Committees continue to gather information; Governor Kelly gives State of the State Address

Jan 16, 2019 by

Kansas Governor Laura Kelly delivering her first state of the state address.

House Appropriations gets thorough update on revenue resources

Chairman Troy Waymaster opened the appropriations committee with a round-robin introduction of members, legislative staffers and his personal staffers.  Waymaster called his committee the “best committee in the House” because this committee will “have its hand on everything the state government does.”  If introductions by the dedicated staff focusing of fiscal analysts and revisors is any indication, Waymaster is probably right.  

Following introductions, an agent from the Kansas Department of Revenue, gave a summary of Kansas revenue estimates and forecasts.  In summary, while FY 2018 ended better than forecast, several state and national factors could negatively impact FY 2019 estimates.  The revenue official continued to describe the forecast as a “mixed bag” of good and bad indicators as we move into an uncertain economic future.

Chairman Waymaster noted, that agriculture is KS leading economic driver and Pres. Trump’s shutdown is impacting KS agriculture due to frozen stimulus payments to farmers which came as a result of the negative impact from Pres. Trump’s tariffs.  The revenue official agreed that negative impacts upon agriculture could certainly impact the state economy and consequently the revenue estimates.

What remains very clear, is that the FY 2019 approved state budget leaves an ending balance of $905 million.  With this money on hand, the state is in a position to fully fund public schools according to the Kansas Constitution for the first time in almost a decade.  There is also enough to begin to address some of the myriad other budget issues left behind by the Brownback / Colyer administration, like KPERS, highways, and social services. 

Today, many of those reps who supported the Brownback agenda that created the budget holes we’re dealing with now, are pushing not for filling those holes, but instead warning against the threat of a bleak national economy on the horizon and the need to hold onto our reserves.  We call on our representatives to take the final step in fully funding public schools according to the constitution by using the surplus to account for inflation adjustments in the ‘out-years’ of the funding formula.  Doing so now while the money is available would end litigation and more importantly, give our students access to a fully funded and constitutional K-12 experience.  

Tax policy: Understanding GILTI and Repatriation

The Senate Tax Committee met again today to continue discussion of SB 13 with the Kansas Chamber of Commerce bringing in more information and an tax expert from the Seaboard corporation to explain the GILTI and Repatriation provisions of the Trump/Ryan tax reform and their impact on Kansas taxes.

We can assure you that these provisions have no direct impact on individuals but instead impact what corporations pay in income taxes and they both deal with overseas earnings.

It’s best to let the experts explain these provisions to you, so click here to get an understandable explanation of GILTI. Then click here to get an understandable explanation of repatriation. They are both short reads and might be illuminating.

House Ed and House K-12 Budget Committees meet today

The House Education Committee met for the first time today simply to get to know each other and to review their committee rules. There are plenty of new faces this year including many freshman. The new freshmen are Dave Benson (R-Overland Park), Rene Erickson (R-Wichita), Cheryl Helmer (R-Mulvane), Mark Samsel (R-Wellsville), Adam Thomas (R-Olathe), and Rui Xu (D-Westwood). John Toplikar (R-Olathe) is technically a freshman now although he served a number of years ago in the Legislature.

New to the Committee are Stephanie Clayton (D-Overland Park) and Steven Johnson (R-Assaria). Rounding out the committee are Steve Huebert (R-Wichita), Brenda Dietrich (R-Topeka), Jim Ward (D-Wichita), Adam Smith (R-Weskan), Jim Karleskint (R-Tonganoxie), Mark Schreiber (R-El Dorado), Jane Vickrey (R-Lousiburg), and Jerry Stogsdill (D-Prairie Village).

The K-12 Budget Committee today received the same school finance overview that was presented to the Senate Education Committee yesterday.

Governor Laura Kelly gave her first state of the state address: schools, Medicaid expansion, and the Foster Care System

In her first state of the state address, Governor Laura Kelly laid our three priorities for Kansas. We need to fund our schools and end the cycle of litigation; we need to expand Medicaid to help 150,000 Kansans get health insurance, to keep Kansas tax dollars in Kansas, and to preserve our rural communities; we need to overhaul and restore our failing foster care system.

