A Waiting Game and a Budget

Jun 8, 2017 by

With the passage of a school finance plan and, thanks to a veto override, a tax plan, the legislature has one more major piece of business between them adjournment – the final budget bill.

As we write today, the House is debating their budget bill and the Senate is on a recess, ready to come back to vote, at least, on a conference committee report.

Once both chambers pass a budget, they will need to work out the differences in a conference committee. We anticipate that both budgets will be done today, leaving tomorrow for the adoption of a conference committee report. It is possible to wrap up the session tomorrow but not certain.

But we are also waiting to hear if Governor Brownback signs or vetoes the school finance bill. It was announced that he signed a bill simplifying the rules about working after retirement in KPERS positions but no word yet on SB 19, school finance.

In the meantime, we would suggest you follow twitter. Best sources are, of course our own Mark Desetti (@desettiks), the statehouse reporters (@kprkoranda, @Celia_LJ, @jonshorman, @LJWpqhancock), and one of the best sources of action unfolding in the House is Rep. Stephanie Clayton (@SSCJoCoKs).

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Logic, Budgets, and Taxes

May 3, 2017 by

We have a belief in the logical order of decision making. That is, since the state is out of money and can’t fund its current budget, there will need to be a revenue/tax bill passed that allows state services to continue. We also know that the legislature must meet the Supreme Court ruling in Gannon. So our logic is to approach this in a specific order. First, pass the new school finance formula that determines how much money is needed for K-12 education. Second, pass a state budget that spells out funding for all state agencies/services. Finally, pass a comprehensive tax plan that allows the budget to be funded.

Putting the tax bill first constrains actions on the budget and school finance.

But logic does not always apply under the dome.

Right now both chambers are arguing about tax policy while the school finance formula and budget are stalled.

Many legislators are fighting for the application of a logical order. They want to make only one more vote on taxes and they want that vote to both fill the state’s budget hole and fund our schools.

Yesterday a planned tax vote in the Senate was pulled and today the same thing happened in the House. That’s not bad news. It is a result of legislators making the case for logic and denying votes for a bill that does not solve the two problems they face.

What it is important to remember now is that we are only three days into this veto session and the legislature has 24 days available and budgeted. There is no reason to panic and ignore rational decision making. And while we all want this done, it is more important that it be done right.

K-12 Budget Committee Considers Taxes in School Finance Bill

Within this ongoing debate about how much in taxes and what to pay for, the House K-12 Budget Committee met today to talk about the possibility of putting dedicated tax increases in the school finance formula bill to pay education increases.

The first part of the discussion was simply whether or not that was constitutional under the “two-subject” rule. Since the bill already contains at least one tax provision – renewal of the statewide 20 mill property tax levy – it would appear to be legal, provided that the proposals in the bill specifically reference paying for provisions in the bill.

After some discussion including asking questions of House Tax Committee Chairman Steven Johnson (R-Assaria), there did not appear to be consensus on whether or not this was a good idea. One problem brought up by several legislators is that even if this legislature put the taxes in the bill and targeted them to education, future legislatures would be free to sweep those revenues for other purposes.

The Committee will meet again tomorrow to hear from Jeff King, the attorney hired by the legislature to advise the Committee on the likelihood that this bill would be found to be constitutional.

Tax Agreements Scheduled for Votes; Votes Cancelled

Things indeed seem messy in the quest to find a tax bill that will fill the holes, fund our schools, and get enough votes to override an expected veto by the Governor (84 in the House; 27 in the Senate).

The first tax bill this session (HB 2178) easily passed both chambers before being vetoed by Governor Brownback who insists that his failed tax experiment is working. The House secured 85 votes for an override but the Senate failed to get to 27.

It was said that the Senate would be voting yesterday on a new tax bill but the bill in question would not have raised enough money to fix the problems facing the state right now let alone fund a new school finance bill. Leadership did not bring the bill forward for a vote.

Instead, the tax conference committee met again to hammer out another bill, this time putting it in a Senate bill so that the House would vote first. That vote was expected after lunch today but again, the vote was delayed. As we write this update, we are waiting for the House to reconvene. Rumors under the dome are that the bill is still short of what is necessary for funding and so is also still short of the needed votes. If this is true, it is very likely that there will be no vote today.

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Brownback’s Proposal and its Impact on KPERS *Spoiler Alert*: It’s not pretty.

