Session adjourned, but what have we truly accomplished?

Apr 7, 2017 by

The Legislature has adjourned the regular session and your representatives are headed for home. The House, which was last to adjourn, was out by 11:54 am. Legislators will be home the rest of April and return to Topeka for the veto session – more commonly these days called the wrap-up session.


The biggest issues of the 2017 session remain unresolved.

  • They did pass a budget but it does not balance.
  • They failed to pass tax reform that will fund our vital state services going forward.
  • They have not yet passed a new school finance formula although it is assembled and awaits a vote in committee in May to send it to the floor for consideration.
  • They failed to expand Medicaid, denying 150,000 Kansans access to health care.

Their accomplishments? They successfully defended the National Rifle Association by ensuring that come July 1, 2017, Kansas community colleges, tech colleges, and universities will be wide open for firearms. Anyone can carry a firearm on any post-secondary campus at any time unless the campus can provide metal detectors and security staff at entrances. It didn’t matter that parent organizations, student organizations, faculty and college administration – even General Richard B. Myers, the retired military hero and current president of Kansas State University – wanted the law changed to allow campuses to control weapons. It only mattered that the NRA wants our campuses to be open to all guns all the time.  

The last attempt to address the guns on campus issue happened on Tuesday, April 4, when Rep. Jim Ward (R-Wichita) made a motion to bring a related gun bill to the floor for debate. Ward’s motion failed when it only got 44 votes. All 40 Democrats voted to bring the issue to the floor for debate; they were joined by only four Republicans – Rep. Shelee Brim (R-Shawnee), Rep. Stephanie Clayton (R-Overland Park), Rep. Melissa Rooker (R-Fairway), and Rep. Tom Sloan (R-Lawrence).

They also successfully declared pornography to be a public health issue in Kansas and prohibited Kansas from doing business with any company that is boycotting Israel.

Brownback State of the State

So, despite the reality in Kansas today – a reality in which Gov. Brownback remains the most unpopular governor in the United States with overwhelming public opposition to the tax disaster he forced upon Kansas in 2012 – the legislature has been unable to muster enough votes to override his vetoes of reasonable tax reform and the expansion of Medicaid, leaving Brownback to believe his ideology and policies are invincible. He will continue to cling to his failed policies as long as the legislature remains unwilling to stand up for their constituents.

The attitude of the obstructionists in the legislature can best be seen in the comments and votes of Rep. Brenda Landwehr (R-Wichita). After voting to sustain the Governor’s veto of Medicaid expansion, she told the press that the state just did not have the money to do this. Yet earlier in the session, Landwehr voted NO on HB 2178, the first comprehensive tax reform bill that would have reversed much of the Brownback disaster. And she then voted NO on the motion to override his veto of that bill. The argument that the state does not have the money would sound more honest if she had actually joined with those who were trying to solve the money problem.

While HB 2178 would have been a great step in the right direction, with the subsequent Supreme Court ruling in the Gannon school finance case, we know now that it would not have gone far enough. Since then, the legislature has done nothing serious to return to common sense tax policy. They have sent out bills to raise cigarette and liquor taxes, they have thought about motor fuels tax increases, and yesterday after the Governor expressed support for a “flat tax” bill, the Senate defeated that bill on a vote of 3-37. KNEA opposes the flat tax bill because it radically raised taxes on low and middle-income Kansans while essentially protecting the wealthiest. The flat tax bill would have been a massive tax increase on lower income individuals and a minor tax increase on the wealthiest.

There is a way out of this disaster but it takes some courage. Some legislators are now floating the idea of repealing the 2012 tax cuts and going back to the income tax as it was before Brownback conned the legislature into passing his disastrous experiment. These legislators would end the glide path to zero, and put 330,000 businesses back on the tax rolls while reinstating their business loss deduction. They would reinstate the third tax bracket on higher income individuals while providing middle-class relief by reinstating deductions for child and dependent care, medical expenses, and home mortgage interest.

A proposal of this sort would raise enough revenue to bring our state back from the abyss and allow the legislature to stop robbing the highway fund, to respond appropriately to the Gannon decision, and even expand Medicaid.

We are well past the time for gimmicks and protecting a failed Governor. When the legislature returns on May 1 their first order of business needs to be reversing the failed tax policies of 2012 and 2013. And they need to find the resolve to stand up to the bully on the second floor in order to save this great state.

Your legislators will be back home from now until May 1. It is critical that they hear from their constituents; from Kansans who want good roads, excellent schools, and support for those facing difficult challenges. Tell your legislators that you’ve had enough of the Brownback experiment. It is a failed experiment and it is time to reverse it.

