Brownback’s Proposal and its Impact on KPERS *Spoiler Alert*: It’s not pretty.

Jan 23, 2017 by

Post Highlights

  • KPERS officials explain the “what ifs” of Brownback’s irresponsible budget.  Short version:  DISASTER for KPERS.
  • Brownback’s Budget proposal would reduce KPERS contributions by a total of $600 million, extend the time to pay down KPERS’ existing unfunded actuarial liability by 10 years, and add $6.5 billion to the State’s contributions over the long term to pay for it.
  • The full breakdown of the effects of Brownback’s proposal on KPERS is included in today’s Under the Dome.
  • Brownback’s plan mortgages the future to pay for the $350 million budget hole which remains through the end of this fiscal year.
  • There are solid and sensible solutions which take a comprehensive approach to dealing with the Governor’s failed experiment.
  • It is important that we all educate ourselves on the nature of the problem and the solutions so that we can encourage our legislators to take the bold steps necessary to achieve long-term results (those solutions are outlined in today’s under the dome and in more detail RIGHT HERE).
  • Governor recommends bills for health benefit consolidation.

KPERS explains the disaster in Brownback’s budget recommendation

The best explanation of the mess that would be created if Governor Brownback’s irresponsible budget recommendations on KPERS were to be enacted was presented to the House Pensions Committee today. We can’t explain it better so here is the document given to the committee this morning:

Governor’s Budget Proposal

$600 Million Shortfall Over Next 3 Years

With the start of the new legislative session, the Governor has announced his budget recommendation for Fiscal Year 17 (current revised), 18 and 19. In short, the proposal would reduce KPERS contributions by a total of $600 million, extend the time to pay down KPERS’ existing unfunded actuarial liability by 10 years, and add $6.5 billion to the State’s contributions over the long term to pay for it. What we don’t pay for now costs more later.

The Breakdown

  1. In FY 2016, the Sate delayed its fourth quarter payment for State/School employer contributions with a promise to pay it in FY2018 with interest.

Governor’s Recommendation: do not pay

  1. Governor’s Recommendation: freeze contributions in FY2017, 2018 and 2019 to the reduced amount paid in FY2016.
  2. Governor’s Recommendation: Pay off the existing unfunded actuarial liability over an additional 10 years.

The Result

  • 4 missing State quarterly payments and a total shortfall of $600 million
  • Eventual State/School employer contribution rate of 12% to 13% through FY 2045*
  • Long-term additional cost of $6.5 billion
  • Funded ration stays in the 60% “cautionary” range for an additional eight years or through 2030
  • Unfunded liability increases by about $1.3 billion, and it will take 20 years to get back to where we are now

*Doesn’t affect Local employer contribution rates.

Most Important

It’s most important to remember that this does not affect benefits for current retirees, or even for those thinking about retiring. KPERS has $17 billion in assets to pay benefits for many years. The funding shortfall is a long-term funding issue. However, underfunding continues to add to the unfunded liability and undermines KPERS’ long-term strength.

The State’s recent $1 billion pension obligation bond was a significant step in the right direction. But it’s consistent and full employer contributions over time that will make the most difference in having a sound and sustainable retirement system.

What’s Next?

We are at the beginning of the session. And budget legislation will wind its way through the usual process. The Governor’s proposal is a starting point for discussion.

We’ll keep you posted as things affecting KPERS develop in the months to come.

So far the Governor’s proposal is getting a cold reception under the dome. As we reported last week, the K-12 Education Budget Committee has recommended to the full Appropriations Committee that they reject the Governor’s KPERS proposal.

Mortgaging the Future; Cutting the Present; Solving the Problem

You might be wondering what the H-E-double hockey sticks is going on up here in Topeka. You know that there’s a big problem facing Kansas and that problem has been caused by the reckless and irresponsible tax policy proposed by Governor Sam Brownback and passed with great joy by his legislative allies.

That’s true. And here, after four years, Kansans learned the lessons of trickle down economics/tax policy and have thrown many of those responsible out of office, replacing them with new moderate Republicans and Democrats. So this should be the right time to put the brakes on the Brownback disaster and reverse course. It should be easy, you’re thinking.

