Session ends; Sine Die set for May 29

May 7, 2019 by

Session ends; Sine Die set for May 29

Moderate Republicans abandon efforts on Medicaid/KanCare expansion

KanCare expansion – an effort to provide health care to 150,000 uninsured working Kansans – failed late on May 4 as moderate Republican members of the Kansas House of Representatives abandoned a bipartisan effort to force a vote on the issue in the Senate.

A coalition of Democrats, moderate Republicans, and even some conservative rural Kansas representatives vowed to hold the budget hostage until Senate President Susan Wagle and Majority Leader Jim Denning allowed the full Senate to vote on HB 2066, the bill that would expand KanCare.

While more than 70% of Kansans and majorities in both the House and Senate support expansion, four recalcitrant legislators – Wagle, Denning, House Speaker Ron Ryckman, and House Majority Leader Dan Hawkins – oppose it and have used their power to control what bills will be allowed to be debated to stymie the will of the Legislature and the electorate.

When the House dug in on the issue, voting repeatedly to not adopt the budget but send it back to conference, Wagle, Denning, Ryckman and Hawkins tried to punish them by cutting vital parts of the budget. Their tactic didn’t work. But neither would Wagle nor Denning allow a vote.

Eventually Denning promised that the Senate would take the issue up in January of next year. With this “promise,” moderate House Republicans abandoned the effort and voted to approve the budget leaving only the Democrats along with moderate Republican Diana Dierks and conservative Republicans Jesse Burris, Randy Garber, Michael Houser, and Trevor Jacobs voting NO. Garber and Jacobs represent communities (Horton and Fort Scott respectively) in which hospitals have been forced to close in part due to the state’s failure to expand KanCare.

Sadly, the working poor now have their fate in the hands of a man, Jim Denning, who has suggested to the press that insurance isn’t that helpful (he says his wife almost died and she has insurance) and that the poor can just go to the emergency room if they have a problem. And Denning has used his position as Majority Leader to fight against expansion at every turn. Yet, we are supposed to trust that he will make sure it comes up for a vote in January.

While HB 2066 – the expansion bill – has passed the House and so continues to be “alive” for the 2020 session, we can expect Denning and the other anti-expansion leaders in the Senate to seek the addition of “poison pills” to the bill in their attempt to kill it. And of course the addition of just one amendment to the bill would make it subject to a conference committee which would be made up of four anti-expansion Republicans and two pro-expansion Democrats.

Given Denning’s “promise,” this would be our expectation – that the Senate put HB 2066 on the floor for a vote in January and that the bill will be on the Governor’s desk for her signature by February 1. This is only possible if Denning keeps his word and if moderate Republicans stand up firmly and demand that Wagle, Denning, Ryckman, and Hawkins stop their obstructionism.

Multi-National Corporations are the big winners

Picking winners and losers in the actions of this Legislature is easy.

The working poor lost – they will go at least another year without health care.

Multi-national corporations and the highest earning individuals are the winners. At the end of the session, the House and Senate adopted HB 2033, a somewhat watered down version of the massive corporate tax cut vetoed earlier in the session by Governor Laura Kelly. The bill will cost the state about $245 million over three years.

Some in the Legislature are trying to focus on a provision in the bill dealing with sales tax on groceries. Don’t be fooled – while this bill could reduce the sales tax on food, it is not guaranteed because a reduction in the food sales tax is tied to increases in collections of the compensating use tax. It those collections go up, the food sales tax might come down. If all the assumptions made in crafting the bill turn out to be correct, the food sales tax could drop from 6.5% today to 6.0% in 2021 and then to 5.4% in 2022.

So the bill contains guarantees for multi-national corporations and wishes for the rest of us. But it passed 83 to 41 in the House with one Republican (Pannbacker) voting NO and one Democrat (Pittman) voting YES and 27 to 13 in the Senate with two Republicans (Pilcher-Cook and Skubal) joining all the Democrats in voting NO.

We have yet to see if Governor Kelly vetoes this bill or not.

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Big Issues! Tax cuts, KanCare expansion, & School finance

Mar 7, 2019 by

Big Issues! Tax cuts, KanCare expansion, & School finance

It’s big-time under the dome these days (although the light committee schedule would appear to say otherwise).

