School Finance, Tax Reform, & a Veto Pen

Jun 6, 2017 by

Tell your legislators to override the Governor’s veto of CCR for SB 30!

School Finance Passes on Second Try

Yesterday saw the consideration of two school finance plans. The first was created from the conference committee work on HB 2168. The House put tax policy in the bill. Three provisions were included: the establishment of three income tax brackets, the repeal of the glide path to zero, and the repeal of the LLC loophole. Additionally, the bill would direct all state income tax receipts to K-12 education in Kansas. Under this, all other state services would have to be funded with sales and excise taxes and fees.

This bill also required a “trailer bill” (CCR SB 30) that included other tax provisions many of which lowered the income tax receipts possible under the change in brackets. The revenue raised in the bill was lower than other tax bills considered this year.

KNEA, along with other education organizations, opposed the bill (contained now in CCR SB 19). This bill failed on a vote of 32-91 and was sent back to the conference committee. Since the tax trailer bill was tethered to the school finance bill through a provision that assured if one of the bills failed, they both failed, there was no need to then vote on the trailer bill.

Back in the education conference committee, the income tax changes were stripped out of CCR SB 19 and it was sent back to the floor as a school finance bill only. With the tax policy stripped out, the report was adopted in the House on a vote of 67 to 55 and later in the Senate on a vote of 23 to 17.

KNEA believes that the education finance bill that passed is not likely to meet constitutional muster because the funding is not adequate and because there are several provisions which may be considered by the court to be disequalizing. Additionally, the bill expands the tuition tax credit program diverting state money to private schools. We know that many legislators voted against the bill for these reasons; others voted against it because they have no interest in increasing funding for schools. We also know that many legislators who agree with us on the above issues also voted for the bill because they firmly believe at this late date something must be sent to the court for review. They are counting on a court ruling to move more legislators to support a better plan perhaps in a July special session.

Tax Bill Finally Passes; Governor Vows to Veto

After the failure of the tax/school combo bill, the tax conference committee met and assembled a new tax plan (again in CCR SB 30) that restored the three income tax brackets at higher levels than now but lower than 2012, repealed the glide path and the LLC loophole, and phased back in to law some of the family-friendly deductions (medical care, property taxes paid, mortgage interest, child care) over several years. This bill raised significant new revenue – about $600 million per year – and helped Kansas families. KNEA, AFT, Kansas Action for Children, the Kansas Organization of State Employees, the Kansas Center for Economic Growth, and other allies in Rise Up Kansas threw their support behind the tax bill.

The stand-alone tax bill (CCR SB 30) was ultimately adopted by the House on a vote of 69 to 52 and then by the Senate after midnight on a vote of 26 to 14. We were delighted that a good tax plan was finally adopted but of course, there is still one more hurdle – the intransigence of the man on the second floor.

It wasn’t long before Governor Brownback let it be known that he would veto CCR SB 30. We expected this. After all, Brownback has invested much of his tenure in destroying the tax basis of Kansas, starting with the reckless and irresponsible tax cuts of 2012.

Legislators and Kansas voters know it is time to get the state’s fiscal house in order. In August and November of last year, voters threw out many of the most vocal supporters of the Brownback experiment, replacing them with moderate Republicans and Democrats. Despite Brownback’s lame duck status and persistent rumors of his pending appointment to a position in the Trump administration, he vows to leave the state in fiscal collapse. And sadly, it appears that some in the Legislature are okay with that.

At this time, after six years of falling revenue, after 19 rounds of cuts to state services from universities to K-12 education to public safety, roads and highways, and the social service safety net; after multiple credit downgrades; after putting the state in massive debt through bonding and skipping payments to KPERS, it is time to turn this ship around. It is time to get on the path to fiscal stability.

The Kansas House and Senate must stand up and override the Governor’s veto of CCR SB 30. If they do not, they risk the closure of public schools on July 1.

We need every Kansan who cares, to contact their Representatives and Senators and call upon them to override the Governor’s veto of CCR SB 30.

You can tell your legislator that you want them to override the Governor’s veto easily here.
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School Finance is the Hot Topic of the Day

Jun 2, 2017 by

School Funding Conference Committee, Photo: Celia Llopis Jepsen Twitter @Celia_LJ

The House/Senate Conference Committee on school finance met several times today, exchanging offers to bridge the differences between HB 2410 (the House position) and HB 2186 (the Senate position). They have been making good progress, and most items have been resolved. Of course, the biggies are how much money and the details of said money distribution.