Oh, that it were so simple!

Brownback issued his “balanced” budget and it’s a doozy! Essentially, Brownback achieves “balance” by mortgaging the future. He robs from the highway plan, he sells off our tobacco settlement money turning this long-term asset into long-term debt, and he steals from KPERS reversing all the hard work done by previous legislatures to stabilize and secure the system.

That’s one way to take care of the issue but let’s take a look at the deeper problem.

First, we are dealing wth three years. Problem one is to find about $350 million to fill the hole in the last six months of fiscal year 2017. The next problem is to solve the revenue decline so as to fix the holes in future budgets – notably fiscal years 2018 and 2019.

Then there is the problem of a Governor who continues to believe his plan is working despite all the evidence to the contrary.

Next, we have a legislature with an enormous number of freshmen, many of whom are just getting their feet on the ground and beginning to understand the process. Remember, we are only 10 days into the 2017 session!

And finally, we are faced with two separate and individual committees in each chamber tasked with the hard work – House Appropriations and Senate Ways and Means that craft budgets (spending) and House Taxation and Senate Assessment and Taxation that craft tax policy (revenue). Somehow, we need to get a revenue plan that corresponds with our budget or spending plan. Not so easily done!

So far – 10 days in – we have only ideas. Okay, we have one bill, HB 2023 that repeals the LLC tax exemption; but really, that’s it.

One idea is the Governor’s: Let’s just mortgage the future, increase the state’s debt, and click our heals while repeating “His tax plan will work, his tax plan will work.”

Another idea is to fix the revenue by reversing the Governor’s policies. The LLC repeal is part of that. The Rise Up plan is another way to do that.

And a third idea – if you don’t like mortgaging the future or reversing the tax cuts – is to cut spending. There is no bill out there proposing that we cut spending.

But things do need to be talked about. And some ideas can be floated to get people thinking about other ideas.

No legislator likes to cut spending or raise revenue (aka raise taxes). And right now there is little interest in mortgaging the future. In order to get people to think that raising revenue needs to be on the table, we have to get them to see what happens if we do not raise that revenue.

This is why leaders will ask what spending cuts look like. Legislators are always reluctant to raise taxes and you can be sure that those who support the Governor will all any reversal of his tax policies an increase. Understanding what the alternative looks like – ruined highways, compromised public safety, stripping seniors and those with disabilities of service, and even cutting public school funding – will help legislators understand the importance of passing a revenue plan that supports vital government functions.

So, it’s early. The new leaders in the House and Senate are not showing support for cutting services more. But the discussion is important. Unless all legislators understand the depth of the problem and the ramifications of taking one path or another, they won’t be ready to make the hard decisions that are yet to come.

Don’t panic yet. But do continue to communicate with your legislators. Let them know that you expect them to deal responsibly with the failed tax policy of Governor Brownback. Make sure all Kansans expect the legislature to reverse course on revenue and support quality state services across the board.

Health Benefit Consolidation, Procurement Bills Introduced

Two bills recommended by the Governor have been introduced. One would enact the consolidated health insurance plan for all school districts while the other would establish a centralized procurement program for school districts.

Both bills were introduced as committee bills in the House K-12 Budget Committee in order to have the discussion on these issues.

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LLC Loophole Repeal Is Just Step One

Jan 20, 2017 by

Post Highlights

  • Governor’s budget recommendations would fail special education maintenance of effort requirements resulting in loss of federal dollars to support those programs.
  • Motions by Representatives Rooker, Trimmer and Campbell were made to support full funding of KPERS.
  • KNEA supports repeal of LLC Loophole while recognizing that this is just one step in a much-needed comprehensive plan to create a fair and sensible tax code.
  • Brownback Secretary of Revenue, Sam Williams (former chair of Brownback’s K-12 Efficiency Task Force) promised to spend the weekend trying to discover why his own department’s fiscal notes were inaccurate- to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars.
  • Kansas Policy Institute’s Dave Trabert came to the defense of the LLC loophole arguing that the state has more than enough revenue to provide for outstanding public services.
  • A federal report issues scathing criticism that Brownback’s KanCare program is “substantively out of compliance with federal law.”
  • House Education committee hears report from Kansas Commissioner of Education, Dr. Randy Watson regarding KansasCan campaign, state assessment changes and more.

