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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Much “Heavy Lifting” Remains on Taxes and School Finance

May 11, 2017 by

School Finance Bill Still Not Done

Snoopy Lifting Weights

The K-12 Budget Committee met again today hammering out a couple more amendments but not getting any closer to finished. In fact, by the end of the meeting it looked as if things my actually ratchet up tomorrow.

First order of business today was to deal with Aurand’s amendment to repeal the cost of living weighting and replace it with his “Local Excellence Budget,” a 5% local property tax levy that the 140 school districts with the lowest number of at-risk children could access to provide enrichment experiences for their students. After all the discussion they’ve had about how the Court was focused on at-risk students and closing achievement gaps, it seems counterintuitive to adopt a plan to give more money to students who are not at-risk, but adopt it they did on a 9-8 vote where Chairman Campbell had to cast the tiebreaking AYE vote. They voted immediately afterwards to repeal the cost-of-living weighting.

Also up for more debate was Schwab’s amendment requiring school districts to pay for ABA therapy if the parents of a child with autism asked for it. If adopted (and it has not been yet) any time a parent wanted ABA therapy for their child, the district would be required to provide it. ABA therapy is highly intensive (usually 20 to 40 hours per week of one-on-one therapy by specially trained therapists) and quite costly.

A few years back the state mandated that insurance companies provide coverage for ABA therapy. The typical cost to a premium, according to Schwab, is 27 cents/month. He argued based upon that figure that the cost to school districts is minimal. But the fact is that insurance providers do not cover what is provided by the school system; so under Schwab’s amendment, a district would have to find funds from either special education (if it’s in the student’s IEP) or their general fund if it’s not. Either way, the cost would be tremendous.

We also believe it is inappropriate for the legislature to mandate one specific therapy – or curriculum or teaching method or reading program – over another. The IEP process established under federal law calls for mutual agreement between parents and school officials on the best approach to meeting a child’s individual needs. Where there is disagreement, the law establishes a rigorous due-process system for parents to pursue.

ABA therapy may be considered as an intervention now and if it is determined that such therapy is the best course for an individual student, it can be used. Mandating that it must the used at the request of one member of the IEP team is counter to IDEA which requires that the team consider each child’s needs on an individual basis.

After much debate, Schwab withdrew his motion with the promise of bringing it back tomorrow with some adjustments.

Towards the end of the meeting, it became clear that some are thinking about using tomorrow to find ways to change the funding in the bill. There was a discussion of repealing the third “boutique” weighting, ancillary school facilities weighting, and perhaps increasing the LOB cap. These discussions lead to a testy conversation in which it became clear that, despite the Chairman’s stated desire to kick the bill out of Committee tomorrow, all bets would be off if they went down the road of changing the funding.

This should make for a lively and perhaps very long Committee meeting tomorrow.

The Odd Couple on the Tax Bill

What one normally would expect under the dome is for the Democrats and moderate Republicans to be a coalition of nearly all issues. That was not the case yesterday in the Senate vote on HB 2067, the latest income tax bill.

We will tell you that HB 2067 was an improvement over HB 2178, the earlier tax bill that the Senate passed and then failed to override the Governor’s veto but much has happened since then to change the calculus.

First, HB 2178 was before the Gannon decision. The bill would have reversed much of the Brownback tax disaster and filled the budget hole but there was nothing in it for funding increases to K-12 education. HB 2067, coming after the Gannon decision, needed to not only fund the budget but also to provide for an increase to K-12 funding ($150 million in the first year, $300 million in the second and so on). A fiscal profile shared during the Senate debate found that HB 2067 would have been over $170 million short in fiscal year 2019. In other words, while the bill reversed Brownback’s disastrous experiment and funded the budget, it would not have provided for ongoing funding for schools under the Gannon decision.

Sen. Jim Denning (R-Overland Park), the majority leader and de-facto leader on tax issues for Senate leadership, promised that there would be a follow-up bill to provide funding for schools. But Denning has a serious credibility problem. He told Democratic leaders he would vote to override the veto of HB 2178 if the House did and then reneged on his promise. And lately he’s been touting seriously bad ideas for school funding including tacking a $9.00/month charge onto utility bills. Democrats don’t trust that Denning will bring a school funding solution forward or that, if he does, it would be based upon fair tax policy.

So the no votes on HB 2067 yesterday came from an odd couple of Democrats who want a bill big enough to reverse the Brownback failed experiment, fund the budget, and fund our K-12 education system going forward enough to satisfy the Courts and keep schools open come August and hard right conservatives who are still in full support of Brownback as the state collapses.

Moderate Republicans and two Democrats voted aye, relying on a promise from Jim Denning of a separate bill for school funding that would come later. We would hope going forward that, if the solution is to be two bills, they would insist on those two bills being voted on at the same time.

The fact is that Denning is just as likely to bring a trailer bill forward that is insufficient- or based on very bad ideas like the utilities tax- as he is to simply not bring anything forward at all.

At this point it is important for elected representatives who are supporters of Kansas and Kansas schools to dig in and tell leadership the following:

  1. that they intend to end this session with an end to the Brownback failure,
  2. with a balanced budget,
  3. with increased school funding that satisfies the Gannon decision.

Moreover, they won’t end the session by passing unfair or inadequate funding bills, and they want a “trust but verify” relationship with Denning and Wagle. If leadership want to run two bills, then bring both forward together, run them on the floor back to back, and vote on them at the same time. No games. No hollow promises. Action.

 

 

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