or perhaps they are trying to persuade enough Republicans to support the anemic bill that came out of committee. Whatever it is, we are in a holding pattern for right now so keep checking back here for updates.


Conservatives Block Effort to Give Colleges Control Over Guns

Brownback and his allies in the legislature who owe their allegiance to the National Rifle Association (NRA), passed legislation that allows guns to be carried just about anywhere by anyone at any time. This means that starting on July 1, 2017, anyone can carry a concealed weapon into a hospital including the state mental hospitals or in any building on any college campus. The only way they can be prohibited is if the hospital or college were to secure every entrance with metal detectors and security guards at an enormous cost to the institution.

How bad is it? Brownback, who happily signed the bill into law, suddenly found out what it did and asked the legislature to give him $24 million to secure the state hospitals so that guns could be prohibited. Can you imagine what it would cost to secure the University of Kansas or Kansas State or any of our other post-secondary institutions including community colleges?

Several attempts have been made this year to change the law to allow colleges and hospitals to have control over guns in their facilities and, despite there being overwhelming public support for keeping guns off campus – support from parents, students, faculty, and administration – the NRA has kept a tight control over the Kansas House and Senate.

Yesterday a bill came up in the Senate that would have blocked guns in the hospitals. An attempt by Senator Barbara Bollier (R-Mission Hills) to change the law for college campuses ran into a buzz-saw of NRA talking points leveled at her by Senator Ty Masterson (R-Andover), Senator Mary Pilcher-Cook (R-Shawnee), and Senator Rob Olson (R-Olathe). Olson maintained that more people are killed by cell phone usage in cars than all other causes of accidental death and noted that killers seek places with a “no guns” sign because they know they will be safe targets. He asserted that law enforcement can’t get to a scene quickly enough and that every law-abiding citizen ought to be able to pull out a handgun and fire back.

Olson then offered a motion to refer the bill back to the Federal and State Affairs Committee (one with a more NRA-friendly membership) but at that point Senator Vicki Schmidt (R-Topeka) offered a substitute motion to refer it back to the Ways and Means Committee from which it had originally come. Schmidt’s motion prevailed and the bill was sent back to committee.

Without further action, all community colleges, technical colleges, and universities in Kansas will become gun zones on July 1, 2017. Anyone will be permitted to carry a concealed weapon anywhere on campus at any time.  We believe this includes campus daycares and public health clinics operating as part of joint programs with colleges.  No permit will be required; no training will be required.


KPERS & Working After Retirement (W.A.R.)

The Conference Committee on Pensions has come to an agreement to simplify the requirements that address Working after Retirement for KPERS covered positions. The contents of the changes were put into House Substitute for Senate Bill 21.

The bill addresses the many issues that arose after the 2016 set of changes were implemented.

Our position is to simplify the rules governing W.A.R.  Additionally, the rules for W.A.R. must make it possible to put the best possible person in a KPERS covered position.  These changes reflect this position.  Below is a summary published by KPERS and would take effect January 1, 2018 if passed by the Legislature: 

CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD KPERS SUMMARY

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SPECIAL EDITION: Repeal and Replace, Kansas Style

May 16, 2017 by

Late yesterday at a meeting of the House/Senate Tax Conference Committee, House Chairman Steven Johnson (R-Assaria) proposed a complete repeal of the 2012 Brownback tax disaster, replacing it with the Kansas tax system prior to 2012.

Quite frankly, this is the best thing the legislature could do. With a full repeal, the billion dollar holes created by Brownback’s failed experiment would be filled and the state would have enough revenue to begin maintaining roads and highways again, provide for public safety services, restore the social service safety net, and meet their constitutional obligation to fund education. You might remember that in the early rulings on school finance in the Gannon case, the court specifically said that the state had enough money to fund schools but that the Governor and legislature chose to give that money away in the 2012 tax cuts.

Full repeal would immediately do three things that we believe are critical to any tax and revenue solution.

  • It would restore the third income tax bracket on higher earnings,
  • repeal the “glide path to zero” that would completely eliminate income taxes, and
  • return the more than 300,000 business owners to the tax rolls.

Whatever tax plan is ultimately adopted absolutely must contain these three provisions. There simply is no other way out of the Brownback mess.