We’ll talk more about her speech after we review it more thoroughly, but in the meantime, you can read it by clicking here or watch it by clicking here.

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Legislature Jumping Right In

Jan 16, 2019 by

It’s not usual for us to have four committee meetings to attend on the first day of the session – often it’s not usual to have four on any day of the first week. But not so this year. We’ve been in the statehouse all day today!

First big tax bill

First up was a meeting of the Senate Assessment and Taxation Committee where they planned an informational hearing on a bill, SB 13. Informational briefings are often held before a bill has been officially referred to a committee in order to get a jump start on learning the issue.

SB 13 is a new version of CCR 2228 which was defeated at the very end of the 2018 session. This so-called “windfall” bill has a number of parts in it but the most talked about has been a provision decoupling part of the Kansas income tax code from the federal income tax code.

When the Trump/Ryan tax reform bill was passed at the federal level, it was aimed at tax relief primarily for the highest earners. It ended itemized deductions for many taxpayers by putting in a restriction tying itemization to a certain percentage of income. Since most people don’t hit those thresholds, they essentially can no longer itemize. And since the Kansas tax code is coupled to the federal code, the same thing applies to state income taxes. If one can no longer itemize on their federal taxes, one can’t itemize on state taxes.

Many middle income taxpayers who could itemize in the past can no longer do so and as a result, they may have seen an actual increase in taxes or, at best, saw no benefit from the federal law.

If SB 13 were to pass, these taxpayers could once again itemize deductions on their state income tax forms. Unfortunately, as tax relief goes, this would benefit few Kansans – it is estimated that somewhere between 20 and 25% of Kansas taxpayers were itemizing before the change. Certainly, the highest income Kansans were itemizing and continue to do so now. Itemization tends to benefit higher earners and as incomes decline, so does the ability to itemize deductions. While this change will provide some relief to those taxpayers who were itemizing and lost the ability, it would also have a significant fiscal impact on the state tax revenues.

Since five of the nine members of the Committee are co-sponsors of the bill, we would expect it would have an easy time in committee.

Gannon is topic in two committees

Revisors (the folks who write statutes for the Legislature) gave presentations in the Senate Education Committee and the House K-12 Budget Committee today.

Essentially, these presentations are intended to bring the committee members up to speed on how school finance got to the point it is today and what the Supreme Court ruled in their most recent finding. Essentially, the Court found no problems with the structure of the school finance formula but still called the funding inadequate but only because it did not account for inflation in the years during which the funding is to be phased in.

Committees Getting First Briefings on the State of Kansas Revenues and the Budget

The Senate Ways and Means Committee was the first to receive an update on the status of the state’s budget and predictions about revenue collections.

So far, things are looking stable with ending balances available for several years. But as if to remind us of the need to stay the course on maintaining and managing our revenue stream, they noted that by 2022, we could be back to a 0% ending balance.

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Sykes and Clayton Join the Democrats in Topeka!

Dec 19, 2018 by

Dinah Sykes (L), Stephanie Clayton (R)

Two more incumbent Kansas Republican legislators have decided to leave the Republican Party, register as Democrats and join the Democratic caucuses in the Statehouse.

As you already know, Senator Barbara Bollier (D-Mission Hills), left the Republican Party earlier this month and joined the Democrats. Bollier had angered Senate President Susan Wagle (R-Wichita) by endorsing Democrat Tom Niermann for US House District 3 over Kevin Yoder and Democrat Laura Kelly over Kris Kobach for Governor. Wagle stripped Bollier of her leadership position on the Health and Human Services Committee (Bollier is the only physician serving in the Senate) and publicly chastised her.

Today it was announced that Senator Dinah Sykes has also left the Republicans and joined the Democratic Party. Sykes is from Lenexa and represents Senate District 21.

Both Sykes and Bollier have been stalwart supporters of public schools, children, and public school educators. Both also held Republican seats on the Senate Education Committee. Bollier served in the House from 2010 through 2016 before being elected to the Senate in 2016. Sykes was elected to the Senate in 2016. She ran on a promise to reverse the Brownback tax disaster and fund public schools. Bollier and Sykes have both kept their promises to voters and to our public schools.