House K-12 Budget Committee Considers Department of Ed, Schools for Deaf and Blind

After hearing budget appeals from the Kansas State Department of Education and the Schools for the Deaf and Blind yesterday, the committee today crafted their recommendations for the full Appropriations Committee.

It did not take long to come to an agreement. Notable in the testimony yesterday was the fact that the Governor’s recommendations, if enacted, would cause the state and the two special schools to miss special education maintenance of effort requirements and thus cause the state to lose federal special education dollars. One key to this problem is the Governor’s recommendation to freeze KPERS employer contributions at the 2016 level.

Under the Governor’s plan, the state would make KPERS contributions in 2017 and 2018 at the same level as 2016. In 2016, the state made only three of the four quarterly KPERS payments, instead using the last $96 million payment to patch the holes in the state budget. Governor Brownback has suggested reneging on a promise to pay the $96 million back with interest (total value is $115 million). The state is also required by statute to increase contributions annually to meet the actuarial requirements.

The Governor’s plan would mean that in 2017 and 2018 the state would not only ignore the statute on increasing contributions but would pay no more than was paid in 2016 entirely – this means another $96 million loss in 2017 and again in 2018.

Motions in committee from Representative Melissa Rooker (R-Leawood), Ed Trimmer (D-Winfield), and Larry Campbell (R-Olathe) that would recommend that the Appropriations Committee fully fund KPERS as per statute and ensure that special education maintenance of effort requirements be met.

Our thanks go out to Rooker, Trimmer, and Campbell as well as all the committee member who voted in favor of these motions.

House Tax Committee Hears Bill on LLC Repeal

The House Tax Committee today held a hearing on HB 2023, a bill that would repeal the so-called “LLC loophole” under which owners of businesses pay no state income tax at all.

KNEA supports the repeal of the LLC loophole but in this case, we testified as neutral. We believe that while the loophole must be repealed, it should be done within a comprehensive tax restructuring. The loophole only accounts for about 30% of the loss to the state treasury caused by the reckless Brownback tax policy.

Much more needs to be done in a comprehensive manner before Kansas is out of the woods.

We are suggesting that Legislators take a look at the Rise Up plan. It is currently the only plan out there that would actually move the state back to fiscal sanity by ending the “glide path to zero income taxes” and re-establishing fairness in the Kansas tax code.

Leading off in testimony last night was Secretary of Revenue Sam Williams. Williams held fast to the fantasy that the loophole was creating massive numbers of new jobs in Kansas and that Kansas was outperforming other states. The hottest time for Williams was when he was asked why the new fiscal note issued by the Department – the memo that indicates how much revenue would be raised if the loophole was repealed – was hundreds of millions of dollars below prior fiscal notes. Williams was unable to respond and told the committee he too was puzzled and would spend the weekend trying to find out why.

Former Representative Mark Hutton then appeared before the Committee to urge passage of the repeal. Hutton came to the committee as a businessman and former supporter of the LLC loophole. He is now a strong advocate of repeal as it has not resulted in any benefit but only contributed to the loss of revenue and collapse of the state budget. Hutton spent much of his time dismantling a misleading “report” authored by the Kansas Policy Institute (KPI).

Dave Trabert of the KPI made his first appearance of the session in defense of the LLC loophole. Trabert, as usual, insisted that the state had more than enough revenue to provide for outstanding state services. He acknowledged that it might be unfair that business owners don’t pay income tax while their lower-wage employees do but he was more than happy to accept that unfairness as long as there were other things in the tax code that were unfair. He suggested that KPERS employer contributions should be taxed and the Regent’s employees should have to pay taxes on their retirement benefits.

