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.