Cutting Revenue and Arming Teachers

Mar 23, 2018 by

Senate Tax Committee Once Again Cutting Revenue to the State

The Senate Tax Committee last night passed out of committee a bill that dramatically cuts revenue to the state in a new tax cutting spree.

The biggest issue in the bill is decoupling from the federal income tax code. Under the new federal tax bill, many people who currently itemize on their income tax will no  longer be able to do so. Under current Kansas law, our income tax system is coupled to the federal system meaning that if a taxpayer doesn’t itemize on their federal return, she cannot itemize on her state return. As a result income tax collections in Kansas would go up by about $135 million next year.

The bill passed by the committee yesterday will allow Kansas taxpayers to itemize on their state form even if they can’t on the federal form and so will wipe out the $135 million that would otherwise have come to the state.

Additionally, the committee also raised the deductibility of mortgage interest, property taxes paid, charitable contributions, and medical expenses to 100%. This, because of the decoupling mentioned above, will cost the state an additional $52 million in revenue.

Finally, they added in an increase in the standard deduction which will primarily help low income Kansans.

Essentially, if passed this bill will reduce revenue to the state by about  $157 million.

The committee also passed a bill lowering the food sales tax from 6.5% to 4% in 2020 and then to 2% in 2021.

Governor Colyer Meets with KNEA

KNEA met today with Governor Jeff Colyer at his invitation.

We had a productive discussion with the Governor on school redesign issues, teacher empowerment, and how schools might ensure student success and the achievement of the College and Career Ready Standards for every child.

The Governor has been holding discussions with many organizations interested in finding a resolution to the school finance issue. We thank the Governor for providing this opportunity.

Bill to Arm Teachers to Get a Hearing Next Week

The House Insurance Committee, chaired by Rep. Jene Vickrey (R-Louisburg) will  hold a hearing on HB 2789 early on Tuesday morning, March 27.

This bill would allow school districts to permit some or  all teachers to carry firearms in school.

KNEA opposes this bill and will testify in opposition before the Committee. Kansas NEA’s position is that the safest schools are gun-free schools where the only armed persons on any school campus should be trained and licensed law enforcement personnel.  Our position is an informed position having consulted with law enforcement officials who train schools, businesses and community organizations for active shooter occurrences.  Our position aligns with our long-standing core values.

Here’s a review of the bill from our report yesterday:

Enter House Bill 2789 and Senate Bill 424, both creating the so-called “SAFER Act.” In the clever “language that means the opposite of what it actually does” world of ultra-conservatives, the bill purports to create the “Kansas Staff AFirst Emergency Responders act.” In this case, the “first emergency responders” would be classroom teachers.

Under the bill, school districts can supposedly choose to arm teachers and such teachers must hold a concealed carry permit and an additional level of permit known as the SAFER permit. These teachers would then be expected to pack a weapon at school and then confront an armed assailant.  The bill makes no provision for law enforcement to determine who might be the “bad shooter(s)” and who might be the “good shooter(s)” when the SWAT team arrives to find multiple people with weapons drawn and engaged in gunfire.

But before you think this is an exercise in “local control” for school districts, a section of the bill specifically states that in schools where teachers are not armed, should an incident take place the school district is deemed to have been negligent should there be a lawsuit or other court action.

Instead of providing resources to ensure that school buildings are secure; instead of passing legislation to control the proliferation of assault rifles (the weapon of choice in mass shootings, read more here) including universal background checks; instead of providing resources for mental health providers, HB 2789 and SB 424 simply throw guns at the problem and hope Miss Smith will just go out in the hall and shoot an intruder. Problem solved.

 

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Taxes and Guns Today

Feb 1, 2018 by

Food Sales Tax Proposal

We started the day in the Senate Assessment and Taxation Committee where there was a hearing on Senate Concurrent Resolution (SCR) 1604, a constitutional amendment sponsored by Senators  Holland, Faust-Goudeau, Francisco, Haley, Hawk, Hensley, Pettey, Pilcher-Cook, and Rogers.

SCR 1604, if passed by the legislature and then approved by the electorate would amend the Kansas constitution to require that the state sales tax on food would be set at 4% beginning July 1, 2019, and drop to 2% on July 1, 2020. It would stay at that level thereafter.

Proponents included a grocer from Bird City who spoke of the problem of Kansans driving across the border to buy groceries in Nebraska, advocates for children’s nutrition and the poor, and a farmer from Douglas County.

As part of KNEA’s legislative agenda, we advocate for a reduction in or the elimination of the food sales tax but want it to be done as part of a comprehensive restructuring of the state’s tax system. The Department of Revenue reported that passage of the amendment would result in the loss to the state’s general fund of $128 million in revenue in the first year and $246.4 million in the second provided that the change only applied to groceries. It would be a greater loss if it also applied to restaurants. We understand that, as written, it would apply to both. Without another tax change to offset the lost revenue, we would once again be facing difficult decisions when it comes to funding state services. Senator Holland said that the intent was for it to apply only to groceries.

