The Longest Ever Session is Finally Over

Jun 15, 2015 by

What is the sign of good policy?

A number of years ago, there was a bill proposed that would require a 2/3 majority vote for the legislature to approve any tax increase. During the debate way back then, Rep. John Edmonds (R-Great Bend) took to the floor with an amendment. He told his fellow legislators that this would be such a good idea, he wanted to apply the rule to all votes – nothing could become law without a 2/3 majority. Edmonds argued that if something was a really good policy, it ought to be easy to get 2/3 of one’s colleagues to agree.

The 2/3 majority bill did not pass. And Rep. Edmonds made some very good points that should speak to us as we watch this legislature, the 2014 legislature and future legislatures.

In 2014, the school finance bill that eliminated due process for teachers and enacted a $10 million corporate give away voucher program was passed by 63 votes in the wee hours of the morning after a long call of the House. Just like the tax bill in the 2015 session.

If one’s policy can only garner the minimum 63 votes after 3:00 am when legislators have been locked in the chamber, bullied, threatened, and sleep deprived, does one really think it’s a good policy?

We do not advocate for a 2/3 majority rule. But we question the benefit of policies that can only get to the minimum vote necessary after bully tactics are implemented. If the Legislature can’t get to a majority on the merits of the argument, then perhaps they shouldn’t.

Tax Policy

Majority rules.

That’s true. And in the House a majority is 63; in the Senate it is 21. Often under the dome people speculate on “what will get 63 and 21.”

That was certainly the way things worked with tax policy this year.

What was known coming into the session last January and became more clear with every revenue report moving forward was that the state was in dire straits when it came to revenue.

The tax plan passed in 2012 at the command of Governor Brownback – his “real live experiment” – three years later has proven to be a failed experiment. And yet the Governor and his cronies hold on to it with a death grip.

Both chambers split into multiple camps when it came to tax policy changes. Democrats and moderate Republicans saw no benefit to helping pass a plan that balanced the budget on the backs of working people and left the worst parts of the Brownback plan in place. Center-right Republicans wanted to spread the pain of a tax increase, bringing businesses back on the tax rolls and increasing consumption taxes. Brownback supporters opposed bringing businesses back on the tax rolls but were happy to enact a large increase in sales and other consumption taxes like cigarettes, gasoline, and liquor. And then there was the hard core right. This group opposes all tax increases all the time and insists that the budget should just be cut.

The governor vowed to veto any bill that imposed taxes on the 330,000 Kansas businesses that his 2012 plan exempted or rolled back his “glide path to zero” plan to end the income tax entirely. He and his budget director Shawn Sullivan threatened to strike out post-secondary education funding, cut nearly $200 million from K-12, reduce social services, and lay off public safety personnel if the legislature did not balance the budget with consumption taxes only.

The legislature repeatedly fought back, bringing plan after plan to the floor and watching them go down in defeat. As the governor and House leadership tried to force legislators to adopt bad tax policies, they even suspended a call of the House for eight hours, keeping a vote in limbo over night.

As the session dragged on, more and more legislators checked out. Whether for vacations or returning to work, attending weddings, or dealing with family emergencies, numbers thinned out over the last couple of weeks.

In the end, as the last tax plan came to the House floor, it appeared to fail having gained only 61 votes. And that’s when the doors were locked, House members forced to sit in their seats, and the brow-beating, fear-mongering, and threats began in earnest. At about 4:00 am a 63rd vote was secured, the call was lifted and the bill passed.

It also received the minimum votes necessary in the Senate.

The bill raises the state sales tax in Kansas to 6.5%. Some parts of the state will see their sales tax as high as 10% when the state rate is combined with the local rate. The bill also raises cigarette taxes by 50 cents/pack. Kansas will now have one of the highest food sales tax rates in the nation. And 330,000 Kansas businesses still pay no income tax at all.

Collective Bargaining

Collective bargaining for public employees in Kansas is contained in two statutes – the Professional Negotiations Act (PNA) for K-12, community college and technical college professional employees and the Public Employer Employee Relations Act (PEERA) applying to all other public employees including education support personnel in public schools.