Sykes summed up her thoughts in a press release announcing her decision:

“I strongly believe elected officials should serve the people they represent. That belief drove me to run for office. I ran for the Kansas Senate to protect the Kansas quality of life and to bring common sense to Topeka. At this time, I feel like I can either fight to change the Republican party or fight for the state I love and the people I serve. I think I can better serve my state and constituents as a member of the Democratic party.”

“I am a moderate person who represents a moderate and pragmatic district that expects me to focus on issues and solutions that impact their day-to-day lives. Increasingly, I see the Republican party focusing on issues and approaches that divide our country. I do not agree with that approach.”

In welcoming Senator Sykes to the Democratic caucus, Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley (D-Topeka) said, “Senator Sykes is a commonsense leader who serves with the best interests of her constituents in mind, no matter the party label. She will be a great addition to our caucus.”

And across the rotunda…

Also this morning, State Representative Stephanie Clayton announced her switch from the Republican to the Democratic Party. Clayton is from Overland Park and represents HD 19.

Clayton made it clear in a press release announcing her decision that public education was front and center in her thinking. Said Clayton, “I first ran for office in 2010, when my daughter was in first grade, because of the lack of stable funding for public education. Leaders in the Kansas House and Senate have now indicated that they will seek to scrap the bipartisan education plan achieved over the last two years, just as we are so close to solving this problem and ending the cycle of school litigation.”

Clayton has been noted for her bipartisan work and was an organizer and leader of the bipartisan “Women’s Caucus”, which moved the agenda on comprehensive tax reform in the 2017 legislative session. It was that work that pushed the legislature to finally adopt a tax bill that reversed the failed Brownback experiment and set the state on the path to fiscal stability.

In welcoming Representative Clayton into the Democratic House Caucus, Minority Leader-elect Tom Sawyer (D-Wichita) said, “Rep. Clayton will be welcomed into the House Democratic Caucus. We have continuously worked with her on important issues such as education and healthcare, and look forward to working alongside Stephanie as a member of our caucus. She is a public servant with incredibly impressive passion, grit, and drive to do the right thing for Kansans.”

These changes put the Senate at 11 Democrats, 28 Republicans, and 1 Independent; the House is now 41 Democrats and 84 Republicans.

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How NOT to End the “Cycle of Litigation” and New Democrats in the Senate

Dec 12, 2018 by

Republican Leaders Want to Toss Out the Constitutional School Finance System?

If we had a dollar for every time that Republican leadership in the Kansas House and Senate last year said they want to “end the cycle of litigation over school finance,” we would be retired today.

Of course, back then we thought nothing of these statements because we, too, want to see an end to the cycle of litigation because that means our schools would be both adequately and equitably funded. That’s what everyone wants – or so we thought.

This is why it came as such a surprise when we read in the Wichita Eagle that House Speaker Ron Ryckman (R-Olathe) and Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning (R-Overland Park) told an audience in Johnson County that they were interested in tossing out last year’s school finance plan and starting completely over. Why? According the the Eagle article, it’s because “Republican leaders are skeptical the state could pay for the change and say the funding plan may need to be changed instead.”

In essence, they don’t want to fund schools adequately.

Here’s what we know about last year’s plan and the status of the current school finance litigation:

In response to an earlier Supreme Court ruling that school funding was constitutionally both inadequate and inequitable, the Legislature passed bills in 2017 and 2018 that repealed the unconstitutional Brownback block grant funding scheme.

The Court subsequently ruled that the new formula met the equity test but was still somewhat short of adequacy. The adequacy ruling was based on the fact that the phased-in increases in school funding did not account for inflation. Evidence showed that inflation would eat up about $90 million of increased funding in the out years of the plan. Essentially, a $100 million funding increase next year would only be a $10 million increase in funding after accounting for inflation.

The Court directed the Legislature to return and deal with the inflation issue.

Given that the Wagle/Denning school funding study conducted by Dr. Lori Taylor found the state to be shortchanging schools by as much as $2 billion, the Court’s call for dealing with inflation only after the additional $525 million provided by the Legislature seems modest. But apparently, Republican leaders are not interested in meeting the Court ruling.