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K-12 Committee Finishes Finance Plan Bill

Apr 5, 2017 by

The House K-12 Education Budget Committee met this afternoon to finish their amendments to HB 2410. They began with opening comments by Chairman Larry Campbell (R-Olathe). Campbell said it was his intention to finish the amendment/debate work today but not to pass the bill out of committee. Instead, he hopes that the three-week legislative break in April will allow stakeholder groups, other legislators, legislative counsel, and the revisor’s office to thoroughly digest the bill. The Committee will then meet at the start of the veto session in May and “kick it out” of committee.

The first amendment to be taken up was Rep. Adam Smith’s (R-Weskan) amendment on transportation that was on hold since last week. Working with the Department of Education, Smith adjusted his amendment such that an algebra issue is fixed but he added a hold harmless provision so no districts lose money. About 25 districts will gain. The amendment was adopted. KNEA supports a hold harmless provision.

The next amendment adopted was from Rep. Jim Karleskint (R-Tonganoxie). It changed the corporate tuition tax credit program so that eligible students would have to be from one of the schools in the lowest quartile of student achievement as determined by the KSDE. This would triple the number of schools from which eligible students may be chosen. With other amendments adopted last week, the program would limit eligible students to those direct certified by DCF as in poverty and limit receiving private schools to accredited schools that outperform the state average on either post-secondary success or ACT composite scores. KNEA opposes expansion of eligible schools and supports limiting schools to SBOE accredited schools; KNEA supports repeal of the program in its entirety.

Next were a series of amendments offered by Clay Aurand (R-Belleville). The first would disallow virtual students from out of district to be counted for the calculation of assessed valuation per pupil. This would reduce capital outlay and LOB aid (more on that in a minute) because only resident students would count in the calculation and would save the state about $3.8 million. This amendment was adopted.

Next Aurand moved to distribute the $3.8 million in savings over to career and technical education programs. This amendment failed.

Aurand’s next amendment, which passed, changes the name of the LOB from “Local Option Budget” to “Local Foundation Budget.” He asserted that this more accurately represents the fact that the LOB morphed from extra money to de facto base aid. So the LOB (mentioned above) will now be called the LFB if the bill passes.

A subsequent amendment by Aurand to require an election for any LFB funding above 30% (the last 3%) failed on a vote of 7 to 9.

With all of these amendments now disposed of, they got on to the big issue – the setting of the base state aid per pupil.

Rep. Melissa Rooker (R-Fairway) moved to set the base at $4040/pupil in the first year at a cost of $172 million. The base would be increased by $200 per pupil in each of the succeeding 4 years at a cost of $150 million per year. This would be a total increase of $772 million over five years. There was an 8 to 8 tie vote which was broken by the Chairman who voted no. The motion failed.

Rooker then moved to set the base at $4006/pupil in the first year at a cost of $150 million. The base would be increased by $200/pupil in each of the succeeding 4 years at a cost of $150 million per year. This would be a total increase of $750 million over five years. This motion was adopted by a vote of 9 to 6.

With the bill finished, Campbell announced that the final written product would be available sometime over the next couple of days and posted on the KSDE website along with cost runs developed by the Department.


Governor Inserting Himself in Tax Debate

The news out today on the tax reform debate is that the Governor – who created the disastrous tax experiment that has left Kansas on the brink of bankruptcy – has decided to create a new tax plan.

Word was that this plan would include keeping two brackets and mixing in a little cigarette and liquor taxes. No word on his intentions on the LLC loophole or the glide path to zero but we assume he would not dare to reverse his signature tax policies. His plan was to skirt the full Senate and House and send his plan straight to a tax conference committee, letting only six legislators have any real say in the plan.

That did not go over well with any members of the Republican caucus. Senators on the conservative and moderate sides of the caucus both blasted the idea of cutting them out of the discussion.

Now the Governor has announced that he would sign a flat tax bill should the legislature send him one. Of course, a flat tax punishes middle and low-income Kansans for the benefit of the wealthy (MORE HERE) and would do nothing to solve the disaster brought on by the Governor’s last tax plan.

Kansas needs tax reform that will reverse the Governor’s failed experiment. End the glide path to zero, repeal the LLC loophole, re-establish the third tax bracket for upper-income Kansans. Kansas desperately needs revenue to put highway maintenance back on track, to hire correctional officers and highway patrol officers, to fund the social service safety net, and to respond appropriately to the Supreme Court decision on school finance. No plan proposed yet this session would do this.

