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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Taxes, Due Process, & Tempers that Flare; Just Another Day Under the Dome

Feb 15, 2017 by

Post Highlights

  • KNEA supports House tax bill believing there is room for improvement, but it is a good first step.
  • The bill repeals the LLC income tax loophole beginning with tax year 2017, ends the glide path to zero income taxes, and sets three income tax brackets at 2.70 percent, 5.25 percent, and 5.45 percent.
  • This was our first chance to see how the moderate Republicans and Democrats would cooperate and they did not disappoint.
  • Fallout continues from yesterday’s House Education Committee hearing on due process.
  • Aurand’s announcement that he did not plan to work the bill at all angered not only the proponents who testified in the hearing but also the majority of committee members who are ready and willing to pass the bill.
  • Leaders from KNEA (bill proponent) and KASB (bill opponent) met to discuss concerns and look for a path forward.
  • Chairman Aurand has scheduled a committee meeting for Monday afternoon for the purpose of “considering bills already heard.” There are only three bills that this could apply to and one of them is HB 2179.
  • We urge our members and friends to continue to let Chairman Aurand know that this bill needs a fair hearing and a vote. You can email Chairman Aurand at clay.aurand@house.ks.gov.
  • SEE FULL POST FOR SPECIAL EDITORIAL REGARDING PARTISAN RANCOR UNDER THE DOME.  THIS IS A VERY IMPORTANT READ FOR ALL PUBLIC EDUCATION ADVOCATES.

House Advances Tax Bill Reversing Much of Brownback’s Policy

It was a surprise this morning when the full House voted to advance House Sub for HB 2178, the tax bill crafted in the committee last week. It only took a few minutes and there was not debate at all; no amendments offered.

This is quite unusual since tax bills generally generate a vigorous debate and more than their fair share of amendments.

KNEA supports this bill. We do believe it could be improved but it is a good first step in the move to reverse the reckless and irresponsible tax cuts of 2012-13.

The bill repeals the LLC income tax loophole beginning with tax year 2017, ends the glide path to zero income taxes, and sets three income tax brackets at 2.70 percent, 5.25 percent, and 5.45 percent.

This was our first chance to see how the moderate Republicans and Democrats would cooperate and they did not disappoint. 46 Republicans and 37 Democrats vote for the bill while 36 Republicans and 3 Democrats voted NO. The bill was advanced to final action on a vote of 83 to 39.

We’ll see tomorrow how the final action vote goes!

Here’s how they voted (Democrats in bold italics):

Voting AYE were Alcala, Alford, Baker, Ballard, Becker, Bishop, Blex, Brim, Campbell, Carlin, Carmichael, Clark, Clayton, Concannon, Cox, Crum, Curtis, Deere, Dierks, Dietrich, Dove, Elliott, Eplee, Finney, Francis, Frownfelter, Gallagher, Gartner, Good, Helgerson, Henderson, Hibbard, Highberger, Hineman, Holscher, Jennings, Johnson, Judd-Jenkins, Karleskint, Kelly, Kessinger, Koesten, Kuether, Lakin, Lewis, Lusk, Lusker, Markley, Mason, Miller, Murnan, Neighbor, Ohaebosim, Orr, Ousley, Parker, Patton, Phelps, Phillips, Pittman, Proehl, Rahjes, Ralph, Rooker, Ruiz, Sawyer, Schreiber, Schroeder, Sloan, A. Smith, Stogsdill, Swanson, Tarwater, Terrell, Thompson, Trimmer, Victors, Ward, Weigel, Wheeler, Wilson, Winn, and Wolfe Moore.

Voting NO were Arnberger, Aurand, Awerkamp, Barker, Burroughs, Carpenter, Claeys, Corbet, Davis, Delperdang, Ellis, Esau, Finch, Garber, Hawkins, Highland, Hodge, Hoffman, Houser, Huebert, Humphries, Jacobs, Jones, Landwehr, Osterman, Powell, Rafie, Ryckman, Schwab, Seiwert, E. Smith, Sutton, Thimesch, Vickrey, Waymaster, Weber, Whipple, Whitmer, and Williams.

DeGraaf, Kiegerl, and Mastroni were absent.