There are two ways currently to end the cycle of litigation.

One is to address the inflation issue in the out years of the 2018 legislation and then provide an ongoing mechanism to maintain the funding level so established.

The other is the Ryckman/Denning way which is to ban litigation. They would rather just pass a constitutional amendment prohibiting school finance lawsuits and then not worry whether schools are adequately funded at all.

We believe that the best approach for the Legislature to take in 2019 is to first leave the constitutional school funding formula alone – why mess with the good work done to get a constitutional formula written and passed?

Then, address the inflation issue in last year’s legislation. Thanks to the hard work the Legislature did in reversing the disastrous Brownback tax experiment, revenues are coming in better than expected and adding the inflation increase is affordable.

Finally, resist the temptation of prohibiting the public from going to court. All citizens must have the option to go to court if they feel aggrieved and the court system must not be politicized. We must honor our system of checks and balances under which the Legislature makes the laws but the citizens can ask the court to review whether or not those laws are constitutional. The proposed constitutional amendment is a slippery slope which could result in dismantling the very system our founders envisioned and established.

Click here to read the Wichita Eagle article.

Three New Democrats Coming to the Senate

The Senate Democratic Caucus will welcome three new members when they convene for the 2019 Legislative Session.

Two are replacements for newly elected Governor Laura Kelly and Lt. Governor Lynn Rogers.

Kelly, who is still technically the Kansas State Senator from SD 18 covering parts of Shawnee, Wabaunsee, and Pottawatomie Counties will be replaced by Vic Miller who is currently representing HD 58 in the Kansas House of Representatives. Rogers, currently the Kansas State Senator from SD 25 in Wichita, will be replaced by Mary Ware, a community activist from Wichita.

The third new Democratic Senator is a familiar face to those who watch the Kansas Legislature. Senator Barbara Bollier from Johnson County has switched party affiliations and will join the Democratic caucus. We can now officially say “Barbara Bollier (D-Mission Hills).”

With Bollier’s switch, the Democratic caucus increases by one member for 2019.

In a press release, Bollier had this to say of her decision, “I’ve been a proud Kansas Republican for 43 years. I always embraced the common-sense policies of Governor Bill Graves, US Senator Nancy Kassebaum, and President Eisenhower. But during the last eight years, I’ve grown increasingly uncomfortable with Republican leaders’ hardline rhetoric, contempt for compromise, and obsession with putting political power before children and families. With this recent election, it has become clear that the majority of the Republican Party does not accept moderate Republicans any longer.”

In welcoming Bollier to the Democratic caucus, Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley said, “She has been a longtime friend and respected colleague with the best interests of Kansas at heart. Her expertise, pragmatism, and courage enrich the entire Kansas Legislature — regardless of whether she calls herself a Democrat or Republican.”

Bollier has long been an advocate for health care, public schools, and pro-family policies. Bollier came into conflict with Senate President Susan Wagle (R-Wichita) over her endorsement of Laura Kelly for Governor and Democrat Tom Niermann for Congress. (Niermann lost the Democratic Primary to Sharice Davids who was elected to Congress in November.) Wagle stripped Bollier of important positions in the Senate – most notably her leadership position on the Committee on Public Health and Welfare. As the only physician in the Senate, Bollier was a natural fit for such an important committee.

Bollier has also been a staunch supporter and defender of public schools, students, and the educators who staff those schools. Bollier was a member of the Senate Education Committee.

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New House Leadership Teams Elected