They will be meeting over the weekend (well, at least Saturday) and we will have a summary of the final conference committee report hopefully on Sunday.

Understand, though, that the final bill will not be bigger money-wise than either of the options on the table today. The opportunity to dramatically increase funding in this bill has passed.

In looking at these bills and the negotiations happening now, we believe that the final bill will contain a good finance formula. The policy relating to the distribution of funds, targeting those funds to different populations, addressing the needs of the lowest quartile of student performance, and maintaining equity appear to us to be very good generally. We believe the Court will approve of this formula.

Unfortunately, we continue to believe that the overall funding level is woefully inadequate and for that reason, we believe the Court will find the funding to be inadequate to resolve the Gannon case.

KNEA’s top priority for this session continues to be the passage of a new school finance formula that is constitutional in the adequacy of funding, the equity in fund distribution, and the policy governing the distribution and targeting of education funding.

The bottom line is, schools must open on time under a new and constitutional school funding formula. Nothing should be done to jeopardize constitutionality.

Secondly, we want the legislature to restore fiscal sanity to our income tax policies. This demands the restoration of the third income tax bracket, the repeal of the LLC income tax loophole, and the end of the glide path to zero income tax. These three items are essential if Kansas is ever to recover from Brownback’s disastrous experiment. A revenue system must be established that puts Kansas back on the path to stability, balances the budget without further cuts to state services, and funds a new school finance system approved by the Court.

It will take many years to undo the damage caused by Brownback’s tax disaster. The legislature must start now.

It’s time to address both of those priorities. Today is June 2. The Court has given the Legislature until June 30 to fix our school funding system. We do not believe HB 2186 will meet constitutional muster, but something has to get over to the Court for review. If the Court rejects it, the Legislature will still have time to work before school starts in August. The longer we wait, the harder it will be to meet that deadline.

We are encouraged by the progress of the school finance conference committee. It looks like we are very close to getting that bill done. We hope the tax committee can get a new package together quickly for review.

Let’s get it to the Court and let’s hear if we are going to have a July special session.


When is Due Process NOT Due Process?

KNEA has been appealing to legislators to restore due process for Kansas teachers ever since it was repealed in a deceitful act in the wee hours of an April morning in 2014. We’ve fought for it in court and the Statehouse.

Early this year, the House of Representatives adopted an amendment by Rep. Jerry Stogsdill (R-Prairie Village) that would have enacted a full restoration of due process rights for all Kansas teachers just as they existed prior to repeal. The bill that would have done that passed the House with a strong majority – 72 votes – on February 22. Sadly, it never moved in the Senate.

Today as we sat in the conference committee on HB 2186, the school finance bill, we were thrown for a loop when Rep. Clay Aurand (R-Belleville) brought out what he called a “thought balloon” during the discussion. Explaining that the House had passed a due process restoration bill, he suggested the conference committee consider his thought balloon. The balloon would restore due process rights to those teachers eligible prior to the 2014 repeal. The due process procedures would be the same as before.

BUT… (there’s always a “but,” isn’t there) the whole provision would sunset in 2019. In other words, due process would be restored for some teachers for just two years.

Aurand asserted that this would give the Kansas Association of School Boards (KASB), United School Administrators (USA), and KNEA two years to negotiate a new due process law that would be acceptable to all. Unfortunately, this provision shows a serious lack of understanding of the word “negotiate.” In a real negotiation two parties with equal power come together to seek compromise and find common ground. When one party is given all the power, there is no negotiation. Under the Aurand construct, one party could simply throw up roadblocks to compromise for two years. At that time due process is lost for all teachers and that party did not have to even consider any concessions. It’s not a negotiation when one party holds the other dangling at the edge of a deadly cliff.

KNEA does not support the Aurand “thought balloon” for several reasons;

  1. it does not restore due process for all teachers and would codify new teachers as second-class citizens lacking full professional rights,
  2. it is a temporary restoration sunsetting in two years,
  3. if it is intended to encourage negotiation, it does not since it gives all power to one side, and
  4. the House position is full restoration of due process.
Watch for more on these topics tomorrow.