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School Finance Bill Coming Together, Brownback Support Rock-Bottom and Falling, Fighting for Medicaid Expansion

Mar 31, 2017 by

The House K-12 Education Budget Committee worked until nearly 9:00 last night taking up amendments to HB 2410, the school finance bill.

Amendment after amendment, the debate went on through the afternoon and into the night and most of those amendments were adopted. Here are changes made yesterday:

  • The bill changed the LOB into three local levies, the Local Foundation Budget up to 20% a portion of which had to be transferred to bilingual and at-risk programs, the Local Enhancement Budget up to 5% that could be used for anything, and the Local Activities Budget up to 4% that had to be used for non-instructional purposes. A motion by Rep. Fred Patton (R-Topeka) replaced all three with a 33% LOB as in the prior formula. KNEA supports this change.
  • The bill phased in all-day kindergarten over three years. On a motion by Rep. Clay Aurand (R-Belleville), all day kindergarten would become effective next year. KNEA supports this change.
  • A motion by Rep. Melissa Rooker (R-Fairway) added $2 million in 2018 and another $2 million in 2019 for preschool at-risk programs. KNEA supports this change.
  • Two motions by Rep. Jim Karleskint (R-Tonganoxie) added $800,000 for new teacher mentoring and $1.7 million for teacher professional development. KNEA supports both changes.
  • The bill had a five-year limit on bilingual aid for individual students. An amendment by Rep. Larry Campbell (R-Olathe) removed this limit. KNEA supports the change.
  • A motion by Rep. Ed Trimmer (D-Winfield) to return bilingual weighting to the contact hours formula in prior law was changed by a substitute amendment from Rep. Aurand to distribute bilingual aid by FTE with a weighting of 0.185. While this results in no loss of overall bilingual funding, school districts that have successfully recruited bilingually licensed teachers will lose funding while those that have few such teachers will gain. KNEA supports a blended method that both funds students and encourages recruitment and retention of bilingually licensed teachers.
  • Vocational weighting was not included in the bill. Instead, the bill would require districts to transfer $100/FTE to a career and post-secondary education fund to be used for vocational programs and dual credit opportunities. A motion by Aurand to require a $50/FTE transfer in 2018 and a $100/FTE transfer in 2019 with a vocational “hold harmless” provision failed. A subsequent motion by Karleskint to return to the prior vocational weighting and calling on the SBOE to study the cost of vocational programs for future funding considerations was adopted. KNEA supports this change.
  • On capital outlay funding, a motion by Campbell to allow capital outlay funds to be spent on utilities was adopted while a motion by Rooker to exempt capital outlay levies from future TIF (redevelopment) projects failed. KNEA supported both amendments.
  • An amendment by Rep. Brenda Landwehr (R-Wichita) to require a uniform accounting system with more detailed reporting to the state failed. KNEA is neutral on this amendment. KASB and school districts have opposed it.
  • The bill required two student enrollment count dates (9/20 and 2/20) and used the average for determining funding. It also included a complicated three-year formula for examining enrollment going forward. A motion by Rep. Adam Smith (R-Weskan) returned the enrollment count to a single time (9/20) with a second count (2/20) for military dependent children. KNEA supports this change.
  • The bill changed the corporate tuition tax credit (voucher) program by expanding the rules for student eligibility but then limiting the private schools’ families could choose to those accredited by the SBOE and that either exceed the trendline for post-secondary success or have an ACT composite above the state average. An amendment by Trimmer to remove the eligibility expansion and sunset the program in five years was not adopted. Instead, a substitute motion by Aurand that would remove the eligibility expansion and require students to be “direct-certified” by the Department of Children and Families while maintaining the new limits on eligible schools was adopted. KNEA remains opposed to the program but believes these changes are improvements.

There were a few other amendments that failed and resulted in no changes to the underlying bill.

At the conclusion of last night’s work, the committee was recessed – not adjourned – because one amendment was still under discussion and will be taken up again on Monday. That amendment by Rep. Adam Smith would return the transportation formula back to the prior law. Under the bill, the transportation formula was changed to address what is called “the algebra error” identified by the Division of Legislative Post Audit. There has long been a math error in the formula and correcting that error will cause school districts to lose transportation funding. Legislative staffers were directed to find a way to fix the math error and make adjustments so that schools will not lose funding. On Monday they will return to this amendment and see if it’s possible to do so.

Monday may also see some additional amendments specific to funding amounts. The intent of those offering and adopting amendments is to end up with a bill that will provide $150 million in new funding each year for five years for a total of $750 million new dollars.

Monday, then, is the big day. We expect that the Committee will send out their final product at the conclusion of their Monday meeting. At that time, we will examine the bill in its entirety to determine our position. We applaud the Committee for their hard work yesterday. The bill is dramatically better than it was when the committee convened at 1:00.


