Primary Election Results…To be determined

Aug 8, 2018 by

Well, some things about yesterday’s Kansas primary election have been decided but others have not and likely will not be for some time yet.

What we know for certain is that Senator Laura Kelly is the Democratic candidate for Kansas Governor. Kelly secured a majority of votes (52%) in a crowded five-candidate contest. It didn’t take long last night to know that Kelly was in; Svaty and Brewer were out.

Over on the Republican side, however, things are a little different. As of noon today, Secretary of State Kris Kobach – Trump’s anointed candidate – was ahead of incumbent Governor Jeff Colyer by only 191 votes with several thousand provisional ballots still to be counted. This race will take some time to be determined as all counties finish reviewing their ballots. But Kelly will face off against either Kobach or Colyer in November.

In two other contested state-wide Republican primaries, Rep. Scott Schwab secured the nomination for Secretary of State with 38% of the vote in a five-candidate election while Sen. Vicki Schmidt managed to beat Clark Shultz in the Republican primary for Insurance Commissioner, 52% to 48%.

A couple of congressional primaries were wild. In the Democratic primary for CD 3 (currently held by Republican Rep. Kevin Yoder), Sharice Davids managed a win with 37% of the vote. She was followed by labor leader Brent Welder with 34%. Teacher Tom Niermann was a distant third with 14% of the vote. Davids will take on Yoder in the general election. While Yoder did win the Republican primary, a full 32% of Republican voters cast their votes for other candidates.

There was a crowded field in the Republican primary for CD 2 (being vacated by the retiring Republican Rep. Lynn Jenkins). With seven candidates in the race, Steve Watkins eked out a win with 26% of the vote. Watkins – an unknown a few months ago – managed to top state Senators Caryn Tyson, Dennis Pyle, and Steve Fitzgerald as well as state Representative Kevin Jones and former Speaker of the House in the Kansas Legislature, Doug Mays.

Watkins has been in the news for having met with the Democratic Party to consider a run for Congress as a Democrat before settling on being a conservative Republican. He has also been criticized for being a non-voter – he maintains that as a member of the armed services he needed to stay non-partisan and that included not voting! State Senator and retired Lt. Colonel Steve Fitzgerald had harsh words for Watkins on that issue!

Watkins will face former House Minority Leader Paul Davis who was unopposed in the Democratic primary.

Republican Congressman Roger Marshall secured 79% of the vote in his primary election while Republican Congressman Ron Estes topped his challenger, Ron Estes, 81% to 19%. Estes will now go into a rematch with Democrat James Thompson who won his primary with 65% of the vote.

Down ballot races were disappointing for moderate Republicans who woke up to find that they had lost Mary Martha Good (El Dorado), Anita Judd-Jenkins (Arkansas City), Patty Markley (Overland Park), Joy Koesten (Leawood), Don Schroeder (Hesston), and perhaps Steven Becker (Buhler) although Becker is behind by only one vote. Some moderates with primaries did prevail, however. Among them are Susan Concannon (Concordia), Tom Cox (Shawnee), Jim Karleskint (Tonganoxie), Jim Kelly (Independence), and Larry Hibbard (Toronto). Moderates also held two other seats. Susie Swanson’s (Clay Center) seat with go to Susie Carlson who defeated conservative Kathy Martin and Stephen Alford’s (Ulysses) seat will go to Marty Long who defeated conservative Jeff Locke.

And in great moderate Republican news, outspoken conservative incumbent John Whitmer was defeated in his primary by moderate Republican J.C. Moore.

The balance of power in the House is still to be determined pending the results of the November general election, but the moderate Republican caucus did suffer some serious losses in the primaries. What remains to be seen is how well Democrats do in both defending their incumbents and picking off some of the conservatives that came out ahead against moderate Republicans.