There were legislative attacks on both the PNA and PEERA during this legislative session as conservatives sought to severely restrict or even deny collective bargaining rights for public employees.

For the PNA, there were bills to abolish exclusive representation and allow every employee to bargain a contract individually. There were proposals to restrict negotiations to only minimum salaries. But there was also a bill crafted by consensus of KNEA, KASB, USA/KS, and KSSA at the request of the 2013 legislature.

The consensus bill was introduced but ignored by the House Education Committee in favor of a proposal by a minority of the School Efficiency Commission (Dave Trabert, Mike O’Neal, Sam Williams, and Dennis DePew). The same thing happened in the Senate Education Committee where they worked anti-collective bargaining proposals from Senator Jeff Melcher (R-Leawood).

When those proposals hit the floor of each chamber, there was a move to gut them and replace the contents with the education community’s consensus plan. In the House, on a motion by Rep. Sue Boldra (R-Hays), the consensus bill was adopted in its entirety. Over in the Senate, on a motion by Sen. Tom Arpke (R-Salina) with support from Sen. Caryn Tyson (R-Parker) and Sen. Molly Baumgardner (R-Lousiburg), a bill almost identical to that in the House was approved. Both bills were then supported by KNEA, KASB, USA/KS, and KSSA.

There things sat for some time with neither chamber taking up the other’s bill.

Late in the session, the legislature was considering some necessary amendments to Senate Bill 7, the school finance bill passed earlier. These changes were put into HB 2353 and, during debate on the Senate floor, Senator Steve Abrams (R-Arkansas City) amended in the language that the Senate had passed earlier.

HB 2353 was eventually passed by both chambers and so beginning on July 1, 2015 the following changes to the PNA will take effect:

  • The notice date is changed from Feb. 1 to March 31,
  • The impasse date is changed from June 1 to July 31,
  • Each year the parties shall negotiate “compensation of professional employees and hours and amounts of work,”
  • In addition, “each party may select not more than three additional terms and conditions of professional service from the list” in current law.
  • “All other terms and conditions of professional service” in the current list “shall be deemed permissive topics for negotiation and shall only be negotiated upon the mutual agreement of the parties,” and
  • Both parties to the negotiation shall be required to receive training on conducting negotiations.

Senator Melcher’s proposal on PEERA (SB 179) would have essentially ended collective bargaining for state and municipal employees and school district personnel other than teachers. The Senate Commerce Committee coupled SB 179 with SB 212 and rolled them both together into HB 2096.

SB 212 would prohibit public employee organizations from using any money to participate in partisan or political activities and prohibit public employers from using payroll deduction to collect union dues. It was amended such that payroll deduction could not be used for any contribution that was not required as part of an employee benefits program.

When HB 2096 went to the Senate floor, Sen. Garrett Love (R-Montezuma) offered an amendment that would allow all payroll deductions except union dues. Love’s amendment failed and Senate leadership pulled the bill and sent it back to the Ways and Means Committee. That’s where the bill spent the rest of the session. It will be available to legislators in the 2016 session.

Use of Payroll Deduction

Senate Bill 212 which banned the use of payroll deduction for public employee union dues was rolled into HB 2096 and, after a brief floor debate, was sent back to committee where it sat for the remainder of the session. It will be available to legislators in the 2016 session. (See our write-up on collective bargaining to learn more about what happened to SB 212.)

School Finance

Yes, the legislature repealed the school finance formula that has been in place since 1992.

Why was this done? Well, one can only speculate on the rationale. Here are a few reasons that have been floated under the dome:

  • The 1992 formula is too complicated for legislators to understand (although SB 7, the block grant replacement, is equally complicated).
  • Many legislators believed that if the 1992 formula went away, so would the Gannon lawsuit. The thinking is that the lawsuit is over the 1992 formula and that’s gone so the lawsuit can’t continue.
  • A large percentage of legislators don’t support public education and this was a way out of giving any consideration for additional funding.

