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 While it repealed the LLC tax loophole, it did not end the Brownback glide path to zero.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Under the House plan, House Substitute for HB 2178, the glide path to zero income tax would be repealed as would the LLC loophole. The loophole would be repealed retroactively to all of 2017.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The full deduction for medical expenses which was repealed in 2013 would be restored effective 2017.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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Your advocacy works! Support Evaporates for Senate Tax Plan and Ed Cuts

Feb 9, 2017 by

Post Highlights

  • The Senate convened at 8:00 this morning and almost immediately shut down when it became clear that there was no possibility of getting 21 votes to cut schools or pass an inadequate tax plan.
  • In pulling the bills (SB 27 and SB 147) and ending the discussion for the day, Senate President Susan Wagle announced that they would not consider anything else until budget and tax plans were resolved.
  • As the revenue crisis continues in Kansas, the state has earned yet another credit downgrade from Standard and Poor’s.
  • On Monday, the House K-12 Education Budget Committee will hear HB 2142 which would establish a consolidated health benefit program for schools.
  • On Tuesday, the House Education Committee will hear HB 2179, a bill restoring due process or fair dismissal protections to Kansas teachers.

Senate Tax and Cuts Plans Derailed

You and many other public education advocates answered the call last night, you contacted your Senators and enough of them listened.

The Senate convened at 8:00 this morning and almost immediately shut down when it became clear that there was no possibility of getting 21 votes to cut schools or pass an inadequate tax plan.

Senate Bill 27 would have cut K-12 and higher education by $154 million (a 5% cut to K-12 and 3% to the Regents) while Senate Bill 147 would have increased income tax rates, ended the income tax exemption for the poorest Kansans, and repealed retroactively the LLC loophole.

While the bills were supported by Senate leadership and did have enough committee votes to make it to the full Senate, the blowback from voters forced many to rethink whether or not they represented the best way out of Kansas’ current revenue crisis. Voters in August and November ousted most of Brownback’s most ardent legislative allies replacing them with moderate Republicans and Democrats who campaigned on no more cuts to our schools and reversing the Brownback tax disaster. Overnight Kansans from border to border blasted the bills on social media and in messages directly to Senators.

The bills before the Senate would have done nothing to stop the ongoing fiscal crisis. While the cuts to education and other state services might have helped patch the hole in FY 2017, the tax increase would have raised only about $280 million in FY 2018. Most analysts believe Kansas needs at least $580 million to get through next year. Additionally, while SB 147 did raise income tax rates and repeal the LLC loophole, it continued the Brownback glide path to zero income tax so that even if it did put some money in, it all would be for naught when the glide path kicked back in reducing revenue further.

In pulling the bills and ending the discussion for the day, Senate President Susan Wagle announced that they would not consider anything else until budget and tax plans were resolved.

Democrats have now reached across the aisle to try to work a bipartisan solution that would garner enough votes to override a potential gubernatorial veto. That would take 27 votes instead of the 21 votes needed for simple passage.


Yet Another State Credit Downgrade

As the revenue crisis continues in Kansas, the state has earned yet another credit downgrade from Standard and Poor’s. We believe this is the fourth credit downgrade under Brownback’s leadership.

S&P Global Ratings has now dropped the states AA minus stable rating to AA-minus negative. They specifically cited the move to securitize the tobacco settlement monies, liquidate capital reserves, and pension underfunding as problems.

Lower bond ratings negatively impact investment in Kansas as potential bond investors look to more secure places in which to invest.

S&P said that Kansas has a one in three chance of getting yet another downgrade in the next two years.

There is a solution, however. That is to stop relying on gimmicks and one-time transfers or shifts to balance budgets. Get off of Governor Brownback’s runaway train wreck by reworking the Kansas tax system. End the glide path to zero, repeal the LLC loophole, add another income tax bracket for higher income levels and stop selling off the state’s assets to fill holes.


Two Important Hearings Next Week

On Monday, the House K-12 Education Budget Committee will hear HB 2142 which would establish a consolidated health benefit program for schools.

The bill explicitly requires a high deductible insurance plan, prohibiting any that are not high deductible. This essentially guarantees that the savings will come out of employee’s pockets.