The challenges ahead of advocates for public education from now to November are many. We call upon all Kansans who value public schools for all of our children to get involved in the general election campaigns to protect and expand the Moderate/Democrat coalition.  We’ve made many gains since 2016, but last night proved that there is a growing push to return to and even double-down on the Brownback disaster.  For the sake of Kansas kids and for the future of our state, we must not let that happen!

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Rush, rush, ruin.

May 2, 2018 by

What’s the rush?

When it comes to tax policy, what’s the rush is indeed the question of the day.

Last night at a 9:00 tax conference committee meeting, Sen. Chair Caryn Tyson (R-Louisburg) was insistent that urgency was necessary, demanding that the committee return at midnight after giving the staff a couple hours to draft extremely complex amendments dealing with the repatriation of overseas profits for tax purposes. Corporations, many of which don’t believe they should have to pay taxes and are notorious for using “shelters” to avoid taxes, are determined to stop tax provisions that make them pay their fair share of the responsibility for funding services. Tyson is determined to do whatever corporations want. Hence, the urgency. Let’s pass something after midnight without giving anyone the time necessary to really review a proposal and determine its impact on the state budget both immediately and long-term.

Fortunately House members, led by Committee Chair Steven Johnson (R-Assaria), are trying to be more deliberative and resisted the call by Tyson to continue into the wee dark hours of the morning when everyone would be sleep-deprived and unable to do such important work thoughtfully.

We all know the quality of work done after midnight. The Kansas Legislature is known for waiting until the last minute to get down to work and often ends up very late at night or early in the morning frantically passing the most important bills of the year. And they end up making grave errors in the process. One need only look at this year’s school finance bill with an $80 million error.

It would appear that Tyson’s goal is to maximize the depression of revenue to the state. Perhaps she wants to demonstrate her commitment to exploding deficits as if that is a qualification for a member of Congress (she is a candidate for Congress). The problem, of course, is that, unlike the federal government, the state cannot deficit spend. Kansans know better than anyone what that means thanks to the failed Brownback tax experiment.

Since the budget is being built on the assumption that all of the revenue available or predicted to be available is there to be spent, the passage of tax cuts will push the budget under water, jeopardizing any progress being made on school funding or the restoration of other state services.

We would remind the Legislature of the 2013 lower court decision in Gannon when the State argued that they did not have the revenue to increase school funding or honor the promises of Montoy. Here’s what the Court said to that argument:

The State has argued and asked us to find the  coming limitation on the State’s resources require the Legislature to make difficult appropriation decisions. The State has proposed that we find “the Legislature could reasonably conclude adjustment of state education aid to the Levels demanded by the plaintiffs would have disastrous consequences to the Kansas economy and its citizens” (P. 34 of the State’s Proposed Memorandum and Order). However, at the same time that the States attorney was advancing that argument, the Legislature passed the income tax cut.  According to one of the States experts, Dr. Art Hall, the Executive Director of the Center for Applied Economics at the University of Kansas School of Business, the tax cut bill will cause a revenue reduction in the first year (2013) of $800,000,000 to$1,000,000,000. See TR: Arthur Hallat pp.2421-2424. While Hall was called by the State to present evidence of the disastrous effect a 1.2 billion dollar infusion of money in a single year for education would have to the State, the same reasoning should apply to an $800,000,000 to $1,000,000,000 reduction in State revenue.

It seems completely illogical that the State can argue that a reduction in education funding was necessitated by the downturn in the economy and the states diminishing resources and at the same time cut taxes further, thereby further reducing the sources of revenue on the basis of hope that doing so will create a boost to the states economy at some point in the future. It appears to us that the only certain result from the tax cut will be a further reduction of existing resources available and from a cause, unlike the Great Recession which had a cause external to Kansas, that is homespun, hence, self-inflicted. While the Legislature has said that educational funding is a priority, the passage of the tax cut bill suggests otherwise and, if its effect is as claimed by the State, it would most certainly conflict with the States Article 6 § 6(b) constitutional duties.

So it would seem to us – and to most reasonable people – that enacting large tax cuts at this time would be a bad decision. We believe that lawmakers should take a “wait and see” approach. Let’s see if the recovery from the Brownback disaster continues and what the real impact of the federal tax changes will actually be for Kansas.

