Senate to Consider Bill Ending Teacher Representation This Week

Mar 13, 2016 by

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TAKE ACTION NOW! END ATTACKS ON PUBLIC EDUCATION AND EDUCATION PROFESSIONALS

Last week, Senator Julia Lynn, demonstrating her anti-teacher zealotry, railroaded a bill through the Commerce Committee that, if enacted as it came out of committee, would essentially end the ability of teachers to have representation in collective bargaining.

Senate Bill 469 would require that a teachers association would have to be recertified as the representative every three years by gaining more than 50% or all persons eligible to vote in a representation election. The ballot would be required to have as candidates the current representative, any other organization that sought recognition, and an option of “no representation.”

Under the required vote standard, an organization that received even 100% of the votes cast, could lose the election if only 49% of those eligible to vote did so. If this standard were to be applied to Kansas Senate elections, no member of the current Senate Commerce Committee would have been elected – even the two who ran unopposed!

Another section of the bill says that if the Department of Labor was unable to get to a vote in a district, the local representative would automatically be decertified and could not stand for a new election for a period of 36 months, leaving teachers in that district without a contract or representative for a three full years! The Department of Labor does not employ enough staff to manage the nearly 300 elections called for in the bill.

This bill was opposed in the hearing by the Kansas Association of School Boards, United School Administrators of Kansas, the Kansas School Superintendents Association, and Kansas NEA. Those who stood for the bill were the Kansas Policy Institute’s Dave Trabert, the Koch-founded Americans for Prosperity, and the Association of American Educators which is funded in large part by right wing foundations.

Lynn, after hearing from the anti-union proponents and before opponents were given a chance to speak, announced publicly that the bill would be passed out of committee and rushed to the full Senate. Lynn apparently does not like to be bothered by anyone whose thoughts conflict with hers.

True to her word, the bill was railroaded out of committee but not before Lynn had to deny a Democratic Senator an opportunity to offer an amendment and then cutting off KNEA General Counsel David Schauner in the middle of a response to a question from a committee member.

There are a number of things that disturb us about the handling of this bill.

One is the obvious lack of respect for dissenting opinions and willingness to ignore fundamental democratic principles demonstrated by Senator Lynn in her management of the committee and the issue.

The other is the bill itself whose sole purpose is to deny teachers – and only teachers – any voice in their working conditions, salaries, and benefits.

To weigh in on this bill with Senators before the debate in the full Senate, click here.

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When Democracy Gets in the Way of Ideology, Just Ignore It

Mar 9, 2016 by

Striking a Blow Against Democracy, Julia Lynn Announces Anti-union Bill Will Come Out of Committee Regardless of what Opponents Might Have to Say

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Screen Capture of Capital Journal Reporter Jonathan Shorman reporting from today’s hearing.

We have apparently been all wrong about senators all these years. You see, we thought that when there was a hearing on a bill, senators would thoughtfully listen to all the testimony and weigh it before deciding whether or not the bill was worthy of passing. So imagine our surprise today when Senator Julia Lynn (R-Olathe), chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, announced that while she would allow the opponents of SB 469 to speak tomorrow, the bill would be passed by the Committee and sent to the floor of the Senate as quickly as possible.

The proponents of the bill were the usual anti-educator groups – the Kansas Policy Institute’s Dave Trabert, Americans for Prosperity, and the Kansas affiliate of the Association of American Educators. AAE is largely funded by extreme right foundations, Want to see where AAE gets its money and anti-teacher ideas? Click here. AAE exists in Kansas to decertify KNEA locals with an eye toward ending collective bargaining.

Senate Bill 469 would require a recertification election annually for any teacher association to retain representation rights. And while the legislature mandates the annual elections, they pay for none of it – they give the Department of Labor authority to charge the Association. Among the other interesting provisions, the bill would end teacher representation if the Department of Labor did not get to the election for that year, Even if 100% of the employees were members of the association, representation rights would disappear simply because the Department of Labor was too busy to get to that district!

Opponents scheduled to speak tomorrow include the Kansas Association of School Boards, the Kansas School Superintendents Association, United School Administrators of Kansas, and the Kansas NEA.

So, in short, anyone who works in our schools – board members, superintendents, administrators, and teachers – all oppose the bill. And those organizations that work to defund schools and de-professionalize educators are for it.

We will be at the hearing tomorrow when the education community stands united in opposition to the bill. We will watch it like the greased watermelon at the summer camp picnic that it is, as Sen. Lynn shoots the bill out.