The committee members, with the exception of Rep. Ken Corbet (he is an LLC owner), appear to be ready to repeal the loophole. If they do, it would be a good first step in righting the ship. It would be wrong, however, to believe that this one step alone will do the job. It won’t.

Kansas needs a comprehensive tax restructuring if we are ever to reverse the Brownback disaster.

Brownback Handed Failing Grades on KanCare!

A scathing report has been uncovered that calls Gov. Brownback’s KanCare program which privatized Medicaid to be “substantively out of compliance with federal law.” Two letters to the Administration from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services outlined numerous compliance issues with the program which has been highly touted by the Governor and Lieutenant Governor Colyer.

According to the Topeka Capitol-Journal, a “January 17 letter denied a request to extend a waiver – known as a section 1115 waiver — authorizing the KanCare program by a year, from the end of 2017 until the end of 2018. Kansas must formulate and implement a corrective action plan, CMS officials say.”

In typical fashion, Colyer called the letters a politically motivated attack on Governor Brownback by Obama. Yes, it’s Obama’s fault! One wonders what the excuse will be tomorrow!

Read the letters in the Topeka Capitol-Journal. http://cjonline.com/news/state-government/2017-01-19/lawmakers-furious-feel-blindsided-brownback-administration-over

House Ed Committee Hears from Dr. Watson

Dr. Randy Watson, Commissioner of Education, gave a presentation on the merits of the Kansas Department of Education campaign known as “Kansas Can.”  Citing aggregate data as well as results from the KSDE listening tour, Dr. Watson expressed to the committee a new focus on providing curriculum to students that fit within their interests and meets the needs of the future workforce. 

After his presentation, Dr. Watson stood for questions from the committee.  During this period, Representatives Crum and Stogsdill remarked that they’ve been hearing from educators and parents who are concerned about teacher shortages and the lack of respect the state has shown teachers over the last few years.  Several committee members agreed as did Dr. Watson.  KPERS stabilization, strong working conditions, and other teacher rights issues were raised as possible ways to make Kansas more attractive for teachers.  We agree too!

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Brownback Reneges On KPERS Promise

Jan 12, 2017 by

Article Highlights- Click the Arrow to the Right

  • Governor Brownback’s plan reneges on a promise made last year after delaying KPERS payments.
  • Budget hole for remainder of this year estimated at $350 million grows to $600 million next year.
  • Brownback wants to freeze KPERS at 2016 levels while refusing to pay back with interest last year’s delayed payments as he promised.
  • Brownback’s proposal would further delay KPERS actuarial balance by a decade from 2033 to 2043.
  • Brownback’s KPERS attack and broken promises are a one-time fix for the budget mess that only helps to solve this year’s problem.

Brownback launches another attack on KPERS to pay for his reckless and irresponsible tax policy.

In 2012, Gov. Sam Brownback conned the Kansas legislature into passing a discredited trickle down economics tax plan. He promised a shot of adrenaline to the heart of the Kansas economy. Instead, we have suffered through years of collapsing revenue while Brownback, to preserve his tax plan, robbed the highway fund to near bankruptcy, slashed the state budget to the bone and then into the bone, and raised sales taxes to record highs. All of this in the defense of tax cuts for the wealthiest Kansans. Tax cuts that middle and low-income Kansans are being forced to pay for.

Last year, in a desperate move to plug the drain on the state budget, he approved a delay in paying $100 million to KPERS while promising to pay it back with interest.

In the meantime, the state’s revenue situation continues to collapse and the state budget is in a roughly $350 million hole for the last six months of this fiscal year. That hole is expected to be about $600 million next fiscal year.

How does the Brownback budget plan to plug that hole? His budget reneges on the promise to pay KPERS back AND proposes that KPERS payments for the next two years be no more than they were in 2016. In other words, his budget robs the $115 million from KPERS (the delayed payment with the required interest) and stops meeting the recommendations of actuaries adopted in an effort to stabilize a system which had suffered from chronic underfunding.