The tax conference committee met or attempted to meet several times today without making any progress. Tyson was bitterly angry with the House members at the 9:00 meeting last night and again at the 8:30 meeting this morning. At 11:30 this morning she made an offer to the House that was seen as backtracking on some earlier Senate offers. When questioned by Johnson, she said, “Sometimes when you reject an offer the next offer might be worse.”

In response Johnson and the House members left, telling Tyson that if she wanted to meet again she could let him know. She immediately called out for a 12:30 meeting. At 12:30, we gathered for the meeting only to be told it was postponed until 1:30. At 1:30, it was postponed until 3:00.

As of this posting, the two sides continue to negotiate, but not much progress is being made.  We will continue to update you as negotiations continue.  It’s also important to be aware and ready to take action if and when we put out the call to do so.

 

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House Handles Budget and School Finance Fix

Apr 28, 2018 by

House Budget Bill Passes with Minimal Changes

The House this morning passed HB 2365 on a final action vote of 92 to 24. Debate on the budget lasted into the night yesterday with many amendments offered and most defeated.

The most significant amendment offered by Rep. Steven Becker (R-Buhler) was one to strip out the language added in Committee by Rep. Brenda Landwehr (R-Wichita) that would have lapsed all new spending added by the Committee if the Supreme Court were to rule against the State in the school finance case. Landwehr’s amendment had come to be known as the “trip-wire.”

The debate on removing the trip-wire was vigorous and in the end, the Becker amendment was adopted on a vote of  71 to 53. KNEA supported the Becker amendment.

Other interesting amendments and their results were:

Motion by Rep. Whipple (D-Wichita) to prohibit non-disclosure agreements signed by state employees to silence those employees in cases of sexual harassment and/or abuse. Adopted 100 to 12.

Motion by Rep. Jennings (R-Lakin) to prohibit taxpayer funds from being spent on defense or fines for any state-wide elected official found in contempt of court (can you say Kris Kobach?). Adopted 103 to 16.

Motion by Rep. Holscher (D-Olathe) to prohibit taxpayer funds from being used for penalties or settlements of sexual harassment claims and prohibit making such claims secret except at the request of the victim. Adopted on a voice vote.

Motion by Rep. Clayton (R-Overland Park) on legislative transparency would have required names on bills. Objections and challenges came from Rep. Schwab (R-Olathe) first on germaneness (it was ruled germane) and then as not allowed under the rules. The Rules Committee determined that the amendment was out of order because changes to rules have to be done through resolutions.

Motion by Rep. Parker (D-Overland Park) to expand Medicaid. It was challenged on germaneness but found to be germane. Failed 56 to 66.

Motion by Rep. Whitmer (R-Wichita) to strip $45 million out of K-12 funding (the money he says KSDE spent illegally) and transfer it to higher ed. The amendment would also freeze tuition. The motion failed.

A motion by Rep. Garber (R-Sabetha) to stop state money from going to any city or county in Kansas that adopts a resolution or law contrary to federal law (can you say “sanctuary cities?”). Under questioning, it became clear Garber had no real understanding of the extent of his amendment. For example, if a city adopted a gun resolution that was more liberal on gun ownership than federal law, the state could not provide any funding. Failed 28 to 69.

The bill was advanced on a voice vote with the final action vote this morning.

School Finance Fix

Last night, once the budget was done and the House went home, the Appropriations Committee met and moved the contents of HB 2796 into SB 61, creating Sub for SB 61 – the school finance $80 million fix. What it does is provide a mandate that every district levy a 15% LOB (they all do now) and direct that the money raised be counted towards adequacy by the Court. It also removes the language that took $80 million out of what was believed to have been in SB 423. Sub for SB 61 is a simple fix of the problem discovered on April 9.

The bill was brought to the floor for debate this morning.