What’s Happening with Due Process?

After yesterday’s frustrating hearing, Democrats and moderate Republicans who support teacher due process rights immediately began regrouping to find a way bring the bill, HB 2179, back for a vote.

There were some moments of difficulty – Republicans were frustrated by the attempt to force an immediate vote and Democrats angry that one man, Clay Aurand, could simply close down the committee to stop any further discussion. Aurand’s announcement that he did not plan to work the bill at all angered not only the proponents who testified in the hearing but also the majority of committee members who are ready and willing to pass the bill.

KNEA & AFTKS leaders called their KASB counterparts and invited them to come to KNEA at noon today to talk about what issues KASB had with due process for teachers. That meeting happened and it became clear that some issues could probably be easily resolved but KNEA continues to insist that due process is defined by a binding third-party review.

Prior to 1992 when hearings were held before a three-officer panel but the panel’s decision was advisory to the Board of Education, boards simply ignored the hearing panel’s decision even when that decision was unanimous. It was this that made the legislature create the binding decision that was part of the process from 1992 until repeal in 2014.

We know that today moderate Republican committee members have met with Aurand, KNEA lobbyist Mark Desetti met with Aurand, and KASB representatives also met with Aurand. Aurand has scheduled a committee meeting for Monday afternoon for the purpose of “considering bills already heard.” There are only three bills that this could apply to and one of them is HB 2179.

KNEA and AFT want the bill to be worked and passed out of committee. We have committed to working with KASB, KSSA, and USA to try to find common ground but we are not interested in setting the issue aside for another year or years while teachers continue to be non-renewed with no ability short of suing a school district to challenge the decision.

We urge our members and friends to continue to let Chairman Aurand know that this bill needs a fair hearing and a vote. You can email Chairman Aurand at clay.aurand@house.ks.gov.

And by the way, Rep. Willie Dove said in committee that no teacher ever told him that they wanted due process protections. You can let him know that you are a teacher that does by emailing him at willie.dove@house.ks.gov.


[EDITORIAL] When Tempers Flare 

Sometimes, under the dome, people get a tad cheesed off. We know we do! When that happens things can be said that might be regrettable later and much of that is expressed in hyper-partisanship.

Such has been the case over the last couple of days. Things are heating up in the capitol and tempers do flare.

We are counting on a bipartisan coalition of level-headed, common sense Kansas legislators to get Kansas through this current fiscal crisis and put us back on a path to prosperity. We at KNEA also look to those legislators to restore respect and honor to the educators of Kansas.

Today, in the vote on House Sub for HB 2178, we saw what can happen when partisan wrangling is set aside for the good of Kansas. And we need more of that, not less.

That’s why we are frustrated to see messages on social media that attack Democrats for not being more “in your face” with Republicans or attack moderate Republicans for not automatically supporting every idea that comes from a Democrat.

We believe that if the due process bill gets a vote in the House – both in Committee and on the floor – it will pass. We are confident of this because of the list of co-sponsors and because of conversations we have had with members of both parties who are not signed on as co-sponsors.

We also know that those two groups, working together, can save Kansas.

The problem we face today is not the Democrats. It is not the moderate Republicans. It is leadership that puts their own ideological agenda ahead of the wishes of the legislative majority. A perfect example is Aurand’s unilateral decision to not work HB 2179 when the majority of his committee clearly wants to. This was done in the past when the speaker of the House refused to allow a bill to come to the floor for debate. We have yet to see this happen with Speaker Ryckman but it is a possibility.

KNEA has many friends in the Democratic Party and in the Republican Party. We are confident that those friends will stand up for teachers. If they don’t; if they vote for bills that do not support schools and educators, then we will challenge them. If they vote against bills that would help our schools or support our teachers, then we will challenge them.

But until then, we will work with all of them, Democrat and Republican, to ensure success for our students, our schools, and our educators. And as the votes come in, you will know who supports public schools and public school educators, and who doesn’t. Because we will tell you.

Until then, continue to support our friends. Let them know that you are following the actions of this legislature and that you fully expect them to honor the commitments they made in their campaigns to support our schools. We stand ready to embrace those who value our schools. Democrat or Republican.

