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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Still a Lot to be Concerned About!

Apr 19, 2018 by

The School Finance Mistake

There’s been lots of talk about the school finance bill (SB 423) error and what to do about it. Governor Colyer signed SB 423 into law and at the same time urged the Legislature to waste no time in fixing the error so that the bill matches what everyone thought they were voting on back on April 7.

The $80 million error is the result of an amendment by Rep. Clay Aurand (R-Belleville). Aurand has been pushing amendments to require a certain level of LOB authority in an effort to “get credit” for the state for more funding than the state was actually providing. Essentially, he wants the Court to believe that, since LOB levies are not being used for enrichment as per the original intent, those levies should be credited as state aid. Of course, the reason the LOB is not being used for enrichment is because the state has not even kept pace with inflation in what is provided to schools.

To get this “credit,” Aurand has proposed amendments to mandate a certain level of LOB authority. He has tried various levels from 30% down and when he finally put the level at 15%, he got what he wanted. SB 423 contains a provision mandating that every school district levy a 15% LOB. Aurand has been pressing this issue since Montoy and his fellow legislators finally agreed when he put the mandate at a level that all school districts were now meeting anyway.

But what his amendment did was make that 15% levy part of the “new funding” in SB 423, lowering the actual amount of new money by $80 million. Without that new money, the Court is highly unlikely to approve SB 423 – as it is, they may not approve it.

When the Legislature returns on April 26, the first order of business ought to be fixing SB 423. One way to do that is to strip out the Aurand amendment. We know that some will be trying to do that. We have also heard that with the bill opened up again, some legislators may try to do all kinds of mischief. Remember that the bill passed with the smallest possible majorities. While most legislators speaking on the issue have expressed a desire to simply fix the error and move on, there are others who have openly called this an opportunity to change the funding entirely.

Tell your legislators to fix SB 423 so that it matches what was intended on April 7.

Giving Away the Money

Then there is Sub for HB 2228, a disaster of “Brownbackian” proportions.

One would think after the disastrous Brownback tax experiment of 2012 and the struggle to reverse it in 2017, legislators would have little appetite to once again damage the state’s revenue stream. But one would think that only if one had never met the Kansas Senate.

The 500 or so KNEA members gathered outside the Senate chamber on the evening of April 7 had the pleasure of listening to a long and complicated tax debate as the Senate worked HB 2228. The bill is a mad hodge-podge of tax changes, some worthy and some disastrous but the best words to describe it are “experiment” and “uncertainty.”

The bill is expected to cost the state treasury a half-billion dollars over the next five years and, coincidentally, the new school finance bill will provide a half-billion dollars to schools over the next five years! It was almost as if the Senate was looking for a way to justify voting NO on SB 423!

Less than one year after the Kansas Legislature ended the disastrous Brownback tax experiment, why would they pass a new tax plan riddled with uncertainties?

Fortunately, it is not passed yet! The House will have a chance to end this new disaster when they return on April 26. They will not be able to amend HB 2228, only to vote to concur or non-concur in the Senate changes to this House bill.

The best thing the House could do is to kill Sub for HB 2228. There is no good reason to jeopardize the state’s recovery from the Brownback experiment. Instead of unaffordable tax cuts, Kansas needs to invest in education, healthcare, infrastructure, and communities.

Tell your Representative to reject Sub for HB 2228.

Speaking of Giving Away Revenue…

Secretary of State Kris Kobach, as a candidate in the Republican primary for Governor, held a news conference in Wichita where he announced that, if elected, he will work hard to restore the failed Brownback Tax experiment. But he will do it differently. He will start by slashing budgets and then restoring the tax experiment. He also promised to veto any tax increases and sign a pledge never to raise taxes.

We’d like to hear his ideas for restoring the highway plan, paying back KPERS, funding our public schools, and making higher education affordable.

Kobach has lots of competition in the Republican nomination race including Governor Jeff Colyer, Insurance Commissioner Ken Selzer, and former State Senator Jim Barnett. The most prominent candidates in the Democratic Primary are State Senator Laura Kelly, House Minority Leader Jim Ward, former Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer, and former Secretary of Agriculture Josh Svaty. We look forward to hearing what all of the other candidates have to say about tax policy and state revenues.

Read about Kobach’s news conference by clicking here. 

A Constitutional Amendment Still Looms

We must oppose any attempt to change the state constitution. Lawmakers should work together to fully fund all of our state’s priorities, including education. Eliminating judicial oversight of the education weakens us all.

The position the state is in today was not created by the schools or the Courts. It was created by past Legislatures who avoided their responsibility to care for our state and the services we share as common priorities. Education is certainly one of those priorities but so are the social service safety net, public safety, good roads and highways, and health care.

