Still Gathering Info; Thinking About the Prospects

Jan 17, 2018 by

KSEdTalk- LEGISLATIVE LANDSCAPE 2018, CLICK HERE TO LISTEN

These early days of a legislative session leave us wondering what we have to report to you every day! Legislators might be thought of as “hunter/gatherers.” While hunting for ideas and solutions, the spend a lot of time gathering information.

So it has been so far this year. In the committees we follow most closely – Appropriations, Ways and Means, the Tax Committees, the Education Committees, and the Education Budget Committees – we have been treated to many of the same presentations. These include:

  • Reviews of the impact of SB 19, the tax bill passed last session. What we know- Things are looking up but it’s still early – we should know a lot by April. And the new federal tax bill is likely to help make our revenue picture a “wild ride” (legislative staff said that not us!) with the first impact being a large influx of income tax cash as taxpayers sent in their last estimated tax payments in December rather than January to ensure those payments could still be deductible on their 2017 federal income tax form.
  • Reviews of the deliberations of the Special Committee on a Comprehensive Response to the School Finance Decision. This committee assembled a collection of data but chose not to forward any recommendations to the full legislature. The most talked about part of their report is their study of the impact of an 18% cut to all state agencies except K-12 education as a means of raising the $600 million they believe is needed to meet the Court’s ruling.
  • Reviews of the evolution of the education article in the Kansas Constitution (Article VI). The current language was drafted by a legislative committee in 1965 and by the public in 1966. Prior to 1966, it was the language of the Wyandotte Constitution. A number of legislators have been floating the idea of pressing a constitutional amendment to stop the Supreme Court from determining the school funding formula to be unconstitutional on the basis of adequacy.
  • Reviews for recent changes to KPERS including the impact on the unfunded actuarial liability of withholding state KPERS contributions as part of balancing the budget.
  • Presentations by Education Commissioner Randy Watson on the state of education in Kansas today.

It’s a lot of data!

 Is $600 million the number?

It would seem that $600 million is the number under the dome. The Governor proposed $600 million, meeting the SBOE or the three-judge panel recommendations would take about $600 million, the Special Committee premised their discussion including consideration of budget cuts to raise $600 million, so it sounds a lot like consensus. (We recognize that there is a core group of legislators who don’t want to increase school funding at all.)

But of course, at the same time, the legislature has contracted for a new school funding study. That study is expected to be presented to the legislature on March 15. And that’s another problem.

The Court expects briefs to be filed on April 30. Attorney General Schmidt and the state’s attorney, Art Chalmers, both asked the legislature to finish their work by March 1 in order to meet that deadline. A few legislators have begun to float the idea of waiting until that study is complete. But to do so would jeopardize their ability to argue in the Supreme Court.

There are several things the legislature needs to do to get this task accomplished.

  • They need to deal with the four unconstitutional inequities in the new formula. This is a relatively easy task and Rep. Melissa Rooker (R-Fairway) has already filed a bill to fix those problems (HB 2445).
  • With that done, they can focus on the level of funding they need. Again, the SBOE, the three-judge panel, and the Governor have all indicated about $600 million.
  • They need to decide how to put that money into the system. The Governor suggested a five-year phase-in. We don’t know if the Court will accept a time frame of that length but most people agree there will be some kind of phase-in.
  • And finally, they need to make sure the money is available. They must show the Court that they are serious by presenting evidence that the money for a phase-in will actually be there. This might take additional revenue measures and it will certainly include evidence of increasing revenue collections.

These are the discussions we hope to see beginning very soon.

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Talking Taxes and One Senator Wants to Block the Court

Dec 8, 2017 by

Lots to Think About Vis-a-Vis Taxes

The 2017 Joint Committee on Assessment and Taxation met for a day and a half this week to gather information that may guide the work of the 2018 Legislature as they continue to grapple with tax policy.

The Committee members are Rep. Steven Johnson, Chair (R-Assaria), Sen. Caryn Tyson, Vice-chair (R-Lousiburg), Senators Tom Holland (D-Baldwin City) and Dan Kerschen (R-Garden Plain) and Representatives Ken Corbet (R-Topeka), Tom Sawyer (D-Wichita), and Kristey Williams (R-Augusta).

They started by reviewing how tax collections have been going since the passage of SB 30, the bill rescinding the Brownback tax plan. It was noted that while things are looking better – income tax collections are trending upward as are sales tax collections – it was too early to see what the ultimate impact might be. Staff repeatedly told the committee that they would have a much better view once income taxes are filed in April.

Another issue examined was the impact of economic development incentive programs (STAR bonds, PEAK, and HPIP) and how effective Kansas is in analyzing the impact of these credits and incentives. The three eco-devo programs listed above resulted in a diversion of $121 million/year from the state general fund. A study by the Legislative Post Audit Division found that Kansas, unlike our neighbors in Oklahoma, Nebraska, Colorado, and Missouri, has no program in place for measuring the impact of such programs or ensuring that lawmakers understand and act upon the analysis of these programs. Members of the committee expressed interest in improving in this area.