Jan 23, 2017 by

Post Highlights

  • KPERS officials explain the “what ifs” of Brownback’s irresponsible budget.  Short version:  DISASTER for KPERS.
  • Brownback’s Budget proposal would reduce KPERS contributions by a total of $600 million, extend the time to pay down KPERS’ existing unfunded actuarial liability by 10 years, and add $6.5 billion to the State’s contributions over the long term to pay for it.
  • The full breakdown of the effects of Brownback’s proposal on KPERS is included in today’s Under the Dome.
  • Brownback’s plan mortgages the future to pay for the $350 million budget hole which remains through the end of this fiscal year.
  • There are solid and sensible solutions which take a comprehensive approach to dealing with the Governor’s failed experiment.
  • It is important that we all educate ourselves on the nature of the problem and the solutions so that we can encourage our legislators to take the bold steps necessary to achieve long-term results (those solutions are outlined in today’s under the dome and in more detail RIGHT HERE).
  • Governor recommends bills for health benefit consolidation.

KPERS explains the disaster in Brownback’s budget recommendation

The best explanation of the mess that would be created if Governor Brownback’s irresponsible budget recommendations on KPERS were to be enacted was presented to the House Pensions Committee today. We can’t explain it better so here is the document given to the committee this morning:

Governor’s Budget Proposal

$600 Million Shortfall Over Next 3 Years

With the start of the new legislative session, the Governor has announced his budget recommendation for Fiscal Year 17 (current revised), 18 and 19. In short, the proposal would reduce KPERS contributions by a total of $600 million, extend the time to pay down KPERS’ existing unfunded actuarial liability by 10 years, and add $6.5 billion to the State’s contributions over the long term to pay for it. What we don’t pay for now costs more later.

The Breakdown

  1. In FY 2016, the Sate delayed its fourth quarter payment for State/School employer contributions with a promise to pay it in FY2018 with interest.

Governor’s Recommendation: do not pay

  1. Governor’s Recommendation: freeze contributions in FY2017, 2018 and 2019 to the reduced amount paid in FY2016.
  2. Governor’s Recommendation: Pay off the existing unfunded actuarial liability over an additional 10 years.

The Result

  • 4 missing State quarterly payments and a total shortfall of $600 million
  • Eventual State/School employer contribution rate of 12% to 13% through FY 2045*
  • Long-term additional cost of $6.5 billion
  • Funded ration stays in the 60% “cautionary” range for an additional eight years or through 2030
  • Unfunded liability increases by about $1.3 billion, and it will take 20 years to get back to where we are now

*Doesn’t affect Local employer contribution rates.

Most Important

It’s most important to remember that this does not affect benefits for current retirees, or even for those thinking about retiring. KPERS has $17 billion in assets to pay benefits for many years. The funding shortfall is a long-term funding issue. However, underfunding continues to add to the unfunded liability and undermines KPERS’ long-term strength.

The State’s recent $1 billion pension obligation bond was a significant step in the right direction. But it’s consistent and full employer contributions over time that will make the most difference in having a sound and sustainable retirement system.

What’s Next?

We are at the beginning of the session. And budget legislation will wind its way through the usual process. The Governor’s proposal is a starting point for discussion.

We’ll keep you posted as things affecting KPERS develop in the months to come.

So far the Governor’s proposal is getting a cold reception under the dome. As we reported last week, the K-12 Education Budget Committee has recommended to the full Appropriations Committee that they reject the Governor’s KPERS proposal.

Mortgaging the Future; Cutting the Present; Solving the Problem

You might be wondering what the H-E-double hockey sticks is going on up here in Topeka. You know that there’s a big problem facing Kansas and that problem has been caused by the reckless and irresponsible tax policy proposed by Governor Sam Brownback and passed with great joy by his legislative allies.

That’s true. And here, after four years, Kansans learned the lessons of trickle down economics/tax policy and have thrown many of those responsible out of office, replacing them with new moderate Republicans and Democrats. So this should be the right time to put the brakes on the Brownback disaster and reverse course. It should be easy, you’re thinking.

Oh, that it were so simple!

Brownback issued his “balanced” budget and it’s a doozy! Essentially, Brownback achieves “balance” by mortgaging the future. He robs from the highway plan, he sells off our tobacco settlement money turning this long-term asset into long-term debt, and he steals from KPERS reversing all the hard work done by previous legislatures to stabilize and secure the system.

That’s one way to take care of the issue but let’s take a look at the deeper problem.