And legislators are angry. All of the heavy lifting the veteran legislators have been doing in recent years to put the system back on sound financial footing is undone in the Governor’s budget. By the Governor’s own admission, his plan would add 10 years to the period of time needed to bring the system into balance.

Lawmakers – and KPERS advocates – were delighted that changes made over the last few years would have resulted in actuarial balance by 2033. The Governor’s new plan, if adopted, would push that out to 2043.

And worst of all, the Governor’s proposal would not deal at all with the underlying budget problems. It is one-time money meant to plug today’s budget hole but does nothing to solve the growing chasm in future years.

Reckless and irresponsible: robbing the highway fund, robbing KPERS, cutting back on Medicaid reimbursement rates, dismantling support for early childhood programs. We could go on. This will be Sam Brownback’s legacy.

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Less Health Care, More KPERS Delays, and Increased Student Debt

May 19, 2016 by

BrownbackLaughHow do you protect irresponsible tax cuts for the wealthiest Kansans?

You make the poor, children, public employees, and college students pay for them.

That’s what Governor Brownback has done with his latest move to balance a budget destroyed by his reckless tax cuts.

As state revenue continues to crater, the Legislature caved in to Brownback and refused to even talk about an “option 4” – restoring the income tax. Instead they punted to Brownback allowing him to decide what was important in Kansas. And what is important? Protecting his failed tax policy.

Most alarming to educators is Brownback’s $30 million cut to university funding. The bulk of the cut comes directly out of university budgets ($23 million) with another $7 million coming from the Board of Regents budget.

Making up for the cuts, universities will likely have to increase tuition rates. It’s not lost on those of us who have followed the budget debate this year that the legislature repealed a tuition increase cap they enacted just a year earlier specifically to allow bigger tuition hikes.

So, in order to protect a failed “march to zero” income tax policy, our students will either be priced out of a university education or saddled with additional debt.

Brownback also cut another $3 million from the Children’s Cabinet and delayed an additional $100 million in contributions to KPERS. $38 million was taken from KanCare – the state’s Medicaid program which serves the poor.

The Topeka Capitol-Journal reported that the Governor, in announcing the cuts, said, “The three main drivers of budget growth continue to be education, Medicaid and KPERS.” And so, this time around, he took money away from those three areas. He is also quick to assert that he has “protected” K-12 funding at a time when the Supreme Court is expected to rule soon on K-12 funding equity and then take up adequacy.

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We’ve Grown Accustomed to this Pace…

May 2, 2016 by

Pothole

In Now Typical Fashion, Session Ends in the Wee Hours with Minimum of Votes Needed

In these days of a legislature and Governor who seem to be determined to run Kansas into the ground – or simply shrink it to a size that can be drown in a bathtub – the 2016 legislative session came to an end in the wee hours of this morning with the Senate on a vote of 22 to18 passed a budget conference committee report that the House had earlier passed on a vote of 63 to 59.

In both chambers it took a call of the body to persuade the last few people to move to the YES column in order to pass the bill. In the House it takes 63 votes to pass, 21 in the Senate.

smugmuch

Governor Sam Brownback

The budget bill contained in the conference committee report on SB 249, marks the second year running that the legislature failed to balance the budget, instead punting to the Governor to make cuts of his choosing.

Here’s what the bill does:

Gives the Governor permission to take most of the sales tax dedicated to the highway program and move it into the state general fund (aka “robbing the bank of KDOT”).

Gives the Governor permission to delay KPERS contributions and then indefinitely delay paying KPERS back. In an earlier version, the legislature had directed that delayed KPERS payments would have to be paid back in the first quarter of the next fiscal year with 8% interest. Under this bill, KPERS gets paid back with any revenue that comes in above estimates and any tobacco settlement money that comes in above what has already been allocated for children’s programs. Bear in mind that revenue has exceeded estimates only one time in the last 12 months. There is also a proviso that says the revenue from the sale of state properties will go to the agency that owns the property and not to KPERS as was under current law.

Gives the Governor permission to cut most state agencies by 3 to 5%. It specifically directs that he may not cut K-12 education.