Dec 3, 2018 by

Members of the Kansas State House of Representatives met today to elect leaders for the upcoming legislative sessions. We knew going in that there were going to be some challenges to the current leadership team and the results showed a few upsets.
Republicans re-elected Rep. Ron Ryckman, R-Olathe, to a second term as speaker, 80 to 4, over Rep.-elect Owen Donohoe, R-Shawnee. Donohoe, who has been re-elected to the House after some time out of the Legislature, had announced his challenge to Ryckman some time ago with hints that Ryckman was not conservative enough.
While retaining Ryckman as Speaker, the more conservative Republican caucus ousted Republican moderate Don Hineman, R-Dighton, as Majority Leader. Hineman was defeated by conservative Rep. Dan Hawkins, R-Wichita, on a vote of 48 to 35.
Rounding out the Republican team are Blaine Finch, R-Ottawa, as Speaker Pro Tempore; Les Mason, R-McPherson, as Assistant Majority Leader; Blake Carpenter, R-Derby, as Whip; and Susan Humphries, R-Wichita, as Caucus Chair.
On the other side of the aisle, Democrats in the House elected Rep. Tom Sawyer, D-Wichita, as Minority Leader over Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, 24 to 16. Ward had served as Minority Leader for the last two years.
They also narrowly ousted Assistant Minority Leader Stan Frownfelter, D-Kanas City, with Rep. Valdenia Winn, D-Kansas City, winning 21 to 19.
Rounding out the Democratic leadership team are Jim Gartner, D-Topeka, as Whip; Brett Parker, D-Overland Park, as Agenda Chair; Barbara Ballard, D-Lawrence, as Caucus Chair; and Eileen Horn, D-Lawrence, as Policy Chair.
 
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Close Elections Shaking Out

Nov 19, 2018 by

We had an unusually large number of Kansas House races that were remarkably close and those that are looking at absentee and provisional ballots as a result are now becoming closer to resolution.

In House District 72, on election night incumbent Democrat Tim Hodge was down by 84 votes. After the canvass, Hodge was found to have won re-election by 92 votes.

In House District 111, Democrat Eber Phelps was down by 40 votes to Republican challenger Barbara Wasinger. After the canvass, Wasinger’s lead was whittle down to 32 votes. Phelps has asked for this race to go to a hand recount.

In House District 48, Democrat David Benson was ahead on election night by 36 votes over incumbent Republican Abraham Rafie. After the Johnson County canvass was completed, Benson had won by 82 votes.

In House District 25, Democrat Rui Xu was ahead of incumbent Republican Melissa Rooker by 51 votes on election night. After the Johnson County canvass was completed, Xu had won by 121 votes.

At this point, the Democrat/Republican balance in the House would appear to be unchanged from 2017-18. Democrats lost five incumbents but elected five challengers over Republicans. The House will most likely be 40 Democrats and 85 Republicans. It is still possible that Phelps could win re-election in HD 111. If he does, the divisions would be 41 Democrats to 84 Republicans.

What Color is Kansas?

Pundits and broadcasters often refer to Kansas as a “deep red” state meaning that it is so Republican that Democrats are very unlikely to ever win. And yet when Kansans elect Governors, an interesting phenomenon occurs – one that even Kris Kobach noted in his concession speech on election night. Since 1954, no Republican governor has been succeeded by another Republican and no Democratic governor has been succeeded by another Democrat.

When you look at county by county election maps, it would appear that Kansas is deeply red. But in reality, Kansas is far more “purple” than one might think.

Kansas State Representative Adam Smith (R-Weskan) comes from one of reddest areas in our state. Smith thought it would be interesting to take a closer look at Kansas and consider things like population density and actual voting trends to make a new electoral map of Kansas and the results are fascinating.

When Smith looked at the two counties that appear the reddest (Wallace and Wichita Counties) and the two that appear the bluest (Douglas and Wyandotte Counties), he noted that those two red counties delivered a total of 1279 votes while those two blue counties delivered 81,762 votes. This explains why a state-wide Democratic candidate can win nine counties and win over a Republican taking 96 counties. The nine counties won by Democrat Kelly are, for lack of a better expression, “where the people live.”

So Smith adjusted the map in two ways. First, he made the size of counties proportional to their population. Johnson County becomes very large while Wallace County shrinks. Secondly, he put the counties on a color scale from deep red to deep blue based on the ratio of votes cast for Republican candidates to votes cast for Democratic candidates. If the ratio is 9:1 Republican, the county is deep red; if 9:1 Democratic, the county is deep blue. A 1:1 ration would be purple.

The resulting map is fascinating! Kansas would appear to be a very purple state – a centrist, moderate state. Take a look:

If you want to read Representative Smith’s full explanation, click here!

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