First, we are dealing wth three years. Problem one is to find about $350 million to fill the hole in the last six months of fiscal year 2017. The next problem is to solve the revenue decline so as to fix the holes in future budgets – notably fiscal years 2018 and 2019.

Then there is the problem of a Governor who continues to believe his plan is working despite all the evidence to the contrary.

Next, we have a legislature with an enormous number of freshmen, many of whom are just getting their feet on the ground and beginning to understand the process. Remember, we are only 10 days into the 2017 session!

And finally, we are faced with two separate and individual committees in each chamber tasked with the hard work – House Appropriations and Senate Ways and Means that craft budgets (spending) and House Taxation and Senate Assessment and Taxation that craft tax policy (revenue). Somehow, we need to get a revenue plan that corresponds with our budget or spending plan. Not so easily done!

So far – 10 days in – we have only ideas. Okay, we have one bill, HB 2023 that repeals the LLC tax exemption; but really, that’s it.

One idea is the Governor’s: Let’s just mortgage the future, increase the state’s debt, and click our heals while repeating “His tax plan will work, his tax plan will work.”

Another idea is to fix the revenue by reversing the Governor’s policies. The LLC repeal is part of that. The Rise Up plan is another way to do that.

And a third idea – if you don’t like mortgaging the future or reversing the tax cuts – is to cut spending. There is no bill out there proposing that we cut spending.

But things do need to be talked about. And some ideas can be floated to get people thinking about other ideas.

No legislator likes to cut spending or raise revenue (aka raise taxes). And right now there is little interest in mortgaging the future. In order to get people to think that raising revenue needs to be on the table, we have to get them to see what happens if we do not raise that revenue.

This is why leaders will ask what spending cuts look like. Legislators are always reluctant to raise taxes and you can be sure that those who support the Governor will all any reversal of his tax policies an increase. Understanding what the alternative looks like – ruined highways, compromised public safety, stripping seniors and those with disabilities of service, and even cutting public school funding – will help legislators understand the importance of passing a revenue plan that supports vital government functions.

So, it’s early. The new leaders in the House and Senate are not showing support for cutting services more. But the discussion is important. Unless all legislators understand the depth of the problem and the ramifications of taking one path or another, they won’t be ready to make the hard decisions that are yet to come.

Don’t panic yet. But do continue to communicate with your legislators. Let them know that you expect them to deal responsibly with the failed tax policy of Governor Brownback. Make sure all Kansans expect the legislature to reverse course on revenue and support quality state services across the board.

Health Benefit Consolidation, Procurement Bills Introduced

Two bills recommended by the Governor have been introduced. One would enact the consolidated health insurance plan for all school districts while the other would establish a centralized procurement program for school districts.

Both bills were introduced as committee bills in the House K-12 Budget Committee in order to have the discussion on these issues.

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We’ve Grown Accustomed to this Pace…

May 2, 2016 by

Pothole

In Now Typical Fashion, Session Ends in the Wee Hours with Minimum of Votes Needed

In these days of a legislature and Governor who seem to be determined to run Kansas into the ground – or simply shrink it to a size that can be drown in a bathtub – the 2016 legislative session came to an end in the wee hours of this morning with the Senate on a vote of 22 to18 passed a budget conference committee report that the House had earlier passed on a vote of 63 to 59.

In both chambers it took a call of the body to persuade the last few people to move to the YES column in order to pass the bill. In the House it takes 63 votes to pass, 21 in the Senate.

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Governor Sam Brownback

The budget bill contained in the conference committee report on SB 249, marks the second year running that the legislature failed to balance the budget, instead punting to the Governor to make cuts of his choosing.

Here’s what the bill does:

Gives the Governor permission to take most of the sales tax dedicated to the highway program and move it into the state general fund (aka “robbing the bank of KDOT”).

Gives the Governor permission to delay KPERS contributions and then indefinitely delay paying KPERS back. In an earlier version, the legislature had directed that delayed KPERS payments would have to be paid back in the first quarter of the next fiscal year with 8% interest. Under this bill, KPERS gets paid back with any revenue that comes in above estimates and any tobacco settlement money that comes in above what has already been allocated for children’s programs. Bear in mind that revenue has exceeded estimates only one time in the last 12 months. There is also a proviso that says the revenue from the sale of state properties will go to the agency that owns the property and not to KPERS as was under current law.

Gives the Governor permission to cut most state agencies by 3 to 5%. It specifically directs that he may not cut K-12 education.