Voucher Bill Stopped But Not Dead Yet

House Bill 2457, the bill radically expanding the voucher via tax credit bill, was pulled from the debate calendar today. There are two ways to ensure this bill dies. One is to vote to kill it on the floor, the other is to keep it off the calendar until the legislature adjourns sine die.

Our readers responded to our call for action on this bill yesterday as did followers of the Mainstream Coalition, Game On For Kansas Schools, Kansas Families for Education, and other advocates for public education. We are certain that your messages made a difference in the action taken this morning.

Let’s keep the heat on. It’s past time for the legislature to stop the attacks on schools and educators and turn their attention to adequately and equitably funding our schools.

The bill is not scheduled for debate tomorrow.

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A Budget and Tax Mess!

May 20, 2015 by

Budget Conference Committee meeting

The House/Senate Budget Conference Committee (House Appropriations and Senate Ways and Means) met twice today to seek agreement on a budget bill.

By the end of the day, they appeared to be at impasse with one of the main sticking points being a school funding fix. Because of reduced property values particularly on oil and gas land, the 20 mill school finance property tax is not producing as much revenue as predicted. To fix this, the Legislature would need to provide about $17.5 million in FY 2016 and another $13 million in FY 2017 to make up the difference in the block grant passed earlier.

The House Appropriations Committee put this money in their budget but the Senate did not. As of now, neither side has given in on that issue.

The Conference Committee will not meet again today. We expect they will meet tomorrow.

House Tax Committee hears another bill

The House Tax Committee met this morning to hold a hearing on HB 2435, a new tax bill that would repeal the sales tax exemption on public construction projects. Currently when the state or a local unit of government (including a school district) have building projects, they do not pay sales tax on the cost of the building materials. It has been the practice in Kansas that government does not tax itself. This bill would make those materials subject to sales tax.

If adopted, the bill would drive the cost of public building projects up, forcing local governments to either scale back the project or increase property taxes in order to pay for the sales tax. It was noted in testimony that 23 states apply the sales tax to these projects, 15 do not, and it is unclear what the remaining states do.

In the case of state government, under this bill the state would have had to pay sales tax on the materials used in the renovation of the statehouse. The cost of the renovation – which was being paid by the state – would have risen substantially so that the state could pay itself the sales tax. A kind of funding loop!

Rep. Mark Rhoades (R-Newton) had proposed this as part of the overall tax package during the committee meeting yesterday.

The only proponent of the bill was Americans for Prosperity, a Koch-founded free market group.

Opposing the bill were the Kansas Association of Contractors, the Kansas Hospital Association, the Kansas Association of Counties, the Kansas League of Municipalities, KASB, the Board of Regents, and Kansas Municipal Utilities.

No action was taken on the bill today.

Is there a plan?

We have often reported rumors under the dome and the air is full of rumors right now about what might happen next.

First, there has been a persistent rumor that the Legislature will break on Thursday and go home until next Tuesday. But a subsequent rumor was that there would be an effort to break the gridlock and work through the weekend.

Part of the second rumor was the idea that both chambers could get a tax bill out of committee and on to the floor for debate by Thursday. If they passed bills, they could get into conference on taxes and might feel close to final resolution, encouraging them to stay in Topeka.

The House Tax Committee was set to reconvene at 2:30 this afternoon but the meeting was cancelled with no further meetings scheduled. That means the House won’t have a tax bill to debate tomorrow. The Senate has Senate Sub for HB 2109, which could be debated tomorrow.

So what happens next, you ask? Almost anything.

The Senate could debate and pass Senate Sub for HB 2109 early tomorrow and send it to the House. The House could concur in the bill and things would be done on taxes. But nobody knows for certain whether or not the Senate has the votes to pass the bill or if the House would concur in it. This scenario seems highly unlikely.

The Senate could debate and vote down the bill tomorrow. That would probably result in the Legislature going home for that four day weekend. No tax bill passed in the House and none in the Senate means many more meetings and there would be little incentive to give up the holiday weekend.

As we’ve been reporting, nothing seems to be securing enough votes to pass the House. One group of Republican legislators oppose all tax increases for any reason, Democrats and Moderate Republicans want to see changes to the 2012-13 tax bills that put businesses back on the tax rolls, Democrats oppose efforts to balance the budget on the backs of the middle class and low income Kansans through sales tax increases.

Politically, everyone is in a tight spot as well. With KPI, the Kansas Chamber, and AFP all opposing tax increases, they are probably worried about the massive amount of money that will be spent against them in their next election. If one supports tax increases to bail the Governor out of his reckless tax plan, and the Governor’s allies then use that vote to throw one out of office, why help?