 

 

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House Crafts Its Tax Plan

Feb 10, 2017 by

House Tax Bill Comes Out of Committee

The Senate on Thursday abandoned debate on their tax bill when it was clear that it would not get the votes necessary to pass. That bill, SB 147, would have raised about $280 million by raising income taxes on all Kansans. While it repealed the LLC tax loophole, it did not end the Brownback glide path to zero. The money raised in the bill would have resulted in the need to once again raise taxes later this year or immediately in 2018 and the continuation of the glide path would have put Kansas in the same budget crisis in the future.

Also on Thursday, moderate Republican and Democratic Senators handed leadership yet another defeat when they announced that they would not vote for SB 27, the cuts bill that would have reduced education funding by $154 million dollars in the current year.

Senate president Susan Wagle has been insisting that cuts were needed and that support for increased taxes must be concurrent with budget cuts the largest of which would be applied to K-12 public schools.

Over in the House, they are taking a radically different approach. Late yesterday the House Taxation Committee assembled and passed a comprehensive tax restructuring bill that goes a long way to restoring stability to the state’s revenue system.

Under the House plan, House Substitute for HB 2178, the glide path to zero income tax would be repealed as would the LLC loophole. The loophole would be repealed retroactively to all of 2017.

The House would restore the third income tax bracket set at 5.45% for those with an adjusted gross income of $50,000 or more filing as an individual and $100,000 for married couples filing jointly.

Income rates under the House plan for those married filing jointly would change as follows:

Taxable income (AGI) 1992-2012 Current law (2017) Sub for HB 2178 (2018)
$0-$30,000 3.5% 2.7% 2.7%
$30,001-$60,000 6.25% 4.6% 5.25%
$60,001-$100,000 6.25% 4.6% 5.25%
$100,0001 + 6.45% 4.6% 5.45%

 

The full deduction for medical expenses which was repealed in 2013 would be restored effective 2017.

This tax bill is estimated to raise an additional $590.2 million in fiscal year 2018.

The bill is a major step forward in the debate over tax policy under the dome.

Next week, the House Appropriations Committee will hold a hearing on HB 2161, a bill that would liquidate the pooled money investment portfolio putting about $317 million in the treasury. The portfolio would then be paid back at about $45 million per year for seven years. This action would likely create enough one-time money to plug the hole in the current year budget. It would, however create a seven year obligation. KNEA believes that this is the best way to get out of 2017 without cutting state services but must be done in conjunction with a comprehensive tax fix that provides for state services and allows the new obligation to be paid.

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Kansas Day Under the Dome

Jan 30, 2017 by

Post Highlights

  • Kansas Day celebrated in the statehouse.
  • Budget cuts- possibly to education- are being discussed as part of a strategy to deal with a $350 million shortfall.
  • Cuts to KPERS not included in House Appropriations committee report.
  • Consolidation of district purchases and health care plans will be heard in committee later in the week.
  • Hearing in House committee this week on bill allowing colleges to restrict guns on campus (identical to Senate bill from last week).
  • A comprehensive, sensible, long-term plan for dealing with Governor Brownback’s revenue disaster introduced as a bill in House Tax committee.  Plan known as “Rise Up Kansas!” has support from several organizations including KNEA.
  • New concerns have been raised regarding the new rules for Working After Retirement from both employers, employees and retirees.
  • To see a complete explanation of the rules and exceptions please see https://www.kpers.org/pdf/WARschools.pdf

Today is the day for legislators to celebrate Kansas Day. This includes showing a film about the writing of “Home on the Range” and a performance of the song by Michael Martin Murphey on the Senate floor.


Budget Talks Happening; Rumors Still Abound

There were few committee meetings today but that does not mean things are not moving. Committees are moving toward presenting a solution to the $350 million shortfall in the FY 2017 budget. There are still moving parts and some still believe there might be some level of across the board cuts which would include the possibility of cuts to education.

The education report before the House Appropriations committee does not include the Governor’s irresponsible cuts to KPERS funding. The full committee will take up the issue later this week.

