Lack of Cooperation, Lack of Solutions

May 31, 2017 by

Is this legislature suffering like Sisyphus, cursed to repeat its failures or will cooperation end the cycle?

We are trying hard to imagine a more disappointing night under the dome than last night.

With the passage of a House school finance plan and the ongoing debate over a Senate plan, the Senate took a break in their debate just before 9:00 last night to take up the Conference Committee Report on HB 2067. This CCR represents a new tax plan that was very similar to the one killed by the House earlier in SB 30.

CCR HB 2067 would have rolled back the worst three provisions of the failed Brownback tax experiment by restoring three income tax brackets, ending the “glide path to zero” income tax, and repealing the LLC income tax loophole. Rise Up Kansas supported this effort, as did Save Kansas Coalition, Mainstream Coalition, KNEA, Kansas Action for Children, the Kansas Center for Economic Growth, AFT-Kansas, the Kansas Organization of State Employees, Game On for Kansas Schools, and many other advocacy organizations.

The Senate, after a vigorous debate, adopted the report on a vote of 26 – 14. Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley said it best in his explanation of vote: “Tonight this bill raises $591 million and goes a lot further in getting our fiscal house in order. This bill is necessary because of what happened in 2012. The Brownback income tax cuts went entirely too far and resulted in a self-inflicted budget crisis. The Senate Democrats unanimously vote for this bill to reverse the damage that’s been inflicted by Sam Brownback’s failed experiment.”

The report went immediately to the House where it was voted down with absolutely no debate at all.

Now we understand the no votes in the Senate; they are the last 14 Senators who actually believe the Brownback tax plan is working (Republicans Alley, Baumgardner, Fitzgerald, Hilderbrand, Lynn, Masterson, Olson, Petersen, Pilcher-Cook, Pyle, Suellentrop, Tyson, Wagle, and Wilborn). We also know that the Republicans who voted NO in the House on the initial vote share Brownback’s ideology. What we don’t understand is the Democratic opposition.

We understood their position on Senate Bill 30 last week even though we urged them to vote YES at that time. House Democrats were determined that if school finance ran first, the bill would be bolstered and a new tax bill would come back supporting a more adequate bill. The school finance plan was voted on, but the funding in the bill did not get increased. A motion by Rep. Ed Trimmer (D-Winfield) to increase the funding did not prevail.

But these are the points we believe today:

  • There are not enough votes today to pass a more robust school finance plan as evidenced by the failure of the House to increase funding and the debate last night on the even more anemic Senate plan.
  • Last night’s tax vote in the Senate was a strong vote although one shy of veto-proof. Securing that final vote is possible.
  • No one expects Brownback to be helpful. He is likely to veto any tax bill that reverses his failures and probably to veto any school finance bill that increases funding rather than just shifting around existing resources and does not contain a voucher program.
  • Democrats and Moderate Republicans can and must work together to move forward. Cooperation worked on the tax bill in the Senate, and it needs to happen in the House.

We are also very much aware that these plans together – school funding and taxes – likely will not satisfy the Supreme Court order in Gannon. Of course, this is speculation on our part. Only the justices have a say in what will satisfy their ruling, and we won’t try to speak for them.

We believe the formula in the House school finance bill is good and will be found to be constitutional. We remain skeptical about the adequacy level and we do not believe the House plan will be found to be adequately funded by the Supreme Court. The Senate plan provides even less funding. But the plans are what they are at this time. They won’t be changed unless the Court forces change. The Senate plan passed this morning will be taken to conference committee along with the House plan and a final plan will be hammered out and a vote taken. With a June 30 deadline approaching, the Court needs a plan. It’s time to get one out.

According to Legislative Counsel Jeff King, the Court will want to see that money is available to fund the school finance plan. CCR 2067 would have done this at least for two years and would have shown that the legislature made a good faith effort to fix the problem – even if that effort falls short and must be revisited under a subsequent Court ruling.

Tomorrow, the Legislature will run out of money allotted for this session. After that, each day they meet will require more tax dollars be spent to extend this session; money that could be used for our unbalanced budget.

We are not holding out hope for some divine intervention under which hard-right conservatives and the Governor actually decide that public education is worthy of adequate support. Or that the needed revenue to provide for our schools, roads, safety, and social service safety net is worth it. It now appears that it must be through judicial intervention that moves the Kansas Legislature to action. Perhaps it’s time to send something over to the Supreme Court.

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Senate to Vote on Tax Bill Tonight! Urgent Action Needed NOW!