But whatever the rationale is, the 1992 formula is gone and has been replaced by a “block grant” proposal under which school districts for three years will get an amount of dollars roughly equal to what they got before it started. But the plain truth is that most school districts are getting less.

We are now waiting to see what the court has to say about this move. Some people believe they will stay SB 7 and keep the old formula in place until the dust settles on the lawsuit. Only time will tell.

The block grant has a number of serious flaws. Probably the most important is that it does not adjust for any enrollment changes from increases in enrollment to increased poverty, increases in ELL students, etc. With funding frozen for three years, we are certain to see some seriously negative consequences in the future.

KPERS Working After Retirement

The Legislature agreed on a bill amending the working after retirement rules governing KPERS retirees who return to work in a KPERS-covered position.

Changes adopted include:

  • Raising the earnings cap to $25,000,
  • Enacting restrictions on who can work after retirement in the schools.
  • Hiring retirees to work in KPERS covered professional positions will be allowed in special education and up to five areas identified as shortage areas by the State Board of Education and allow for special “hardship” positions identified by school districts that have tried to find new employees but cannot.
  • Current retirees working after retirement are grandfathered until 2017 when all retirees will be under the new rules.

The changes were in reaction to information that KPERS was taking a loss for every retiree between the ages of 55 and 62 who returns to work and that pre-arranged agreements jeopardized the tax status of KPERS. There was no appetite to simply lift the sunset on current rules and extend them.



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Sausage is Made!

Jun 12, 2015 by

There is an old saying among those who work under the domes of our nation: The two things you never want to see made are sausage and law. Last night and early this morning, we were clearly watching sausage.

It took until 4:00 am, but Governor Brownback and conservative House Republicans finally got their way. They approved a plan to almost balance the budget and to do so with a massive tax increase on the middle class and poor. The Brownback plan that exempts some 338,000 Kansas business owners from all income taxes stays intact. The Brownback plan that caps state revenue growth and uses new revenues to continue the so-called glide path to zero remains intact.

The result is a massive tax increase that acts as a band aid for one year and continues to starve the state into the future. We will find ourselves in the same deficit mess into the future.

Moderate Republicans and Democrats never caved in. They argued to the very end that the bill was unfair and unsustainable. They tried to convince others that the only way to fix the system was to dial back the exemptions for business that have put Kansas in this hole.

But as has become the custom in recent years, common sense in the legislature caves to ideological extremism, fear-mongering, sleep deprivation, and brow beating.

As the vote went up in the wee hours of the morning, the bill was failing. A call of the House was initiated and legislators were locked in the chamber until the 63rd vote was secured. That finally happened at about 4:00 am when Rep. Will Carpenter (R-El Dorado) cast the deciding vote.

Our readers will remember last year, April of 2014, when the session ended in the wee hours of the morning as, under the cover of dark, the Legislature hung anti-teacher and anti-public education policy amendments on the school finance bill and held Representatives hostage until it also passed with the minimum 63 votes.

It makes one wonder how good the policy in the bill really is if the only way to muster enough votes to approve it, you have to lock people in the room, depriving them of sleep and hammering them until the last one caves in.

They Made it Worse

What is really unbelievable is that the latest tax bill – the one the House just approved – is even worse than the one they killed the previous day. Based on the discussion, we believe that the bill:

Raises the sales tax to 6.55% but, unlike other versions of the bill, it does not offset that increase with a reduction in the food sales tax. This means that Kansas would have the highest food sales tax in the nation.

Additonally, while the last bill made alterations to the so-called ratchet provision under which any increases in revenue above a certain percentage would be used to further reduce income taxes, this bill lowered the ratchet point. It had been using all revenue over 3% growth for tax cuts; this bill calls for all revenue over 2.5% to be used for that purpose.

This bill also repeals the food sales tax credit for the poor. The last plan continued that credit.

Please note: We are basing the above on discussions and debate. The conference committee report that is available at this time is not the one voted on last night; the only one available at this time is from June 7. Until we can read the actual report, we cannot with absolute certainty verify the facts.

Of course, as one would believe, one of the problems with sausage making is working without a recipe – or in this case without the actual bill language – while you are making that sausage.