Yes folks, it’s a mess. We might assemble these reports into a book and sell the movie rights!

 

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Things Begin Moving Under the Dome

May 7, 2015 by

Tax talks

Thanks to Governor Brownback’s reckless income tax cuts of 2012 and 2013, the state faces a budget gap of about $800 million over the next two years. Filling that gap will require either raising taxes or massive cuts to services.

Legislative committees were briefed on the gravity of the situation as they returned from the April break and it’s taken until now for ideas to come forward other than the Governor’s proposal to raise tobacco and liquor .

There is little legislative interest in the tobacco and liquor tax proposal and no one in the Legislature or the Administration has yet proposed rolling back the income tax cuts that caused the problem. Instead, legislators are looking at “consumption taxes.” That’s just a fancy way of saying “sales tax increase.”

During the depths of the great recession, Kansas temporarily raised the sales tax from 5.7% to 6.3% to shore up a budget pounded by the economic collapse of 2008-09. The rate was set to return to 5.7% but to pay for the reckless tax cuts the Legislature, at the request of Brownback, reversed course and kept the rate at 6.15% where it is now.

A proposal gaining traction in the House is to raise the sales tax to 6.5% which would generate about $163 million in revenue. Sales tax increases are popular among legislators because they believe you won’t notice. They know that when you file your income tax, you actually see how much you’re paying. And when you get your property tax notice, you see exactly what you owe. Both of those can be large numbers. But sales taxes nickel-and-dime you. It’s hard to see just what you’re paying in sales tax because it is applied in small amounts here and there. One is tricked into thinking it’s not very much.

The Kansas tax system is one of the most regressive in the nation, thanks to our reckless tax cuts passed in 2012 and 2013.  Sales tax is the biggest culprit. It represents a large percentage of a low income earner’s salary. Since Kansas is one of only 14 states that imposes a sales tax on groceries, this makes the tax even more burdensome for the poor. To make matters worse, in order to soften the blow of his income tax cuts, Brownback also repealed the sales tax rebate on food that helped offset the burden for the poorest Kansans.

Overall, the poorest 20% of Kansans pay 11.1% of their income in taxes while the wealthiest 1% of Kansans pay only 3.6%. This is the hallmark of a regressive, unfair tax system – the more one earns, the less one pays in taxes as a percentage of income. This will only get worse with an increase in the sales tax.

 

This chart from the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) shows the percentage of income paid in taxes by each quintile of taxpayers in Kansas. The wealthiest quintile is further divided into 15%, the next 4%, and the 1% of wealthiest Kansans. The data is for 2015. (http://www.itep.org/whopays/states/kansas.php)

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This chart shows the impact in 2013 of the tax cuts enacted by Governor Brownback. (http://realprosperityks.com/kac/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/who_pays.jpg)

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AFP carpet-bombs Kansas with anti-tax mailers

Are you one of the many Kansans getting mail from Americans for Prosperity lauding certain legislators for promises to not raise taxes and urging you to call them and tell them to stick to the pledge?

AFP – an organization founded and funded by the Koch brothers – wants the Legislature to gut state services in order to protect the tax cuts that have benefited only the wealthiest Kansans.

While schools are having to close early and beg for some extra money from the SB 7 “extraordinary needs fund” and road projects are being set aside as the Legislature drains the highway fund of money, AFP is advocating that legislators do nothing to solve the revenue problem but instead focus on destroying state services.

 When is a dollar not a dollar?

The answer in Topeka is simple – when it’s a tax dollar returned to a corporation.

Last year the Legislature passed a tuition tax credit bill for corporations. In a move to begin the privatization of public education in Kansas, the Legislature passed a bill providing for a 70% tax credit for any corporation that would entice a child out of a public school by giving that child tuition money for a private school. They did put some limits on the bill, requiring that the student would have to be a low-income student from a Title I priority school.

If a corporation gave that student $8,000 in tuition money, the state would allow the corporation to cut $5,600 from their state tax bill. The $8,000 tuition bill would only cost the corporation $2,400.

Some legislators would like to expand this bill so that any student would qualify. Private schools could work with corporations to find the most brilliant students or the most athletic students and get their tuition paid. Private schools under this bill do not even have to be accredited – the state would be losing $5,600 in tax revenue for every student getting his/her tuition paid at an unaccredited school!

Supporters of this idea would have you believe this does not cost the state anything. In reality, it does. It costs the state up to $10 million in lost tax revenue that could be put to funding public education, reducing social service caseloads, or repairing roadways.

 

 

 

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