Kansas has the second highest food sales tax in the nation and the highest one regionally. This change would only apply to the state sales tax rate so, in the first year, shoppers would pay a tax of 4% plus any local sales tax levy.

Committee Chair Caryn Tyson (R-Parker) asked why this was in a constitutional amendment and not in a statutory change. Some Senators indicated they were open to making the change statutorily. We believe that tax rates should not be set in the constitution. Where that is done, the legislature has no ability to make adjustments in rates to deal with changing economic conditions without seeking another constitutional amendment. Tax rates should be handled via statutes, not constitutional provisions.

No action was taken on the resolution today.

Campus Concealed Carry Modified in House Vote

The full House today debated HB 2042, a bill recognizing conceal carry permits from other states and allowing such permit holders to carry a concealed firearm in Kansas.

Three amendments of interest were offered today. The first amendment by Rep. Brenda Landwehr, which passed on a vote of 82-42, lowers the age for a concealed carry permit from 21 to 18.

The second one by Rep. Barbara Ballard (D-Lawrence) would have repealed the campus carry provision in law under which anyone 21 and older can carry a gun on any campus at any time. Ballard’s amendment would return decision making on firearms policy to the campuses. Some could choose to allow firearms, others could prohibit them. Ballard’s amendment failed on a vote of 53-69.

The third amendment was offered by Rep. Clay Aurand (R-Belleville). Aurand’s amendment would restrict campus carry to concealed carry permit holders only. Under current law, no permit is required to carry a concealed firearm. Aurand’s amendment was adopted on a vote of 70-52.

The bill was then advanced to final action on a voice vote. The final action vote will come tomorrow.

The end result is that, if passed and signed into law, this bill would allow any concealed carry permit holder 18 and older to carry a firearm on a post-secondary campus. Today, anyone 21 and older can carry with or without a permit.

The most interest arguments were made on the Landwehr amendment. Proponents actually argued that we should lower the age because other states have done it. Remember when your child told you,”but everyone’s doing it?” Another argument was that if one is old enough to join the military and fight for our country, one should be allowed to carry a concealed firearm. Interestingly, that’s the same argument made for lowering the drinking age to 18. There has been no bill to do that.

 

 

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A Light Agenda This Week

Jan 30, 2018 by

After ending last week in dramatic fashion, it seems the Legislature is a bit tired – at least the light schedule we’re following might indicate so. Many of the committees we routinely follow are holding meetings “on the call of the chair” and the chairs are so far not calling many meetings.

The House Education Committee met yesterday to hear reports on Communities in Schools and Jobs for America’s Graduates, two programs intended to support at-risk students and working to give them a positive, successful school experience. The Committee will hold hearings on two bills tomorrow. HB 2542 modifies fees that may be charged to Kansas private and out-of-state postsecondary
educational institutions. HB 2540 allows school districts to develop policies under which students not enrolled in the district or enrolled part time might participate in activities.

The House K-12 Education Budget Committee, in their only scheduled meeting so far this week, held a meeting today to hear a report on concurrent enrollment programs. Blake Flanders of the Kansas Board of Regents and Education Commissioner Randy Watson presented the report. This was a joint meeting with the Senate Education Committee. The remainder of the week is “on call of the chair.”

The Senate Education Committee will meet tomorrow to hear a presentation by the Kansas Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing and then on Thursday for an overview on Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate programs.

Both the House and Senate Tax Committees will meet on Thursday. In the morning, the Senate Committee will hold a hearing on Senate Concurrent Resolution 1604, a constitutional amendment lowering the food sales tax to 4% in FY 2019 and 2% in FY 2020 and beyond. The House Tax Committee will meet in the afternoon to hear about efforts by other states to collect internet sales taxes.

And related to last week’s drama, Rep. Melissa Rooker (R-Fairway) has introduced HB 2561 which would codify the state department practice of adjusting transportation funding to a “curve of best fit.” While this adjustment has not been part of the statutory formula, it has been practice for many years under direction from legislators in the 1970’s when the formula was crafted.

 

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No School Finance Bill Yet

May 12, 2017 by

Light at the end of the tunnel, still far away.

Due to a long debate on sales taxes on the House floor, the K-12 Budget Committee did not convene until about 1:30 in the afternoon today.

When they did gather, they went first, back to the Scott Schwab (R-Olathe) proposal to require schools to provide for ABA therapy for any child with autism whose parents requested such therapy. Schwab brought back a new version of his amendment in which he tried to address concerns raised by committee members over the last few days. This time the requirement would only apply if there was an ABA therapist within the district borders. It also spelled out language called for by the KSDE attorney regarding conflicts with the IEP. Schwab also added a state ABA therapy fund that would be filled with $4/pupil. Districts could then apply to the KSDE for reimbursement from the fund.

Questions were raised about the amount of money in the fund and the fact that it could easily be wiped out. The total would not nearly cover the costs to just Kansas City, Kansas schools if all their students requested the therapy. And if it was all taken quickly, the mandate and related costs would still apply to all students.