 

 

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Big Gun Debate; Perhaps a Late Education Meeting

Jun 1, 2017 by

The House this morning did not concur in the Senate changes to HB 2186 (a House judiciary bill turned into a Senate school finance bill) and so a conference committee has now been formed. This action allows the work of putting together what will likely be the last school finance bill of the regular session.

With the Senate embroiled in a gun bill debate, the conference committee plans to meet today. It may be just a preliminary meeting as the House will reconvene at 5:00 to take up the newly passed gun bill.


Now, about that gun bill…

The Senate debated Senate Sub for House Bill 2278 which would allow state hospitals to ban firearms. This issue has been a hot topic all session and wrapped up in it additionally have been attempts also to allow colleges to ban firearms. The Governor and hard right conservatives passed a law a few years ago that opened essentially every public area in the state – colleges, municipal buildings, state hospitals, etc.  – along with “constitutional carry” that allows the carrying of concealed firearms without a permit or training (although both still exist).

The law prohibits state hospitals from disallowing weapons on their premises unless all entrances are secured with metal detectors and security personnel. The cost for such security exceeds $24 million annually.  It wasn’t until the Governor learned of these costs that there was a sudden cry to change the law as it relates to hospitals.   Sadly, the Governor and his NRA allies have no concern whatsoever about the cost to colleges and universities, so adding colleges to the bill protecting hospitals would jeopardize the attempt to help the hospitals.

The bill came to the floor with only the change for hospitals and a plea from Senator McGinn (R-Sedgwick), who was carrying the bill on the floor, to please not add amendments for fear of losing the bill entirely. Supporters of banning guns from colleges agreed to support the bill as-is while noting their desire to take the fight for colleges forward.

Of course, the NRA objected strongly to banning weapons from our state mental hospitals but sensing support for the effort, NRA lobbyists wrote an amendment that would allow guns in the hospital parking lots and reception areas. Further, the NRA amendment would require that, if a hospital wished to ban guns beyond reception, it would have to provide secure gun lockers. Senator Susan Wagle (R-Wichita) offered the NRA amendment and remarkably in her closing remarks actually said, “The NRA chose to allow us” to adopt their amendment.

The Senate rallied behind Senator McGinn and the hospitals and defeated the NRA-written amendment on a vote of 16 to 24.

Senator Masterson (R-Andover) then offered an amendment to allow colleges to ban firearms also noting when questioned, that he would not support such an amendment. This was a cynical offer, intended to get supporters of the colleges to vote against the amendment to protect the underlying bill. Alternatively, Masterson was working from the knowledge that if the amendment were approved, the underlying bill would likely be defeated or vetoed and the NRA would carry the day. The Masterson amendment failed on a vote of 5 to 29.

Senator Alley (R-Arkansas City) offered an amendment to get gun safety programs based on the NRA’s “Eddie Eagle” program into Kansas public schools. His amendment was ruled non-germane and so was not considered.

As the debate was winding down, Senator Olson (R-Olathe) made the argument that everyone should be allowed to carry guns anywhere they want whenever they want on the off chance that a bad guy might be there. He made the point that he thought this happened once in his district back in 1985 although he wasn’t entirely sure, but someone had told him. And for the second time, he asserted that these killings only happen in “gun-free” zones because the bad guys wander the streets looking for “no guns” signs.  He also explained that people die in KU Med all the time.

Olson then made a motion to dual refer the bill back to both Ways and Means and Federal and State Affairs, Fed and State Affairs being a more NRA-friendly committee. This tactic is often used to kill a bill. Both committees have to send it back to the floor, and it is sent to one that just won’t act. Olson’s motion failed on a vote of 11 to 27.

Senator Pilcher-Cook offered an amendment to prohibit colleges from adopting any regulations regarding guns or ammunition. They could, she said, put up signs telling students it might not be a good idea to carry ammo into a lab where it could explode. This amendment failed on a voice vote.

The bill was approved on a final action vote and upon final action- done immediately- the bill was passed by a vote of 24 to 16.

KNEA supports a safe learning environment for all students. Part of this is allowing the colleges and universities to make the determination about the carrying of weapons for themselves and in the best interests of their students, staff, and community.

 

 

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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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