Also up this week will be hearings on a bill to consolidate school district purchases on a state level and another to consolidate school district health care plans. Both were part of the Alvarez and Marsal efficiency study and both were included in the Governor’s budget plan. Some people believe the discussion of the health care consolidation will be canceled while the await an upcoming report on the issue by the Legislative Post Audit Division. While both of these bills were introduced as a courtesy to the Governor and to spur discussion, neither seems to have much popular support at this time.

Meanwhile, the tax committees continue to examine various tax solutions with an eye to reversing the damage that is being done to Kansas by the reckless 2012 tax cuts touted by Governor Brownback as just the thing to provide “a shot of adrenaline to the heart of the Kansas economy.” This week the House Taxation Committee will be looking at sales tax exemptions; income tax brackets and the glide path to zero income tax; taxes on cigarettes, liquor, and motor fuel; and how retirement benefits are taxed.

Also up this week will be a hearing on the House version of the bill to allow colleges to determine whether or not firearms may be carried on campus. The hearing in the Senate last week found lots of support for repealing the current law which requires colleges to allow guns after July 1, 2017 unless they provide security at all entrances to every building. The Senate hearing happened on the same day it was revealed that Rep. Willie Dove (R-Bonner Springs) left a loaded handgun in a committee room. Thankfully it was found and turned in to police by a responsible adult and not picked up by one of the hundreds of school children that tour the Capitol every day.


Rise Up Tax Plan Introduced

With an eye to fixing the damage done by the disastrous 2012 tax plans, a new comprehensive proposal was introduced today in the House Tax Committee.

The RISE UP plan as it is called was put together after lots of research and examination of what changes would provide for a restored Kansas. Among the components of the plan are the repeal of the LLC exemption, ending the glide path to zero income tax, adding a new higher income tax bracket, reducing the sales tax on food, and adding an increase in the motor fuels tax. KNEA is among the organizations supporting RISE UP along with Kansas Action for Children, AFT/KOSE, the Kansas Contractors Association, and the Kansas Center for Economic Growth.

Read more about the Rise Up plan at www.riseupkansas.org.

Also introduced today was a bill by the Kansas chapter of the American Cancer Society that would raise the cigarette tax by $1.50/pack and the tobacco products tax by an equivalent amount. This would be a greater tax increase on cigarettes and tobacco than the Govenor’s proposal. Brownback has sought a cigarette tax increase of $1.50 and was given a $0.50/pack increase in an earlier session. He has recommended an additional $1.00/pack this year.


Working After Retirement- WAR

The topic of Working After Retirement is again the subject of study for a subcommittee of the House Financial Institutions and Pension Committee. The subcommittee is Co-Chaired by Representatives Jim Kelly and Representative Dan Hawkins.  New concerns have been raised regarding the new rules for Working After Retirement from both employers, employees and retirees. The subcommittee met on Monday to hear and review the concerns from school districts, local governments, and KNEA.

At the center of the concerns are the number of exemptions to the rules for WAR. Currently, anyone who retirees from an employer with employees covered by the KPERS system has a $25,000 annual earnings cap. For example, if an employee retires and returns to work they have a $25,000 earnings cap in a calendar year. Once that cap is reached then the employee must stop working or basically “Unretire”. There are exceptions to the rule including those retirees who are “grandfathered” in under the previous rules that reached sunset on July 1, 2016.

To see a complete explanation of the rules and exceptions please see https://www.kpers.org/pdf/WARschools.pdf  Pages 2-3 offer an explanation to exceptions for K-12. For Community College and Tech College employees and retirees see https://www.kpers.org/pdf/WARcommtech.pdf which has the explanations of exceptions for Community College and Tech College employees.

KNEA’s position is that the new rules are complicated and need to be simplified for all those involved with Working After Retirement. There are times that intelligent and well-meaning people sometimes over complicate a problem while working to solve that very problem. If there is an unfilled teaching position, no matter what the cause of the opening, it is important to find a qualified and willing person to fill that position. The new rules seem to be a hindrance to the hiring of a willing and qualified applicant based solely on the fact that they had previously worked for a KPERS employer. Working towards simplifying the rules for both employers and employees is a goal that KNEA would recommend.

The subcommittee will most likely meet again on Wednesday after the regular meeting of the House Financial Institutions and Pensions Committee.

 

 

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