If all savings generated by the move to a consolidated plan were left in the school districts to be passed on to employees in higher salaries, it is conceivable that in some of those districts the higher salary might offset the higher costs to employees. Since the Governor’s budget proposal assumes any savings would be diverted into the state’s general fund, we can only assume that all savings would be clawed back by the state or result in reduced funding to school districts.

Employees then are left with fewer health benefits and no opportunity to offset the loss of benefits with an increase in salary. This plan truly represents a $25 million reduction in compensation for school employees across the state.

The LPA auditors examined the impact this consolidation would have on 101 of the state’s school districts. In 98 of those, employee benefits would be reduced by an average of 6% with some districts see a 14% drop in benefits. Only three districts in the study currently have lower benefits that the consolidation plan would have. But since the bill allows school districts not to join the plan, those district would more than likely stay with their less expensive low-benefit plans.

On Tuesday, the House Education Committee will hear HB 2179, a bill restoring due process or fair dismissal protections to Kansas teachers.

Due process was repealed in 2014 in a backdoor manner with no bill introduction and no public hearing. Many of our readers were with us in the statehouse at 4:00 am when the repeal happened after House members were locked in the chamber for hours until the 63rd vote could be secured.

This time the bill has 45 bipartisan co-sponsors. We look forward to the hearing and expect Chairman Aurand to work the bill and allow a committee vote.

 

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Guns and good beef

Jan 25, 2017 by

First Gun Bill in Senate Scheduled for Hearing

Senate Bill 53 which would create a permanent exemption for public buildings to the current gun carry law. Under current law college campuses will have until July 1, 2017 to provide security solutions that will stop guns from coming into buildings. If a college cannot provide such security – a metal detector and security at every building entrance – then they cannot prohibit the carrying of firearms in their buildings. Senate Bill 53 strikes the date. While the bill does not outright ban weapons from campuses, it allows each college to put a policy in place based on their situation.

Student, faculty, and administrative groups have all opposed the current law, wishing to keep their campuses safe. College campuses are stressful places for students. Many of these students are away from home for the first time, adjusting to new kinds of schedules, and trying to get along with roommates. They are worried about grades. They might be in new romantic relationships that can go wrong.

While colleges might prohibit firearms on campus, there is of course no guarantee that someone won’t violate the policy. That will always be a problem. But to have multiple persons pull out firearms in defense simply increases the likelihood that there will be victims. Beyond that, it creates a serious problem for law enforcement when responding to an incident. A police officer has no way, in the split seconds it takes to respond, to determine who are the “good guys” and who is the perpetrator.

The bill just came out today and a hearing has been scheduled for Thursday.


Who Among Us Prefers a Select Grade Steak Over Prime?

That is the question that came to us last night during the continued hearing on HB 2023, the repeal of the LLC income tax exemption.

The Kansas Chamber of Commerce, the National Federation of Independent Businesses, and Americans for Prosperity all claimed in their testimony against the repeal that the state of Kansas has plenty of money and before business owners should have to pay income tax like the rest of us, the legislature should cut and cut and cut spending. It’s apparently not enough that we have essentially depleted our highway fund, robbed over $100 million from employee pensions, and cut services for Kansans with disabilities in order to give the income tax exemption to business owners, we must continue on the path of service destruction.

One of their lobbyists, in response to a question about where to cut, told the committee that it was easy to “cut the fat cap off a piece of beef, but much harder to cut the marbling.” We could not think of a better analogy!

The legislature has indeed “cut the fat cap off.” And they’ve begun digging out the marbling. What they fail to remember is that the marbling is what moves a steak from “select” to “choice” to “prime.” Any lover of a good steak knows that marbling – more of it – is what makes steak taste so good. One can look at a steak and know what grade it is by the marbling.

Kansas for years provided prime grade services from education to public safety, from highways to a social service safety net. The fat cap was cut off years ago – Kansans by their nature are fiscally conservative – but there was always enough marbling to let schools go from okay to excellent, enough marbling to make our neighboring states envious of our roads and highways, enough marbling to make life better for our seniors and those with disabilities.

The last few years, legislators have been digging out the marbling. Kansans are experiencing for the first time what no marbling tastes like. It tastes sour. Kansans want better and they started demanding better last August and again in November.

 

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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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