Gives the Governor permission to cut universities by another $17 million but kindly repeals the cap on tuition increases passed last year so that students and their families can make up the difference in higher tuition and increased student debt.

Gives the Governor permission to issue an RFP for the privatization of Osawatomie and Larned State Hospitals. Reverses permission to actually privatize with the legislature.

Contains provisos to protect Juvenile Justice Reform funding and Domestic Violence program funding.

Contains a proviso that the Docking State Office Building cannot be demolished without legislative permission.

There are a number of other provisos as well covering everything from Parks and Wildlife to K-State land sales.

NO votes for the bill, based on the statements made during discussion, include the belief by some extreme conservatives that K-12 education should not be spared from further cuts. Others argued that they could not support the bill because it could have a potentially devastating impact on KPERS. Still others argued that it was the equivalent of “dereliction of duty” in that the one task given to the legislature each year is to pass a balanced budget – it’s not balanced if it is dependent on the Governor making cuts to budgets at his discretion.

House Speaker Ray Merrick

House Speaker Ray Merrick

And the YES votes? We’re not sure about those. Maybe it was the late hour and the belief that things would only get worse if they stuck around town. Whatever the reason, the bill in the House was initially at 61 to 60. Rep. Suellentrop (R-Wichita), who was out of the chamber when the vote was initially taken, came in and voted YES, making it 62 to 60. That’s when Rep. Todd (R-Overland Park) changed his vote from NO to YES, securing the 63rd vote for leadership and passing the bill.  The final vote follows.

 

Final Vote Roster

 

In the House:

YES: Alford, Anthimides, Barker, Barton, Boldra, Bradford, Campbell, B. Carpenter, W. Carpenter, Claeys, Corbet, Davis, Dove, Esau, Estes, Goico, Gonzalez, Grosserode, Hawkins, Hedke, Hemsley, Highland, Hildabrand, Hoffman, Houser, Huebert, Hutchins, Jennings, D. Jones, K. Jones, Kahrs, Helley, Kelly KIegerl, Kleeb, Lunn, Macheers, Mason, Mast, McPherson, Merrick, O’Brien, Osterman, Pauls, Powell, Proehl, Rahnes, Read, Rhoades, Ryckman, Ryckman Sr, Scapa, Schwab, Schwartz, Seiwert, Smith, Suellentrop, Sutton, Todd, Vickrey, Waymaster, Weber, and Whitmer

NO: Alcala, Ballard, Becker, Billinger, Bollier, Bruchman, Burroughs, Carlin, Carmichael, Clark, Clayton, Concannon, Curtis, DeGraaf, Dierks, Doll, Finch, Finney, Francis, Frownfelter, Gallagher, Garber, Helgerson, Henderson, Henry, Hibbard, Highberger, Hill, Hineman, Houston, Hutton, Johnson, Kuether, Lewis, Lusk, Lusker, Moxley, Ousley, Patton, Peck, Phillips, Rooker, Rubin, Ruiz, Sawyer, Scott, Sloan, Swanson, Thimesch, Thompson, Tietze, Trimmer, Victors, Ward, Whipple, Williams, Wilson, Winn, Wolfe Moore

Absent and not voting: Edmonds, Ewy, Schroeder

In the Senate:

YES: Abrams, Arpke, Bruce, Denning, Donovan, Fitzgerald, Holmes, Kerschen, LaTurner, Longbine, Love, Lynn, Masterson, Melcher, O’Donnell, Olson, Ostmeyer, Petersen, Pilcher-Cook, Powell, Wagle, Wilborn

NO: Baumgardner, Bowers, Faust-Goudeau, Francisco, Haley, Hawk, Hensley, Holland, Kelly, King, Knox, McGinn, Pettey, Pyle, Schmidt, Smith, Tyson, Wolf


Please Explain the Business Income Tax Exemption Mess

Everybody knows (well, everybody except the Kansas Chamber, the Kansas Policy Institute, and Americans for Prosperity) that the income tax exemption for LLCs which has resulted in more than 330,000 Kansas business owners paying no income tax whatsoever in both unfair and bad fiscal policy. KNEA has been one of the many voices calling for the repeal of this exemption.

Yet, the repeal bill failed. And frankly we think that’s a not a bad outcome. Here’s why.

The LLC exemption is just one small part of the state’s revenue collapse. If the exemption is the only part of the 2012-13 tax plan to be repealed, it will not bring nearly enough revenue to solve the revenue crisis. In fact, this bill (SB 63) would have brought in no new money now, a very small amount next year and would only fully kick in in 2018.