Eventually, the committee adopted the Schwab amendment but only after delaying its implementation for one year. Education Committee chairman Clay Aurand (R-Belleville) agreed to hold study sessions and hearings on the issue next year with the intent of deciding whether or not to keep the mandate in place, repeal it, or adjust it.

The next amendment was offered by Melissa Rooker (R-Fairway). This amendment would increase at-risk weighting in the bill from .456 to .484 and strike the provision adopted earlier to require all school districts to transfer a certain percentage of their Local Foundation Budget (what we now call LOB) to the at-risk and bilingual funds. That provision equated to a percentage which matched the percentage of at-risk students in the district.

The .484 weighting is what was recommended in an LPA study of school finance.

Aurand had the motion divided because he intended to support the increase in the weighting but oppose the striking of the transfer (that was his amendment in an earlier meeting).

On a voice vote, the Committee approved the increase in the weighting. On a division vote, the Committee approved striking the transfer on a vote of 9 to 7. This action will add an additional $21.8 million to the bill’s total. There was some discussion of making an offsetting reduction in base aid thus keeping the $150 million per year idea intact but no such motion was made.

All of this had taken us to nearly 4:00 this afternoon. There was a lot of debate! Chairman Larry Campbell (R-Olathe) called for a five-minute break but upon return from the break announced they would adjourn for now and meet again on Monday with the hope of passing out a bill.

Word under the dome is that leadership would like to reduce the price tag of the bill so that they do not have to do as much in tax and revenue reform. Of course, Jeff King, the Legislature’s counsel, has told them that the more they put in for schools, the better chance they have before the Court. Additionally, plaintiff’s attorneys suggest that the $750 million over five years in the current bill is too low and the Kansas State Board of Education has suggested an amount over $850 million.

We believe that the Committee and the Legislature as a whole should refuse to lower the amount and perhaps look at increasing it. Additionally, they should reverse the disastrous tax policies put in place by Brownback and his anti-government allies, raising enough new revenue to balance the budget, fund KPERS and highways, and meet the Court ruling in Gannon.

House Votes to Reduce Food Sales Tax in 2020

The long floor debate earlier in the day was about repealing a number of sales tax exemptions in order to pay for a 1% reduction in the food sales tax. There were two tries on the floor today, the second one succeeding. While the repeal of some current exemptions (private detectives, security services, cleaning services, and a few others) goes into effect right away the food sales tax deduction won’t happen until 2020, giving future legislatures plenty of opportunity to repeal the reduction if they don’t actually solve the structural problems with our tax system today.

Rep. Pete DeGraaf (R-Mulvane) to Resign

Conservative Representative Pete DeGraaf announced on the floor today that he will be resigning his seat by the end of the month. DeGraaf revealed that he is suffering from the effects of Parkinson’s Disease and wishes to take care of his health and family at this time. Our best wishes for Rep. DeGraaf and his family as they deal with this disease and its challenges.

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Slow Start to “Veto Session:” A Little Tax Talk; a Little School Finance

May 2, 2017 by

The 2017 Legislative “Veto Session” is off to a slow start (as all veto sessions are). Yesterday was very quiet but things were picking up today.

There was a debate on the House floor on a bill extending the STAR bond economic development program. STAR bonds were utilized most notably in Wyandotte County for the Legends project that includes the Kansas Speedway, the KC Sporting stadium, the T-Bones baseball stadium, lots of restaurants and plenty of shopping including Nebraska Furniture Mart and Cabela’s. The plan was so successful that those bonds were paid off early.

There was no debate on the STAR bonds but the bill did bring out two attempted amendments. The first would have done away with the food sales tax and paid for it by repealing a number of sales tax exemptions including the sale of bingo cards and YMCA memberships. The second amendment would have created a back to school sales tax holiday allowing people to buy clothing and all manner of school supplies tax free once a year.

Both amendments failed with the argument that such ideas were being considered or could be considered as part of a comprehensive revenue/tax reform bill expected later. Most legislators want to make one vote on taxes and make that vote the one to deliver the state from the Brownback tax experiment that has bankrupted Kansas.

Meanwhile the House Tax Committee continues to meet with the hope of hammering out a comprehensive tax bill that will fund state services and increase school funding under the Gannon decision.

The House K-12 Budget Committee met today to review their school finance bill, HB 2410. They will meet again tomorrow and at least Thursday. Chairman Larry Campbell (R-Olathe) announced that the committee will be considering if and how to put the funding directly into the bill rather than in a budget or tax bill. This will be the topic for tomorrow.

On Thursday, the Committee will hear from former Senator Jeff King. King was hired by the legislature to review the bill and give an opinion on the constitutionality of the various provisions and whether or not the Supreme Court would be likely to accept it.

If the Committee meets on Friday, Campbell hopes to finish work and pass the bill out of Committee. And if not Friday, then Monday.

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