Gives the Governor permission to cut universities by another $17 million but kindly repeals the cap on tuition increases passed last year so that students and their families can make up the difference in higher tuition and increased student debt.

Gives the Governor permission to issue an RFP for the privatization of Osawatomie and Larned State Hospitals. Reverses permission to actually privatize with the legislature.

Contains provisos to protect Juvenile Justice Reform funding and Domestic Violence program funding.

Contains a proviso that the Docking State Office Building cannot be demolished without legislative permission.

There are a number of other provisos as well covering everything from Parks and Wildlife to K-State land sales.

NO votes for the bill, based on the statements made during discussion, include the belief by some extreme conservatives that K-12 education should not be spared from further cuts. Others argued that they could not support the bill because it could have a potentially devastating impact on KPERS. Still others argued that it was the equivalent of “dereliction of duty” in that the one task given to the legislature each year is to pass a balanced budget – it’s not balanced if it is dependent on the Governor making cuts to budgets at his discretion.

House Speaker Ray Merrick

House Speaker Ray Merrick

And the YES votes? We’re not sure about those. Maybe it was the late hour and the belief that things would only get worse if they stuck around town. Whatever the reason, the bill in the House was initially at 61 to 60. Rep. Suellentrop (R-Wichita), who was out of the chamber when the vote was initially taken, came in and voted YES, making it 62 to 60. That’s when Rep. Todd (R-Overland Park) changed his vote from NO to YES, securing the 63rd vote for leadership and passing the bill.  The final vote follows.

 

Final Vote Roster

 

In the House:

YES: Alford, Anthimides, Barker, Barton, Boldra, Bradford, Campbell, B. Carpenter, W. Carpenter, Claeys, Corbet, Davis, Dove, Esau, Estes, Goico, Gonzalez, Grosserode, Hawkins, Hedke, Hemsley, Highland, Hildabrand, Hoffman, Houser, Huebert, Hutchins, Jennings, D. Jones, K. Jones, Kahrs, Helley, Kelly KIegerl, Kleeb, Lunn, Macheers, Mason, Mast, McPherson, Merrick, O’Brien, Osterman, Pauls, Powell, Proehl, Rahnes, Read, Rhoades, Ryckman, Ryckman Sr, Scapa, Schwab, Schwartz, Seiwert, Smith, Suellentrop, Sutton, Todd, Vickrey, Waymaster, Weber, and Whitmer

NO: Alcala, Ballard, Becker, Billinger, Bollier, Bruchman, Burroughs, Carlin, Carmichael, Clark, Clayton, Concannon, Curtis, DeGraaf, Dierks, Doll, Finch, Finney, Francis, Frownfelter, Gallagher, Garber, Helgerson, Henderson, Henry, Hibbard, Highberger, Hill, Hineman, Houston, Hutton, Johnson, Kuether, Lewis, Lusk, Lusker, Moxley, Ousley, Patton, Peck, Phillips, Rooker, Rubin, Ruiz, Sawyer, Scott, Sloan, Swanson, Thimesch, Thompson, Tietze, Trimmer, Victors, Ward, Whipple, Williams, Wilson, Winn, Wolfe Moore

Absent and not voting: Edmonds, Ewy, Schroeder

In the Senate:

YES: Abrams, Arpke, Bruce, Denning, Donovan, Fitzgerald, Holmes, Kerschen, LaTurner, Longbine, Love, Lynn, Masterson, Melcher, O’Donnell, Olson, Ostmeyer, Petersen, Pilcher-Cook, Powell, Wagle, Wilborn

NO: Baumgardner, Bowers, Faust-Goudeau, Francisco, Haley, Hawk, Hensley, Holland, Kelly, King, Knox, McGinn, Pettey, Pyle, Schmidt, Smith, Tyson, Wolf


Please Explain the Business Income Tax Exemption Mess

Everybody knows (well, everybody except the Kansas Chamber, the Kansas Policy Institute, and Americans for Prosperity) that the income tax exemption for LLCs which has resulted in more than 330,000 Kansas business owners paying no income tax whatsoever in both unfair and bad fiscal policy. KNEA has been one of the many voices calling for the repeal of this exemption.