Senate Still Must Act

It’s not all over yet. The Senate still has to approve the conference committee report on HB 2109.

If the Senate approves the report, it will go to the Governor and the session is over. If not, we are back to square one. What happens then is anyone’s guess. The Legislature could go back and try to craft another plan. They could also just give up and let the Governor make budget cuts to balance the budget. The Senate could also vote the report down, then panic, reconsider and approve it.

The Senate convened at 10:00 this morning but quickly recessed until 2:00 this afternoon with plans for caucus meetings to discuss the plan scheduled for 1:00.

Read some editorial analysis of the mess in Topeka

Click here for the Kansas City Star – “That cackling sound is Gov. Sam Brownback having last laugh on Kansans.”

Click here for the Wichita Eagle – “Legislature, Brownback have failed the state”



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House Hits the Pause Button

Jun 11, 2015 by

The Tax Conference Committee met yesterday evening and put together yet another plan to bridge the budget gap of more than $400 million.
This plan includes two bills – HB 2109, the bill barely passed by the Senate, and SB 270, a “trailer bill” intended to address some of the concerns of the House. Both bills will have to be passed to enact the tax plan.
There were essentially three House concerns: the property tax cap on cities and counties needed a little more flexibility, the plans on repealing sales tax exemptions needed to have a few more that were not to be under review (schools and non-profit hospitals among them), and the voucher program need to require that students would attend an accredited school. They also wanted to keep the food sales tax credit for the poor.
The Senate agreed to all of the House concerns except the voucher requirement. Apparently Senate Republican leadership does not believe school accreditation is a good thing.
The plan then was to run SB 270 in the House, pass it and send it over to the Senate. The House would then take up HB 2109 while the Senate voted on SB 270. The House, if it passed HB 2109, would not send it to the Senate until the Senate had actually approved SB 270. In this way, if the Senate did not approve SB 270, HB 2109 would never go back to them and so the plan would essentially be dead.
The House had a relatively short debate on SB 270 and passed it with a vote of 66 to 49. Attention then turned to HB 2109.
Debate was pretty intense on this bill and when Tax Chairman Kleeb closed on his motion to adopt the conference committee report, the ayes came up short – the initial vote was 44 to 71, 19 votes short of the 63 required for passage.
A call of the House was enacted. The goal of this is to try to bring in as many of the missing Representatives as possible and then work to persuade others to change their votes to aye.
But Representatives were not interested in changing. At least initially. The call was going on for a long time. It was reported that Rep. Goico was on his way from Wichita.
The first change of vote was Rep. Kasha Kelley, going from aye to nay; she was followed shortly thereafter by John Bradford. The tally stood at 42 to 73 for a long time.
Shortly before midnight, the issue of the “Rubin Rule” was brought up. Under the Rubin Rule, the House may not work between the hours of midnight and 8:00 am unless they vote to do so. Rules Chair Barker told the body that they could simply stop for the night and reconvene at 8:00 continuing the call.
Once that announcement was made, the votes rapidly changed from aye to nay until the tally stood at 29 to 86. At midnight, Speaker Pro-Tem Peggy Mast announced they would hit the pause button and return at 8:00 to continue this call of the House and vote.
The Senate, not having yet taken up SB 270, was in caucus debating what to do next with some arguing that they should vote to send a message to the House. Others urged Senators to start calling their House counterparts, urging them to vote aye.
But in the end, Senate leadership simply decided to go home for the night and reconvene today at 10:00.
So there you have it. The House goes in on day 112 to continue a call of the House on HB 2109; the Senate goes in later to see what the House finally does.
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Sing Along! “I’ve got plenty of nothin’…”

Jun 10, 2015 by

What an Exciting Day Yesterday Was!

We showed up dutifully at 9:30 yesterday morning for the tax conference committee only to be told shortly before 10:00 that the meeting was postponed until 1:00.

Well, okay, we were able to get a little of the work piling up on our desk done since both the House and the Senate, having nothing to vote on, simply gaveled in and went on recess until 2:00.