The sales tax was examined for a number of issues. One is the enormous list of sales tax exemptions in state law. Many of those exemptions are required by the federal government or are there to prevent double taxation but it was noted that perhaps Kansas has been too generous in granting additional exemptions. The impact of internet sales on sales tax collections in Kansas was also studied. The US Supreme Court ruled a number of years ago that states could not impose the tax on companies that did not have a physical presence in the state. A number of states, including Kansas, have tried to persuade Congress to take action on this issue to no avail. Currently, there are efforts in other states, notably South Dakota and Massachusetts to find other ways to solve this issue. Technological advances since the initial Supreme Court ruling have made it easy for vendors to charge and remit destination based sales taxes.

The other big issue discussed was the property tax lid passed by the legislature. Under the lid, cities and counties are unable to increase property tax collections beyond the rate of inflation without a vote of the electorate. This has tied the hands of city and county commissioners as they try to deal with local needs and in particular the cost of employee health benefits. Sen. Tyson went on the offense against representatives of cities and counties alleging that they were not following the cap. A Douglas County resident had complained to her that property taxes went up by 10%.

What these legislators fail to understand is that some things are exempt under the lid (public safety) and that the lid does not apply to USD’s. Lawrence USD 497 in Douglas County, for example, passed a large bond issue and had to raise collections under their LOB based on changes in the finance formula. It makes sense that in some places property taxes would still increase overall beyond the CPI limit.

Committee staff will now prepare a report of their findings to go to the Senate and House Tax Committees as the 2018 session starts.

Senator Dennis Pyle Wants to Subvert the Court

Senator Dennis Pyle (R-Hiawatha) who is not known for supporting public education, has proposed a measure to strip the Supreme Court of any authority that would force the legislature to suitably fund public education in Kansas.

The Court, in the Gannon School Finance Decision, said they were no longer going to be party to continuing an unconstitutional system of funding. This has been widely interpreted to mean that if the legislature does not fix the school finance system such that it is both adequately and equitably financed, then the Court would prohibit distribution of funds to schools in an unconstitutional system. Schools would close until the formula was constitutional.

This threat is the only thing that will force the Legislature to move to fix the system. Without the ability to block the funding and close schools, the Legislature can feel free to ignore the Court decision.

Pyle’s proposal would be a constitutional amendment that must get a 2/3 super-majority vote in both the House and Senate and then be approved by the voters. He wants this fast-tracked so it could beat the Supreme Court’s April 30 deadline for briefs on whatever the Legislature passes this year. And if Senator Pyle remains true to form, he won’t support anything that solves the funding issue.

Click here to read the KC Star’s reporting on the Pyle proposal.

 

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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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Yes, Virginia, There Is An End In Sight

Jun 9, 2017 by

What’s going on, you might wonder. For example, why hasn’t Governor Brownback either signed or vetoed the school finance bill (SB 19)?

Well, we’ve learned that the school finance bill has only reached the Governor’s desk today – why, we don’t know – and he now has 10 days to either sign it or veto it or let it become law without his signature.

All of this is disappointing because every day delayed is another day that the Supreme Court no longer has to consider the bill.

As for the budget, there are very few things in there that are addressed in the KNEA legislative agenda. There are a few KPERS provisions – one to study how much KPERS has invested in “pay day lender” businesses and others dealing with paying back the funds delayed or simply not paid to KPERS by the state. The only other education provision is one requiring the School for the Deaf and the School for the Blind to each have their own superintendent with the requirement that the KSD superintendent know American Sign Language. The K-12 budget is contained in SB 19, the school finance bill.

Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning (R-Overland Park) today intimated that if the budget negotiations in conference committee were not wrapped up by noon, then the legislature would have no option but to meet on Saturday to wrap up their work. In other words, look for things to go into Saturday for the wrap up.

We are today on day 111 of the traditional 90 day session, pushing the record. The record longest session in Kansas history was in 2015 when it went for 114 days. We’re getting close. If they wrap up on day 112 tomorrow or even day 111 today, the 2017 session would be second longest in state history!

UPDATE: By 3:10 the Senate Majority Leader announced that the Senate would not take any further action today and would determine their starting time tomorrow based on the progress made by the budget conference committee. We anticipate the House will do the same when they reconvene at 4:00 this afternoon.

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It Really is Sunrise in Kansas!

Jun 7, 2017 by

Good happens!

House and Senate majorities on Monday night passed comprehensive tax reform (SB 30). They restored the three income tax brackets and repealed both the glide path to zero and the LLC income tax loophole. They also began the restoration of income tax deductions that help middle and low income families, including medical expenses, child and dependent care expenses, and property taxes paid.