The repeal of the LLC exemption is important but needs to be part of a complete repeal or comprehensive reform of the tax system such that revenue stability and adequacy is returned. We know that the Chamber, AFP and KPI would call a yes vote on this bill a tax increase and use the vote in the next election to attack moderate Republicans and Democrats.

What moderates and Democrats all want is to fix our tax system so that we can once again fund our highways, schools, public safety, and other vital state services. They know that if this bill passed, it would solve almost nothing and reduce the willingness of all legislators to consider more tax reform in the future. Think of it like pulling a bandaid off your arm – especially if you’ve got a hairy arm! Most of us would rather rip it off and get the pain over with rather than take incremental equally painful little tugs.

What the state needs – and what moderate Republican and Democrats understand – is fiscal responsibility. We are all better served if we bite the bullet, admit the “experiment” is a failure, and take real action to reverse course.


Last Few Days Were Conference Committee Reports

What we were watching over the last few days were not amendable bills being debated but conference committee reports.

There is a big difference between bills and conference committee reports. Conference committee reports are agreements worked out by small teams to get deals on the various versions of bills passed. This is important in the process because if a bill has not passed either chamber, it cannot be taken up in conference. While bills that have only passed one chamber can be added to a conference committee report, it is not often done because legislators like to have had their own hearing on the bill and a chance to amend it.

In the education realm, several bills were rolled together in conference committee reports.

In CCR SB 323, three K-12 bills were rolled together. The first bill, the Jason Flatt Act, requires 1 hour of annual suicide prevention training for school employees. The second bill establishes a program to track the language development of deaf and hearing impaired students. The third bill changes the rules for capital improvement state aid, establishing a 6 year rolling average cap on expenditures and allowing the State Board of Education to prioritize projects based on certain criteria. This CCR was adopted unanimously in both chambers.

A post-secondary CCR, HB 2622, holds four items:

  • The degree prospectus program under which institutions would provide prospective students with data on graduation rates and performance,
  • The CLEP provision that standardizes the use of CLEP examines for earning college credit,
  • The performance based funding incentives for career and technical education, and
  • Adjustments to some fees charged by the Board of Regents.

This CCR was adopted in the Senate on a vote of 34 to 6 and in the House 109 to 8.

Some other bills we were following this session did not move forward during the veto session. They were not put into conference committee reports and, since conference committee reports cannot be amended, they were not added in as floor amendments.

These include, SB 56, the repeal of the affirmative defense for K-12 teachers; HB 2199, the opt-in human sexuality education bill; HB 2531/SB 136, the repeal of due process for post-secondary instructors; and SB 469, the recertification of representative organizations for teachers.


The Waiting Game

Now everyone who lives under the dome goes into a waiting game. At issue is the Supreme Court ruling on whether or not the school funding equity bill passed by the legislature will meet constitutional muster. Arguments are scheduled for May 10.

The Court has suggested that if the legislature does not meet its constitutional obligation by June 30, schools will not open in August. People on the plaintiff’s side think the bill will not satisfy the court while those who wrote the bill believe just as strongly that it will.

With Sine Die (the largely ceremonial last day of the legislative session) scheduled for June 1, it would be a stretch for the court to rule prior to then. If the court rules early in June and rules against the state, we would expect a special session to be called in order to resolve the issue before the scheduled opening of schools in August.

Whatever we find out, we will report right here!

With the session over, Under the Dome will go into sporadic hibernation. Rather than daily updates, you will receive occasional updates as the need arises.

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Could this be it?

May 1, 2016 by

Both chambers wrapped up just before midnight without having tackled the biggest thing out there – the budget.

We are back right now and the House has just broken to go caucus (presumably on the budget). They will reconvene at 1:00.

There are a few other conference committees that need to be disposed of and we assume they will tackle those before the budget.

If the House passes this budget bill, it will need to be voted on by the Senate. Two chances to pass it, but two chances to kill it as well.

Most people under the dome believe this will be the last day. Many of us are hoping it will also be over quickly.  Of course, there is this from House Speaker Ray Merrick to a press pool reporter:

Screen Shot 2016-05-01 at 12.53.24 PM

You can keep up by following us on Twitter @desettiks. We would also suggest following some of the statehouse reporters: @BryanLowry3 (Wichita Eagle), @kprkoranda (Kansas Public Radio), @jshormanCJ (Topeka Capitol-Journal), @LJWpqhancock (Lawrence Journal-World).

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