We showed up dutifully at 1:00 for the meeting of the tax conference committee only to be told that it was now postponed until 4:00.

Well, okay, we were able to grab a bite and chat with our fellow lobbyists since both the House and the Senate, having nothing to vote on, simply gaveled in and went on recess until 5:00.

We showed up dutifully at 4:00 for the meeting of the tax conference committee only to be told that it was now postponed until 6:00.

Well, okay, we were able to quaff a cool ice tea and chat with our fellow lobbyists since both the House and the Senate, having nothing to vote on, simply gaveled in and went on recess.

The Senate then decided to give it up and go home for the night.

But we showed up dutifully at 6:00 for the meeting of the tax conference committee only to be told that it was now postponed until sometime today.

The House then decided to give it up and go home for the night.

What’s Going On?

The process continues mired in a debate among those that want businesses to pay their fair share of taxes, those that think businesses should be exempt from taxes and the budget should be balanced on the backs of the middle class and poor, and those that think there is no problem that can’t be solved by simply gutting state services including education.

Governor Brownback, whose reckless tax policy has caused this mess, vowed to veto any bill that reinstated income taxes on businesses. Now he says that if the legislature does not pass tax increases that fall the heaviest on the middle class and poor, he will just slash the budget, cutting nearly $200 million out of K-12 education, $50 million out of higher ed and another $200 million out of all other agencies including public safety and the social service safety net.

Twenty-one Republican Senators passed a tax increase that the House won’t support, and some of those Senators have been asking the House to reject the bill that they had passed.

Complicating things is the high absenteeism in the House. Over the past few days and nights they have had as many as 25 members missing and every vote not cast is the equivalent of a NO vote. We don’t know why there are so many absences; some have been recalled to their jobs having been granted the 90 days of leave needed for the 90 day session; some are farmers who have had to get crops in or risk losing their income.

And there’s Saline County. Their Senator, Tom Arpke (R) is on a cruise to Alaska and one of their Representatives, J.R. Claeys (R) is reported to be in Fiji. Thank goodness they still have Diana Dierks (R) who shows up every day to advocate for her constituents.

Don’t Worry, I’ll Fix It…

There is now talk under the dome that Brownback is suggesting the House pass the tax bill and then pass a “trailer bill” to fix their concerns.

Could this work? Well, let’s reflect back on 2012 when moderate Republican and Democratic Senators voted down Brownback’s tax plan. Then Senate President Steve Morris (R-Hugoton) was contacted by the Governor who urged him to muster the votes to pass the bill. According to Morris, the Governor assured him that the bill was flawed and would be fixed in a conference committee if the Senate could just send it there.

Morris and a few other moderate Republicans took the Governor at his word and changed their votes. The House then quickly agreed with the bill and sent it to the Governor who happily signed it.

The Governor himself then assisted in a largely successful effort to oust moderates from the Senate. Many moderate incumbents went down in defeat to tea party challengers supported by Brownback, the Kansas Chamber, Americans for Prosperity, and the Club for Growth.

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Yet Another Tax Bill Goes Down

Jun 6, 2015 by

This morning the tax conference committee met and produced two similar tax bills, deciding to keep things going in both chambers simultaneously in the hope that some plan can tax somewhere.

HB 2109, which had been debated for a while last night in the Senate, was tweaked and sent back to the floor. 

Debate was somewhat heated this afternoon with Senator Holland suggesting that they could get their work done if the special interests would just leave the building. He particularly called out the Kansas Chamber.

In the end, the bill, like others before it went down in flames, failing on a vote of 5 to 34. The bill was then sent back to conference.

Immediately afterwards, the Senate voted 39 to 0 to concur in House amendments to SB 11. This bill declares all state employees to be “essential” meaning that, if the Governor signs it, the furloughs are off. Unfortunately, they can work but are not necessarily going to get paid. They will, however, be able to file a claim against the state for wages.

Sometime this evening the House will take up SB 270, a tax bill very similar to the one just killed by the Senate. SB 270 also includes the tuition tax credit expansion. 

The Senate returns at 5:00.

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