The debate and bill passage were not easy. Some legislators are dug firmly into the position that all taxes and all government services are bad – one Senator even suggested that if you need a service like education, then you should pay for it yourself. But in the end, a majority in both the House and Senate voted to support tax reform. Unfortunately, those majorities were not strong enough to support an effort to override a veto. They fell one vote short in the Senate and 15 in the House.

Governor Brownback did not take long to announce that he would veto the plan because, in his world, his tax experiment is working. Despite all evidence to the contrary, he truly believe his experiment is working.

He vetoed the bill on Tuesday and that night, the Senate took up a motion by Senate Vice President Jeff Longbine (R-Emporia) to override the veto and pass the bill. A roll call vote in the Senate is conducted by calling each Senator’s name and they respond Aye or No. It was the last Senator called who put the bill over the top on the override. Senator Rick Wilborn (R-McPherson), who had voted No on Monday night, voted Yes on the override assuring that it passed.

Those voting NO on the override were Republicans Alley (Winfield), Baumgardner (Louisburg), Fitzgerald (Leavenworth), Hilderbrand (Galena), Lynn (Olathe), Masterson (Andover), Olson (Olathe), Petersen (Wichita), Pilcher-Cook (Shawnee), Pyle (Hiawatha), Suellentrop (Wichita), Tyson (Parker), and Wagle (Wichita).

The veto message then went to the House, where Tax Committee Chairman Steven Johnson (R-Assaria) made the motion to override the veto.

Again, the debate focused mostly around the idea that Kansas “has a spending problem, not a revenue problem,” despite the fact that revenues continue to decline and we have had multiple rounds of budget cuts since 2012.

Moving the House to override was a much bigger task than in the Senate since we had to find 15 members willing to override in addition to the 69 who voted for the bill initially. In the House, roll call votes are done when legislators press a red (for no) or green (for yes) button on their desks. Their names light up in red or green on the vote board. The initial vote came up with 84 Yes votes – just enough to override. Some legislators explained their votes and then four more moved to the Yes column. The final House vote was 88 yes to 31 no.

One legislator, Joe Seiwert (R-Pretty Prairie), voted “present.” Rep. Shannon Francis (R-Liberal) did not vote. Four others – John Barker (R-Abilene), Trevor Jacobs (R-Fort Scott), Les Mason (R-McPherson), and Jack Thimesch (R-Spivey) – were on excused absences.

Those voting NO on the override were Republicans Arnberger (Great Bend), Awerkamp (St. Mary’s), Blex (Independence), Burris (Mulvane), Carpenter (Derby), Claeys (Salina), Corbet (Topeka), Delperdang (Wichita), Dove (Bonner Springs), Ellis (Meriden), Esau (Olathe), Garber (Sabetha), Highland (Wamego), Hoffman (Coldwater), Houser (Columbus), Huebert (Valley Center), Humphries (Wichita), Jones (Wellsville), Landwehr (Wichita), Osterman (Wichita), Powell (Olathe), Rahjes (Agra), Resman (Olathe), Schwab (Olathe), Eric Smith (Burlington), Sutton (Gardner), Vickrey (Louisburg), Weber (Wichita), Whitmer (Wichita), and Williams (Augusta). Also voting NO was Democrat Henderson (Kansas City).

This action puts tax reform to rest for the session. But there is still more to be accomplished.

School Finance Passed But Will It Be Vetoed?

The school finance plan has passed, as we reported yesterday, and is sitting on the Governor’s desk awaiting his decision. So far, Brownback has not given any indication as to whether or not he will sign the bill and let it be sent on to the Supreme Court for review.

While KNEA does not believe the bill will meet constitutional muster, it is important that action be taken on it as quickly as possible. If he intends to veto it, he needs to do it now so the legislature can either override the veto or get to work immediately on an alternative. If he intends to sign it, it should be done now to give the Supreme Court time to review the bill and hear arguments on its pros and cons.

Hopefully a decision will be made soon. Perhaps even before you read this!

What makes us think this bill (SB 19) will not satisfy the Court? Primarily, we believe it will not meet adequacy of overall funding. While most of the policy forms a solid finance formula, the funding amount is far below what the State Board has indicated is needed and will certainly not be adequate in the eyes of the plaintiffs.

Additionally, there are legitimate concerns about how some provisions will impact required equalization. Last year, the Court sent the legislature back to fix equalization issues. This year, some are questioning new provisions regarding the false base for LOB which, under the bill, grows with the CPI-U and a provision on expanded spending authority under capital outlay. The Court may agree that these provisions are disequalizing and reject them. It is unclear whether the Court could separate them from the whole bill or not.

Longest Session Ever?

Well, not yet. The longest Kansas Legislative Session ever was the 2015 session, which lasted 114 days. Today is day 110 for the 2017 session so we’re pushing it now.

We believe it will be over before breaking the record, but it really depends on how the Governor deals with that school finance bill. If it’s vetoed, we could very well move beyond 114.

 

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