New Polling Shows Broad Public Support for Increased School Funding

In a press conference today, the Kansas Center for Economic Growth released the results of a new poll gauging public support for Governor Brownback, the Brownback tax policies, and public school funding.

The results back up what we suspected. Governor Brownback remains very unpopular, few Kansans support his 2012 tax plan and want the legislature to reverse it, and a whopping 83% of Kansans want greater funding for public education.  More key findings from the KCEG poll and a full breakdown of the school funding support data follows:

  • Kansans are deeply dissatisfied with both Gov. Brownback and his signature tax plan. Two-thirds of Kansas voters disapprove of the governor’s job performance, with 67 percent who disapprove, and 54 percent who strongly disapprove. Those numbers are nearly identical to discontent with his tax policy (67 percent oppose it and 51 percent strongly oppose it).
  • Nearly all Kansas voters are worried the state is not investing enough in public education. Eighty-five percent of Kansas voters feel concerned about the state’s level of spending on public education. Without comprehensive tax reform, lawmakers cannot restore funding to classrooms.
  • There is broad consensus that the Brownback tax plan harmed the Kansas economy and should be repealed. Seventy-three percent of voters feel the governor’s tax policy hurt the Kansas economy, while 64 percent of Kansans support rolling back the Brownback plan.


More Action Needed to Override the Governor’s VETO of Medicaid Expansion

Several representatives will be holding morning coffee Q&A’s along with town halls this weekend.  Contact your Rep’s office and find out if yours will be holding just such an event.  Regardless, we encourage you to use the following link to the Alliance for a Healthy Kansas website where you can take action to contact your Reps and encourage them to vote YES to override the Governor’s VETO.

CLICK HERE TO TAKE ACTION TO EXPAND MEDICAID
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First Legislative Day Post Gannon!

Mar 6, 2017 by

The Gannon School finance decision landed on the mid-term break while legislators were back home.

As most people expected, the decision went against the state and the Kansas Legislature is once again being called upon to step up to the plate and provide adequate financing for the educational interests of the state.

Our past experience shows us that the first week or so after such a decision is dedicated to complaining, attacking the justices, and trying to convince the voters that the state should never have lost. But our past experience appears not to be playing out as the reality of 2017.

Legislators have returned to work and, while today was a rather slow day, there was very little talk about the challenges of complying with the court.

Some – like Governor Brownback and Rep. John Whitmer – have decided that since the decision used the achievement gap as part of the justification, the solution is to drain more money out of the public school system and send it to private and religious academies. But more legislators are taking a different tack and calling for a rolling up of sleeves and getting down to work.

That was certainly the air in the House K-12 Education Budget Committee which had a meeting to discuss at-risk funding and how to best meet the needs of challenging students in the new formula. Chairman Larry Campbell (R-Olathe) seems determined to get to work at putting together the new formula as soon as possible. They’ve already had hearings on several new formula ideas and have examined all aspects of funding and student need. We expect this committee to get to work assembling a plan very soon.

But there are at least two other issues to solve before we are out of the session.

The first is what to do about revenue. Kansas is facing a nearly $300 million shortfall for the rest of this fiscal year and a shortfall of some $500 million or more in the next fiscal year. And these figures don’t account for any increase in school funding in response to the court decision. The Governor vetoed the first bill to try to responsibly deal with revenue in the out years (HB 2178) and while the House voted to override his veto the same effort in the Senate came up three votes short.

The Senate has since crafted another bill very similar to HB 2178 but not applied retroactively. Unfortunately this bill slashes the revenue produced by about $100 million so it will not solve the problem going forward.

What the Legislature simply must do now – and soon – is craft a tax bill that raises sufficient revenue to both close the current hole in the next fiscal year and provide for an increase in school funding to satisfy the Court. However they do this, three things are musts – they must repeal the “glide path to zero” formula that would end income taxes entirely, they must repeal the LLC loophole that allows 330,000 Kansas business owners to pay no income tax at all, and they must add at least one more income tax bracket at higher income levels so that all are paying their fair share. Sadly, Brownback seems determined to stick with his failed tax system and so both chambers need to be ready to override his veto.

The next challenge is how to fund the rest of this fiscal year. Again, the House is leading the way by passing a bill to liquidate the pooled money investment portfolio. While this action would create a repayment obligation for several years, it would generate enough money to get Kansas out of the current shortfall without having to make additional cuts to services. The repayment obligation can be taken into consideration in putting together the new tax plan. This bill (HB 2161) is now in Senate hands.