May 30, 2017 by

Things are happening under the dome.  We’ll have a full recap tomorrow.  In the meantime, please read the following message from our coalition partners at Rise Up Kansas.  Then, TAKE ACTION!


Tonight, the Kansas Senate will vote on a bill to end the most harmful provisions of Governor Brownback’s failed tax experiment.

The bill, CCR for HB 2067, would be a MAJOR step in the right direction for Kansas. It closes the LLC loophole, repeals the March to Zero, and reinstates a third income tax bracket – three key policy components of comprehensive tax reform that are essential to putting Kansas back on a path to recovery.

But we need your help to make it happen. 

Click Here to take action now with our easy action alert tool!

After you take action, please share the link with your friends and family. The vote will happen tonight, so we need to share this alert as much as possible in the limited time remaining. 

The legislative session is already in overtime, and this might be our last chance for a good tax bill to pass. We can’t afford to throw away this shot.

Sincerely,

Rise Up, Kansas Coalition

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First School Finance Bill Passes; Four Day Weekend

May 25, 2017 by

The House this morning passed Sub for HB 2410 on final action on a vote of 84 to 39, moving it on to the Senate.

The Senate meanwhile has crafted their own school finance bill which was originally in SB 251 but on moving it out of committee, it was put into HB 2186.

We now know what’s in HB 2410 and can report that we believe the policy in the bill makes for a good school finance plan and will likely be found to be constitutional. The bad news is that the funding in the bill remains low and we expect the Court to call it inadequate.

Sub for HB 2410 contains many important policy pieces including:

  • Full funding of All Day Kindergarten and funding for 4-year-old at-risk,
  • A higher level of at-risk funding and a floor of 10% for districts with fewer than 10% free lunch students,
  • High-density at-risk weighting, low enrollment, and high enrollment weightings,
  • Enrollment count provisions to protect districts impacted by military deployments/transfers, and
  • Funding for mentor teacher and professional development programs.

The bill contains many provisions that re-enact elements of the school finance formula that was in place before its repeal and replacement by the unconstitutional block grant system.

The bill also makes changes to the corporate tuition tax credit scholarship program. The bill would require that private schools receiving students under the program be accredited by the State Board of Education. Eligible students would have to be in one of the 100 lowest performing schools as determined by the Kansas State Department of Education and be free lunch eligible. 50% of those students would also have to be directly certified by the Department of Children and Families. While KNEA still opposes the payment of state monies either directly or indirectly to private schools, HB 2410 makes significant improvements to the program.

The Senate Bill, contained in Sub for HB 2186, is perhaps a different animal altogether.

While it started out similar to HB 2410, there are a number of significant differences including an even lower funding level.

In crafting the bill, while legislators had a copy of SB 251 as drawn up for Senator Denning, very few amendments were submitted in written form. They were offered and debated as “conceptual” amendments all of which were further amended by more conceptual amendments. With nothing in writing it was very difficult to determine the impact of most of the amendments ultimately adopted.

As of today, the amended bill was not available for review. So we apologize, but we will have to wait to report to you on the specifics of the bill until we have had the chance to read it. The word under the dome is that the Senate will caucus on HB 2186 on Tuesday with a vote to follow on Wednesday. If this bill passes, it is possible that the two chambers will go directly to conference with their two versions of school finance as the guides.

And just remember – we have a long way to go before this is done. The Senate must deal with a school finance bill and then a House/Senate Conference Committee will need to hammer out the differences before a final bill can be submitted to the Governor and ultimately the Supreme Court.

It Still Has to be Funded

Yes, funding is needed. Something the state does not have right now.

A tax plan that restores revenue to the state and allows for an increase in school funding has yet to be passed.

On Monday, the House defeated a tax conference committee report in SB 30 that would have restored three income tax brackets, repealed the glide path to zero, and ended the LLC tax loophole. The no votes came from conservatives who don’t believe there is a revenue problem or that schools need more money and from Democrats who pointed out that the bill was not big enough to fund the current budget and increase school funding.

Like HB 2410, KNEA believes that SB 30 (the Monday version) was the right policy but we agreed that more would need to be done to fund schools. We supported the bill because it would have put the income tax system back on firm ground but we agreed that a second bill would be necessary to cover school funding increases.

The House put SB 30 back in committee and the next version to come out was a smaller, more anemic bill. This time we opposed SB 30. And apparently, a lot of legislators did as well because it was pulled before it hit the floor.