This repeal proposal may come to a vote as early as this afternoon. We don’t know if this plan will pass; it is the largest tax plan proposed yet this year and it is likely that legislators will seek a compromise that preserves some portion of the individual income tax rate cuts. We believe that going forward no plan should ignore the three critical issues we listed above – at least three brackets, end the glide path to zero, and repeal the income tax exemption for business owners.

Also under consideration must be the school funding plan to meet the Gannon decision. The plan passed out of committee yesterday we believe to be completely inadequate and, if adopted, would be rejected by the Court. While the State Board of Education has called for nearly $900 million in new funding, Sub for HB 2410 provides only $279 million. Structurally, the formula in Sub for HB 2410 is sound but the funding is nowhere near what is required.

We are hopeful that members of the House will restore this bill to at least what it was as of last Friday – before the conservatives took over the Committee process and gutted the funding.

Legislators need to keep in mind that their job right now is to restore the state to fiscal stability by passing a responsible tax plan that repeals the most damaging parts of the Brownback tax failure AND to pass a school finance formula that is both funded and constitutional. And the two cannot be considered independent of each other. A failure to pass a robust tax plan will limit the opportunity to fund schools in a way that meets constitutional muster.

 

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It Was the Best of Times; It Was the Wurst of Times…

May 15, 2017 by

Yes, it did start out as “the best of times” as the House K-12 Budget Committee over weeks of work and hours of debate crafted HB 2410, a five-year plan to phase in an increase of $750 million new dollars to public schools. It was a bill with an excellent policy structure that represented real hope for starved school districts across Kansas.

There was some debate about the total dollar amount – after all the State Board of Education had recommended a higher number – and there was some additional debate about whether or not a five-year phase in was too long, but nevertheless, supporters of public education saw that the Committee was on the right path.

But today we saw the “Wurst of Times.” And we do mean WURST!

It is said that the two things you should never watch being made are sausage and laws. Today the Committee produced a mix of bratwurst, knockwurst, andouille, and chorizo. They really did make sausage in the Committee room today.

By the end of the meeting, a robust bill that had been crafted with the idea of meeting overall funding adequacy and targeting funding to the students who need the most help, turned into the adoption of an anemic bill that- in the words of one Committee member- will have them “laughed out of court.” They took the bill through a four-hour debate and a series of motions, substitute motions, and divided motions and ended up with a bill they could only vote out with no recommendation.

At the start of the meeting today, the bill had five years of new funding; the first year at $179 million and each of the four succeeding years at $150 million for a total of $779 million over five years. After that, funding increases would equal the Consumer Price Index – Midwest. What ultimately passed had the $179 million for year one and an additional $100 million in year two after which CPI calculation would be used for a total of $279 million over two years.

Under the bill at the start of the meeting, base aid would begin at $4,006 per pupil in the first year and increase by $200 each of the next four years ending in year five at $4,806 per pupil. The bill that came out of committee would start with $4,006 per pupil in the first year and top out at an estimated $4,342 in the fifth year.

The saddest part of this sausage-fest was how the dialogue was changed. Up until today, the discussion was about our students and meeting their needs. That discussion led to the crafting of a good education policy bill and to a much more robust funding bill. Today, the consideration of student need was abandoned for a consideration of how much the politicians wanted to raise in a tax bill. Perhaps more importantly, it demonstrated that the most conservative members of the committee are still tied to Governor Brownback and his failed tax strategies. Reversing Brownback’s disastrous 2012 tax experiment would allow them to adequately fund our public education system and return stability to state services.

The bill now moves to the House floor where it will be debated. We remain hopeful that a strong majority of House members are committed to seeing the Brownback mess cleaned up and our schools adequately and constitutionally funded.

Remember that there are many steps remaining in this process. The bill needs to be passed by the House (hopefully after some good amendments). From there it goes to the Senate where it is subject to Committee hearings, committee amendments, and a floor debate with more amendments possible. If it comes out of the Senate in a different form from the one passed by the House, it will have to go to conference committee for those differences to be negotiated. In other words, we are far from finished. There will be opportunities to turn this “wurst” into something tasty.

 

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