The first amendment was offered by Rep. Jerry Stogsdill (D-Prairie Village) and it was a big one. It would have stripped out the mandatory LOB language, added the “Trimmer amendment” that increases BASE aid, added the “Pittman amendment” that brings special education funding up to the statutory 92% reimbursement, ends the cap on bond and interest and adds funding for parents as teachers and the ABC therapy program (two programs wanted by the Senate).

The amendment was challenged on germaneness because Sub for SB 61 is a simple policy fix and the amendment is an appropriation. After a long delay, the challenge was withdrawn and the debate on the Stogsdill amendment went on.

In the end, the Stogsdill amendment was defeated by a vote of 42 to 78.

The next amendment came from Rep. Sydney Carlin (D-Manhattan). This one would just repeal the cap on bond and interest; it was one part of the prior amendment. The amendment failed on a vote of 53 to 66.

Rep. Jeff Pittman (D-Leavenworth) offered an amendment to increase special education aid from 84% as in SB 423 to 85% – an additional $6 million. This amendment failed on a vote of 49 to 68.

Rep. Jarrod Ousley (D-Merriam) offered an amendment to allow other districts to enter the mental health pilot program and expand cooperative opportunities. The original Landwehr amendment specified which districts could participate. Ousley’s amendment carefully kept the Landwehr amendment intact but would merely allow the State Board to choose other districts that could participate. Landwehr opposed the Ousley amendment. The amendment failed on a vote of 43 to 77.

Rep. Kristey Williams (R-Augusta) offered an amendment to mandate a 2.5% pay raise for all teachers. It was ruled not germane because you can’t put an appropriation proviso in a policy bill.

Rep. Melissa Rooker (R-Fairway) offered an amendment stripping out the requirement that a certain percentage of LOB dollars must be directed to the at-risk and bilingual programs based on the percentage of students in those programs. Districts should be able to decide how best to expend the dollars they get to serve their students. Rooker believes the requirement is a likely violation of equity.

Williams opposed the Rooker amendment because 248 school districts have LOB authority they are not using including her own district. They have taxing authority they are not using – they should look at their own effort and if they need money, they should go to 33%.

The Rooker amendment, the last amendment of the day, failed on a vote of 54 to 64.

In the end, not one amendment was adopted and Chairman Fred Patton (R-Topeka) who argued for a “clean fix” bill with no amendments got exactly what he wanted.

The bill was advanced on a voice vote.

Later, on emergency final action, the bill was passed on a vote of 92 to 27.

 

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Are We Ready for Tomorrow?

Apr 25, 2018 by

The Legislature is set to return on Thursday, April 26 and at the top of everyone’s list of questions is “What about the school finance error?”

Maybe not everyone’s, but it’s on the top of our list!

We’re working on rumors and some good intelligence gathering to try and figure out how things will go down come Thursday.

First, we know there is a planned fix for the error which is tied to Rep. Clay Aurand’s (R-Belleville) effort to mandate a certain level of LOB effort and label it as part of BASE aid. The error can be fixed simply by repealing that provision and we are hopeful that will be the first order of business.

Of course, in the meantime, the state has received more good news about revenue collections and that has spurred a lot of talk about what to do with this “extra” money.

Rumor has it that the some in the House will again try to add to the school finance bill perhaps by pursuing either an amendment offered earlier by Ed Trimmer (D-Winfield) to change how the CPI was calculated in determining  a funding level or one by Jeff Pittman (D-Leavenworth) that would boost the reimbursement of special education funding to the statutory 92%. Both amendments were considered in floor debate on SB 423 earlier and were not adopted, having received only 41 and 43 votes respectively.

If SB 423 is amended to fix the LOB issue and restore the $80 million, we believe there is a chance that the Court will still believe the bill falls short of constitutional adequacy either for the overall increase or for the five-year phase in. Such a Court decision could result in a special legislative session this summer. There is also a chance the Court could call this bill a “good faith effort” and give the Legislature another year to augment the future-years in the plan. We’ll just have to wait and see.