Okay, so here’s the problem in following along – SB 30 is the tax bill. It is the tax bill over and over (Groundhog Day?) and each time it emerges out of its hole, it’s different. Sometimes it’s good; sometimes it’s bad. The next tax bill is likely to be SB 30 and we don’t know if it will be a good SB 30 or a bad SB 30. But look for it on Tuesday or Wednesday of next week.

Should We Be Mad That There is a Four-Day Weekend?

We know, it seems somehow wrong that as soon as they hit 101 days, they decided to take a four-day weekend.

But this has been an extraordinary week under the dome. They have been building tax plans, debating them, arguing about them. The House has finally passed a school finance plan that was the result of a lot of hard work and long hours. This week they’ve been meeting late into the evening and it has been trying.

We know we are exhausted and we also know that they are exhausted. And knowing that good work is seldom done by the unrested, we hope that they will use the long weekend to relax and refresh. That’s what we will do.

But here’s the big thing – we are fully expecting them to come back on Tuesday rested and ready to roll up their sleeves. There’s still a lot to be done and we’re about out of time. There will be long days and night work ahead.

 

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House Pulls Tax Bill; Advances School Finance

May 24, 2017 by

The House was expected to debate a new tax plan today that had been put together in a conference committee last night. After convening this morning, the full House recessed until 1:00 to allow the tax conference committee to meet yet again to make some tweaks to said bill (SB 30). Those tweaks were agreed to and the report was set to go but when the House returned, it seems that a decision had been made to pull it yet again. It was perhaps clear that there were not enough votes to pass it and so it was unceremoniously set aside.

The House did, however, take up Sub for HB 2410, the school finance bill. It was rumored that there were more than 80 amendments prepared for the debate so we settled in for a long night.

Here’s a run-down of amendments:

  • An Aurand amendment to remove the Autism ABA therapy mandate was adopted. (KNEA supported),
  • A Trimmer amendment to strip out the local enrichment budget, transfer the money budgeted for that to a fund for schools losing money with the end of the block grants, and reinstate the cost of living levy was adopted. (KNEA supported),
  • A Trimmer amendment to change the name of the local foundation budget (LFB) back to the local option budget (LOB) was adopted. (KNEA supported)
  • A Trimmer amendment to strike the 10% at-risk floor and put the savings on the base ($2/student) failed. (KNEA did not support striking the 10% floor),
  • A Trimmer amendment to count all-day K enrollment for funding purposes in the current year for the first year of the new law was adopted (KNEA supported),
  • A Trimmer amendment to increase the funding in the bill to provide for $200 million new dollars per year for three years failed (KNEA supported),
  • A Highland amendment to put in a number of very bad policy pieces including high deductible health care plans for school employees, grading schools, merit pay, and more failed (KNEA opposed),
  • A Trevor Jacobs amendment on “bathroom privacy” – mandating use of bathrooms in schools according to the gender on one’s birth certificate – was ruled not germane and so was not voted on (KNEA opposed the amendment),
  • A Sutton amendment to end funding for out-of-state children (most of these are employee’s children, children whose parents work in Kansas, or children whose families own property that spans both sides of the border) failed (KNEA opposed the amendment),
  • A Clark amendment to stabilize funding in school districts impacted by military deployments and transfers was adopted (KNEA supported),
  • A Stogsdill amendment to restore due process for Kansas teachers was ruled non-germane and so was not voted on (KNEA supported the amendment),
  • A Whitmer amendment to have firearms safety training in schools based on the NRA “Eddie Eagle” program was ruled non-germane and so was not voted on (KNEA has never testified on this issue), and
  • An Ousley amendment to phase out the corporate tuition tax credit program failed (KNEA supported the amendment).

At this point Rep. Campbell was called upon to close on the bill. Apparently a lot of amendments were either duplicates or were pulled because the Rules Committee was strictly ruling any amendment that was policy alone as non-germane. According to the rules, there must be two points of nexus between the bill and an amendment. In the case of the three ruled non-germane, they were education policy only and did not touch on the second part of the bill, school finance.

While we are disappointed in the failure to get due process attached to the bill, the Rules Committee did interpret the rules correctly and applied their rulings fairly.

The bill was advanced to final action on a vote of 81 to 40. There will be a final action vote tomorrow morning.

 

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KNEA President Op-Ed

May 23, 2017 by

CLICK HERE  to read an Op-Ed by KNEA President, Mark Farr, responding to last night’s House vote on SB 30 (rolling back the Governor’s failed tax experiment).

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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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