We’ve spent much time reporting on Senate Bill 22, the budget-busting tax cut bill that passed the Kansas Senate on February 7. As it passed the Senate, the bill would cut taxes by about $190 million putting a budget out of reach that would fund schools, help the foster care system, fix the crisis in Kansas prisons, and restore highway funding. The Senate version would provide about $140 million in tax cuts for multi-national corporations and lets about 9% of Kansas individual taxpayers itemize their state income on taxes even if they can’t on their federal return at a cost of another $50 million.

The Kansas House Tax Committee added a one-cent reduction in the food sales tax, costing the state about $60 million and then inserted a change in the way internet sales taxes are collected and remitted which would increase taxes to the state by about $41 million. So the House version would cost the treasury about $210 million.

After a long debate during which the House rejected all but one amendment to the bill, it was advanced to final action on a vote of 80 to 42. The only amendment that was adopted was one by Rep. Ken Corbet (R-Topeka) defining foods subject to the lower sales tax as those items that can be purchased with food stamps. Amendments by Representatives Jim Ward (D-Wichita) and Tim Hodge (D-Newton) aimed at removing the corporate tax breaks and maintaining those that benefit working Kansans were all rejected on identical party-line votes of 40 to 89.

The bill is now subject to a final action vote which will take place either Friday or Monday.

A “Round-table Discussion” on KanCare expansion

Representative Brenda Landwehr (R-Wichita), chair of the House Health and Human Services Committee, held a days-long round-table discussion on KanCare expansion this week. KanCare is the Kansas version of Medicaid so this amounts to a discussion on the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

Expansion was approved by both the House and Senate in 2016, only to be vetoed by then-Governor Sam Brownback. The House voted to override the Governor’s veto but the override fell short in the Senate.

Medicaid or KanCare expansion is needed for a number of reasons:

  • Our rural hospitals are in financial trouble and expansion would dramatically improve their chances of staying open. Some hospitals have already had to close. The first to shutter was in Independence and just last month, the hospital in Horton indicated that it may be closed. Employees were working without pay. Hospitals in Fort Scott and Oswego have also closed.
  • KanCare expansion will encourage work and job advancement among low-income parents. In Kansas, a parent makes too much to qualify for KanCare if she earns more $7,896 per year for a family of three. If she works a minimum wage job just more than half-time, she would make too much to qualify. If she gets a better job, a raise, or more hours, she would fall into the coverage gap – her income is too high for KanCare and too low to qualify for assistance to purchase private insurance. If Kansas were to expand KanCare, low-income parents could earn more without losing their health coverage.
  • Expansion would provide coverage to between 130,000 and 150,000 working Kansans who cannot afford coverage now.
  • While Kansas would be required to pay a portion of the costs (about $47 million), the bulk of the cost would come from the federal government. In 2020, 90% of the cost would come from the federal government. Kansas has already forfeited more than $3 billion in federal aid from taxes that Kansans are paying!

While both the House and Senate have voted before in favor of expansion and both would likely do so again now, the leadership in both chambers remains opposed and have worked tirelessly to block all efforts to force a vote on expansion. Rep. Dan Hawkins (R-Wichita) is now the House Majority Leader and has led the efforts to block expansion. Rep. Landwehr who now holds the chair of the Health and Human Services Committee is also a strong opponent of expansion.

During the first day of the round-table, Republicans Jim Kelly (Independence) and John Eplee (Atchison) spoke in support of expansion and raised their personal experiences – Kelly with the harm to his community caused by the closing of the hospital and Eplee to his experience as a physician with the harm to Kansans who can’t get the care they need.

Read about the first day of the round-table in the Capital-Journal by clicking here.

Find out more about KanCare expansion at the website of the Alliance for a Healthy Kansas by clicking here. KNEA is a member of the Alliance.

School finance moving

We reported that the first school finance bill – SB 142 – moved out of committee on Wednesday and will go to the full Senate for debate probably next week. This bill contains only the proposed inflation fix to school finance required by the Gannon decision.

It is important to understand that not everyone agrees that this bill will be approved by the Court. There are two interpretations of what the Court was requiring. This bill puts in one inflation increase and then maintains that through the following years. Schools for Fair Funding (SFFF) believes the Court wants to see an inflation increase each year along with the spending increases passed last year. KNEA’s interpretation has been the same as that of SFFF.

We would anticipate at this time that what is likely to pass is this bill along with SB 147 which is the rest of the education budget. When combined, these bills are the same as SB 44, the Governor’s school finance bill introduced at the start of the session.

We are expecting a Senate floor debate on SB 142 next week.

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