If either the Trimmer or Pittman amendments were to be added, it increases the chances that the Court will approve the plan but it may also create a greater challenge getting the bill through the Senate – we are confident Senate President Wagle (R-Wichita) and Majority Leader Denning (R-Overland Park) will oppose such increases. We just can’t predict what might happen to the 21 votes in the Senate if the bill gets costlier.

KNEA supports the Trimmer and Pittman amendments because both align with our Legislative Agenda and priorities. But we also believe that, should they be offered and fail, that is not a reason to vote NO on the $80 million fix. To allow SB 423 with the error to stand as the proposed solution to Gannon would be irresponsible, to say the least. And it would guarantee a negative reception in the Court, a special summer Legislative Session, and the possibility that our schools will be closed come August.

Now throw into this the Senate’s massive, “Brownbackian” tax cut bill, HB 2228. This bill, which now goes to the House, gives away more than $500 million in new tax cuts and tax adjustments. Coincidentally, the new school finance bill with the fix costs more than $500 million. Passage of HB 2228 cancels out the revenue needed for SB 423!

The Court has been very clear that they want a school finance plan that has the money in it. They have essentially said, “show us the money.” To pass a $500 million finance plan concurrent with a $500 million tax cut would be a disaster. Remember that in the early stages of Gannon, the State argued that there was no revenue for increased school funding and the Court responded that the money was there but the Legislature gave it away in the 2012 Brownback tax cuts. Deja Vu all over again!

Our hopes for the next nine days?

Fix the mistake. Repeal the Aurand LOB amendment. That will restore the bill to the level of funding that was intended on April 7 and take care of new equity challenges.

If the votes are there to increase the funding, do so. We support full funding of special education – we always have and always will. If such amendments are not adopted, pass the underlying bill that fixes the error. Do not use a desire to do more as an excuse to not fix the underlying problem.

Resist the temptation to cut taxes again. Kansas is still in recovery from the Brownback disaster. Things are looking good but this is not the time to cut taxes. We still have to meet school funding adequacy and we also need to address the mess in our foster care system, the challenges faced in public safety, the restoration of funds taken from the highway program and KPERS, and many other vital services. Tax cuts can wait. Remember that voters in 2016 sent many new legislators to Topeka specifically to restore our revenue system. It’s only been 10 months since that happened.

Good Revenue News Means We Can Have Necessary Things Again

We, like all Kansans, are happy to see continuing good news about revenue collections. We’ve repeatedly exceeded estimates thanks to the work of a bipartisan group willing to vote to repeal Brownback’s income tax changes and then vote to override his veto of their action. It looks like the state is on a path to stability once again. We’re not out of the woods but, as Sam would have said, “The sun is shining in Kansas.”

The revenue news means different things to different legislators. Some, as we noted earlier, want to go back to handing out tax cuts as if we had already satisfied the Court school finance ruling, restored the highway plan, paid KPERS back, found the 70 missing children in DCF, and so much more.

In truth, the news means that while we can have some necessary things, we still have a lot to do to get back to our beautiful Kansas.

For the first time in a long time, the legislature is looking at budget profiles with ending balances above zero. In fact today the budget committees are looking at reports that show the state meeting the required 7.5% ending balance. HB 2228, the tax cut bill would wipe that out of course but in the meantime, they can look at other things to fix.

Governor Colyer has submitted a Governor’s Budget Amendment (GBA) that would take funds above the 7.5% ending balance and make an early payment to KPERS. The Legislature is supposed to be making back payments to KPERS by 2020 and this GBA would bring a portion of that payment up now. KNEA supports this GBA. It is critical that KPERS be paid back and the sooner, the better.

This one opportunity and action should be enough to convince responsible lawmakers to step back from the temptation to return immediately to the tax policy decisions that led Kansas to the brink of disaster. We don’t need another radical tax cut – that’s how the Legislature created the problems we are facing today. Now that things are turning around, we hope the Legislature will focus on restoration of services and programs that have made Kansas a great place to live, work, and raise a family.