We should never say that Kansas can’t have both good schools and good highways, good schools and safe communities. This is not a zero sum game in which everyone is fighting everyone else for a piece of a limited pie. We can make the pie bigger. We can apply our state sales tax to online retailers (HB 2756). We can increase tobacco taxes (HB 2231, SB 376). We can modernize our tax code. In truth, there is much that can be done if we have the will.

Changing the constitution is a distraction, not a solution.

Urge your legislators to vote NO on constitutional amendments.

 

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The Session is Over, But the Court Must Still Rule

Jun 12, 2017 by

The 2017 Legislative session came to a close on Saturday night with the adoption by both chambers of the final budget conference committee report. There was little specific to public schools in the budget as the K-12 budget is contained in the school finance plan passed earlier (SB 19).

The worst bit of news in the budget bill is that the conferees did not agree to any provision to pay back the money deferred from KPERS. While this action does not jeopardize KPERS retiree benefits, it undoes some of the work done over the past few years to bring KPERS back into fiscal health by reducing the unfunded actuarial liability.

As we look at the work of the 2017 Legislature, it is a good exercise to measure that work against our own KNEA Legislative Agenda.

There are four components to the KNEA Legislative agenda: Taxation, School Finance, Support for Educators, and Advocating a Bright Future for All Kansans.

In the area of Taxation, under income tax we scored a major victory with the passage of SB 30 and subsequent veto override. Every goal we stated under income tax was achieved. The “march to zero” or “glide path” was repealed as was the LLC income tax loophole. The income tax has been restored as the foundation of a balanced tax system, and a new higher income tax bracket was added restoring progressivity to the system.

Our positions on sales tax (lowering the food rate and dealing with sales tax exemptions) while not achieved were included in bills and amendments to bills and all had hearings during the session. Sales tax exemptions on some services were even voted upon. We can report that progress has been made in addressing important sales tax issues.

We also support the repeal of property tax caps on local units of government, an issue that was not resolved this year.

Finally, we support a full repeal of the corporate tuition tax credit program. While this did not happen this year, we had one success as well as one loss in this program. All schools receiving scholarship students must be accredited (for the win) but the credit is now available to individuals (for the loss).

In the area of School Finance, the passage of SB 19 assures that the unconstitutional block grant system is now history. Senate bill 19, for the most part, meets the criteria for a formula that we included in our legislative agenda.While the new formula does not fully fund the excess costs of special education, it does provide additional special education funding. We are especially pleased that it funds all-day kindergarten and provides some funding for pre-school programs. And fortunately, other pre-K programs were protected with the decision to reject the securitization of the tobacco settlement money which funds those programs today.

SB 19 provides two years of funding increases to public education which must be tested by the Supreme Court for adequacy. We do not believe the funding to be adequate to the challenge of Gannon and will be anxiously awaiting the Supreme Court review.

In the area of Support for Educators, we are happy to report that for the first time in many years, there were no attacks on the teaching profession debated in this session! That in and of itself is a major victory and it is in large part thanks to the work KNEA members did in supporting the election of more moderate Republicans and Democrats to the legislature.

Our only loss in this area was the decision to not repay the funds deferred from KPERS. And while we did not manage to get due process protections restored, we did get the restoration through the House with a very strong bipartisan vote. Unfortunately, the Senate never took the issue up and our last chance was an amendment to the school finance bill brought by Rep. Jerry Stogsdill (D-Prairie Village) that was ruled to be not germane to the bill and so was not considered. The votes in the House this year give us hope for the future.

In the area of Advocating a Bright Future for All Kansans, we must report that while we have not won on our issues, we have not lost ground either.

We were delighted to see the expansion of Medicaid pass both chambers and then disheartened with the Governor’s decision to veto it. We are sorry that the Legislature was unable to muster enough votes to override the veto.

Worst of all, despite the best efforts of many legislators, parents, faculty, students, and organizations including KNEA, the Legislature bowed to the NRA and refused to restore control of firearms to our Kansas colleges and universities. Beginning on July 1, 2017, our colleges and universities must either provide metal detectors and security personnel at all entrances or allow anyone to carry a concealed firearm anywhere on campus. Despite overwhelming support from the communities, NRA money and threats continue to carry the day.

So all-in-all, when examined in light of the KNEA Legislative Agenda, this was a very good session for public schools and public school teachers.

So, It’s Over But It’s Not Over…

As we write this today, Governor Brownback has SB 19, the school finance bill, on his desk. What we don’t know is his plan for that bill. Will he sign it? Will he veto it? Will he just let it sit there for ten days until it becomes law without his signature?

Our frustration is that every day that passes is a day less the Supreme Court has for review before the June 30 deadline.

If he vetoes the bill, the Legislature will have an opportunity on June 26 during their ceremonial sine die closing to consider an override vote but by then we are only four days from the deadline.

We are working with KNEA Legal staff to examine the various scenarios that could play out depending on a signature or a veto, an adverse court ruling or a special legislative session. Stay tuned for further KNEA reports as things play out.

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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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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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