Yet, the repeal bill failed. And frankly we think that’s a not a bad outcome. Here’s why.

The LLC exemption is just one small part of the state’s revenue collapse. If the exemption is the only part of the 2012-13 tax plan to be repealed, it will not bring nearly enough revenue to solve the revenue crisis. In fact, this bill (SB 63) would have brought in no new money now, a very small amount next year and would only fully kick in in 2018.

The repeal of the LLC exemption is important but needs to be part of a complete repeal or comprehensive reform of the tax system such that revenue stability and adequacy is returned. We know that the Chamber, AFP and KPI would call a yes vote on this bill a tax increase and use the vote in the next election to attack moderate Republicans and Democrats.

What moderates and Democrats all want is to fix our tax system so that we can once again fund our highways, schools, public safety, and other vital state services. They know that if this bill passed, it would solve almost nothing and reduce the willingness of all legislators to consider more tax reform in the future. Think of it like pulling a bandaid off your arm – especially if you’ve got a hairy arm! Most of us would rather rip it off and get the pain over with rather than take incremental equally painful little tugs.

What the state needs – and what moderate Republican and Democrats understand – is fiscal responsibility. We are all better served if we bite the bullet, admit the “experiment” is a failure, and take real action to reverse course.


Last Few Days Were Conference Committee Reports

What we were watching over the last few days were not amendable bills being debated but conference committee reports.

There is a big difference between bills and conference committee reports. Conference committee reports are agreements worked out by small teams to get deals on the various versions of bills passed. This is important in the process because if a bill has not passed either chamber, it cannot be taken up in conference. While bills that have only passed one chamber can be added to a conference committee report, it is not often done because legislators like to have had their own hearing on the bill and a chance to amend it.

In the education realm, several bills were rolled together in conference committee reports.

In CCR SB 323, three K-12 bills were rolled together. The first bill, the Jason Flatt Act, requires 1 hour of annual suicide prevention training for school employees. The second bill establishes a program to track the language development of deaf and hearing impaired students. The third bill changes the rules for capital improvement state aid, establishing a 6 year rolling average cap on expenditures and allowing the State Board of Education to prioritize projects based on certain criteria. This CCR was adopted unanimously in both chambers.

A post-secondary CCR, HB 2622, holds four items:

  • The degree prospectus program under which institutions would provide prospective students with data on graduation rates and performance,
  • The CLEP provision that standardizes the use of CLEP examines for earning college credit,
  • The performance based funding incentives for career and technical education, and
  • Adjustments to some fees charged by the Board of Regents.

This CCR was adopted in the Senate on a vote of 34 to 6 and in the House 109 to 8.

Some other bills we were following this session did not move forward during the veto session. They were not put into conference committee reports and, since conference committee reports cannot be amended, they were not added in as floor amendments.

These include, SB 56, the repeal of the affirmative defense for K-12 teachers; HB 2199, the opt-in human sexuality education bill; HB 2531/SB 136, the repeal of due process for post-secondary instructors; and SB 469, the recertification of representative organizations for teachers.


The Waiting Game

Now everyone who lives under the dome goes into a waiting game. At issue is the Supreme Court ruling on whether or not the school funding equity bill passed by the legislature will meet constitutional muster. Arguments are scheduled for May 10.

The Court has suggested that if the legislature does not meet its constitutional obligation by June 30, schools will not open in August. People on the plaintiff’s side think the bill will not satisfy the court while those who wrote the bill believe just as strongly that it will.

With Sine Die (the largely ceremonial last day of the legislative session) scheduled for June 1, it would be a stretch for the court to rule prior to then. If the court rules early in June and rules against the state, we would expect a special session to be called in order to resolve the issue before the scheduled opening of schools in August.

Whatever we find out, we will report right here!

With the session over, Under the Dome will go into sporadic hibernation. Rather than daily updates, you will receive occasional updates as the need arises.

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