Join with Our Partners and Urge Your Legislators to Reject Irresponsible Tax Cuts

KNEA is working with other organizations to make sure that our state has ample time to recover from the Brownback experiment before considering any reductions in taxes. As they return to Topeka, it’s important for them to hear that voters want them to act responsibly to ensure our economic and budget recovery. Please take the time to email your Legislators.

Click here to send a message to your Legislators.

 

 

 

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TOO MUCH TO WRITE, SO LET’S GO TO THE VIDEO…

Apr 5, 2018 by

Mark Desetti, Director of Government Relations with Marcus Baltzell, Director of Communications.

 

CLICK HERE to contact your Senator.

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School Finance Action!

Apr 2, 2018 by

House Defeats Their First School Finance Bill

The House of Representatives today debated HB 2445, the first school finance bill to emerge from and Committee this year, and after a long debate, failed to advance it to final action on a vote of 55 to 65. This was not a roll call vote so there is no record of how individual legislators voted.

The bill added about $500 million additional dollars to education over five years and provided fixes to all four equity provisions challenged by the Court in the last Gannon decision. It also revised the transportation formula to codify a “curve of best fit” in the distribution of funding and increased the transportation multiplier to .5 as recommended by the Legislative Post Audit.

Some legislators argued that the funding in the bill was too low and attempts were made by Representatives Ed Trimmer and Jeff Pittman to increase some aid provisions. A motion by Trimmer to increase funding by the CPI applied to the Montoy levels of funding was defeated on a vote of 46 to 76. Pittman tried to increase funding for special education over the four years to meet the 92% reimbursement in statute (failed 45-68) and then to increase the funding to meet the 92% reimbursement level next year only (failed 45-73).

Rep. Brenda Landwehr tried two amendments, one of which passed on a vote of 107 to 14. This amendment added a pilot program of mental health cooperation between school districts and community mental health providers. She also tried a so-called “Kansas School Closure Contingency Plan” which would have created individual student accounts in the treasurer’s office such that if schools were closed, parents could tap the accounts to send their children to private schools. This voucher amendment failed on a vote of 40 to 81.

Two “gotcha” amendments were offered in an attempt to garner “postcard votes.” The first was proposed by Rep. Blake Carpenter who tried to radically increase the statewide local property tax levy for education and call it the “Kansas Supreme Court Education Tax.” Rep. Melissa Rooker challenged the germaneness of the amendment and it was tossed out as not germane.

The next one came from Rep. John Whitmer. He tried to take $45 million out of K-12 funding (payback for what he deems to have been illegal transportation funding) and transfer it to the Board of Regents. He proposed attaching a one-year tuition freeze on higher ed as well. Rooker again challenged the germaneness of the amendment and again it was found to be not germane. The amendment was thrown out.

Rep. Sean Tarwater offered his “safe routes to school” transportation proposal that was taken up in Committee and not acted upon. Tarwater’s amendment would prohibit school districts from charging for transportation if there was no safe route for the child to walk to school. The issue was originally raised to assist some constituents of Tarwater who were charged for transportation after their school district opened a new building and moved their children into that school. The amendment failed on a vote of 56 to 64.

With no further amendments being offered, Rep. Fred Patton who was carrying the bill on the floor moved to report the bill favorably for passage. The voice vote being unclear to the chair, the roll was open and the motion failed on a vote of 55 to 65.

Had the motion passed, a final action vote would take place tomorrow but, having failed, the bill simply sits on the calendar. It is possible to have a motion to reconsider tomorrow but in a surprise move, before adjourning Majority Leader Don Hineman announced the debate calendar for tomorrow – one bill. HB 2445.

Something is afoot!

Senate Now Has a School Finance Bill

While all this was going on in the House, the Senate Select Committee on Education Finance was meeting and assembling their own school finance bill.

This bill, SB 423, will be available in the morning and we will review it here tomorrow.

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