The challenges are tremendous but they are not insurmountable. The House has already shown a willingness to get the job done; a majority in the Senate has as well. But we need to work to get the super-majorities necessary for veto override votes if we really want to come out of mess created by Brownback and his allies in 2012-13. The voters did a lot of the heavy lifting in August and November when they ousted so many of those who supported Brownback and replaced them with common sense moderate Republicans and Democrats. Now we just need to be there to help these new folks get the job done.

As this session moves forward, we urge you to be faithful readers and stay ready to take action. We depend on you to help persuade your legislators to get on board.

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House Trying to Solve Things; Senate Kills a Tax Plan; IMPORTANT ACTION NEEDED TOMORROW

Feb 16, 2017 by

Post Highlights

  • The House today voted 76-48 on final action to pass Sub for HB 2178, the tax bill that adds a third income tax bracket, adjusts rates, repeals the LLC loophole, and ends the glide path to zero. KNEA supports this bill.
  • After finishing with Sub for HB 2178, the House went on general orders to debate new bills.
  • The Senate, having earlier this session abandoned a scheduled debate on a tax plan forwarded to the full body by the Assessment and Taxation Committee, today took up SB 188, an alternative tax plan put forth by the Senate Democrats.
  • On a roll call vote to advance the bill to final action, the bill failed 10-38.
  • Tomorrow’s Under the Dome will include several ways for you to express your commitment to Kansas students while encouraging House Education Committee Chairman Clay Aurand to permit his committee to vote on HB 2179 restoring due process rights for K-12 teachers.
  • We need you and those in your community to watch for tomorrow’s edition of Under the Dome and be prepared to share the information and to TAKE ACTION.

House in a Mood to Fix Things

The House today voted 76-48 on final action to pass Sub for HB 2178, the tax bill that adds a third income tax bracket, adjusts rates, repeals the LLC loophole, and ends the glide path to zero. KNEA supports this bill. It represents the first vote of the full chamber to dismantle the reckless and irresponsible Brownback tax policies adopted in 2012-13.

Six legislators who voted YES yesterday switched to NO today. They are Alcala, Clark, Dove, Good, Mason, and Rahjes. Mastroni and DeGraaf, who were absent yesterday, voted NO. And Resman who replaced Kiegerl on his retirement yesterday also voted NO.

The bill now goes to the full Senate.

After finishing with Sub for HB 2178, the House went on general orders to debate new bills. First up was HB 2161 which would liquidate the pooled money investment portfolio. This is a way to get Kansas out of the 2017 budget hole without cutting state services including education. If adopted it would generate over $300 million but would require a $45 million per year expenditure to pay it back.

If coupled with a serious tax reform bill, it is a solution to the crisis we face at the moment. Kansas gets the money it needs to fill the hole in FY 2017 by passing HB 2161 but must also pass a tax bill that generates enough revenue to fill the holes in FY 2018 and 2019 and include funds to repay this money.

This is the path that the House is on now with the passage of the tax bill and possible passage of HB 2161. The bill was advanced to final action on a voice vote today; the final action vote will take place tomorrow.


Senate Debates a New Tax Bill

The Senate, having earlier this session abandoned a scheduled debate on a tax plan forwarded to the full body by the Assessment and Taxation Committee, today took up SB 188, an alternative tax plan put forth by the Senate Democrats.

This bill would have ended the glide path to zero income taxes, added a third income tax bracket and adjusted rates, repealed the LLC loophole, and reinstated previously repealed or reduced income tax deductions.

Like Sub for HB 2178, this was a good step toward getting Kansas back on the road to prosperity and KNEA supported the bill.

On a roll call vote to advance the bill to final action, the bill failed 10-38.

This likely tees up a floor debate on Sub for HB 2178. It is expected that this bill will be referred directly to the committee of the whole (sent to the floor) for debate.


IMPORTANT ACTION NEEDED TOMORROW:

On Monday, Feb. 20, 2017, House Education Committee Chairman Clay Aurand will have an opportunity to honor the legislative process and allow his committee to vote on HB 2179 reinstating due process rights for K-12 teachers.  Tomorrow’s Under the Dome will include several ways for you to express your commitment to Kansas students while encouraging Chairman Aurand to permit his committee to vote on this bill.

Legislators elected to serve the citizens of Kansas deserve the opportunity to do so and should not be disallowed from participating in a fair democratic process at the will and whim of the Chairman (see “Sham Hearing on Due Process”).  We need you and those in your community to watch for tomorrow’s edition of Under the Dome and be prepared to share the information and to TAKE ACTION.

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