Sad news; Then hearings on buying classroom supplies & taxing food

Feb 19, 2019 by

Representative Greg Lewis resigns for health reasons

In very sad news today, Rep. Greg Lewis (R-St. John) announced his resignation from the House of Representatives. Lewis won re-election in November after a bruising primary. In December he found himself with vision problems, feeling lightheaded and unstable. During the holidays, he found himself facing a diagnosis of a serious cancerous brain tumor that grows rapidly.

Facing surgeries, chemotherapy, and radiation, Lewis realized he needed to focus all his energy on his health and family.

Rep. Greg Lewis has been a steadfast supporter of public schools, school employees, and public policy that supports a good quality of life in Kansas. We will miss Greg tremendously and pray that both Greg and his family might have the strength to face this challenge.

A stipend for every teacher?

The House Education Committee held a hearing on HB 2233, a bill that would require all school districts to provide a stipend of $500 to every teacher for the purpose of buying classroom supplies.

Sounds good? Well, not necessarily. The bill does not include any funding so school districts would be forced to take this money out of other funding sources. So they might have to reduce money for pay raises, or covering health insurance premium increases, or providing more classroom instructional support.

Further, the bill is written in such a restrictive fashion that the $500 can be used for essentially only those things that are on supply list sent to parents every year. The stipend cannot be used to purchase anything that is not entirely consumed in the school year it was bought. So if you want to buy books for your classroom library or a class set of novels, you can’t. And even though food products are entirely consumed, food is specifically prohibited by the bill. So no use trying to use the stipend for cooking projects in your classroom; forget the Kindergarten Thanksgiving feast!

Three things need to happen before this bill is a good idea: 1) schools need to be fully funded as per the Gannon decision; 2) an additional appropriation must be made to pay for this bill ($17.350 million); and 3) the bill needs to be rewritten such that the teacher can decide for him/herself what is necessary to move children to higher levels of achievement.

Should Kansas lower the food sales tax?

Kansas is one of only seven states that imposes the full sales tax on groceries and our rate is the second highest in the nation.

House Bill 2261 would lower the state food sales tax from 6.5% to 5.5%. The bill had a hearing in the House Tax Committee. KNEA has a position supporting the reduction or repeal of the food sales tax. Our testimony in support of the bill focused on the impact of the food sales tax on low-income families and their ability to purchase nutritious fresh foods for children.

Others supporting the bill included rural communities, pediatricians, healthy food advocates, dietitians, and local health departments. Opponents were the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and the Kansas Farm Bureau.

Kansas Action for Children testified as neutral, telling the Committee that there were other options to do the same thing such as expansion of the food sales tax credit or making that credit fully refundable.

No action was taken on the bill at this time.


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Of Taxes and Torpedoes

Feb 1, 2019 by

A Tale of Two Tax Committees

Senate President, Susan Wagle

If you’ve been reading our reports, you know that we are focused for the time being on the tax discussion in the House and Senate where the latter is grappling with Senate leadership’s desire to give away hundreds of millions of tax dollars before we figure out how to finally fund our schools, expand Medicaid, restore our highway department, and fix our damaged foster care system. It almost feels like the plan is to give away as much revenue as possible so it won’t be possible to do those things. Partisan politics where Senate leadership is willing to risk returning to Brownback-style policies appears to be the prevailing strategy to torpedo Governor Kelly’s budget.

The House is taking a different approach to dealing with the unintended consequences of President Trump’s tax policy- which has been derided by Republican leadership in the Kansas Senate but willingly supported by the six Kansas Republicans in the U.S. House and Senate when the bill came to them.

In the Senate, Senate President Susan Wagle (R-Wichita) has taken the matter into her own hands, stripping authority for tax issues from Tax Committee Chair Caryn Tyson (R-Parker) and forming her own committee with herself as chair, the Senate Select Committee on Federal Tax Implementation.

Wagle’s Committee held a hearing on SB 22, a bill to decouple the Kansas income tax from the federal income tax in order to allow individuals to continue itemizing and to assist corporations in not paying taxes on their overseas earnings.

In the days of discussion – first in Tyson’s Assessment and Taxation Committee and now in Wagle’s Senate Select Committee – the conferee time has been handed over to the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and the chamber has happily filled that time bringing in corporate tax accountants to wail about the unfairness of it all while making veiled threats about leaving the state if they don’t get what they want. Department of Revenue staff- whose jobs are to provide careful and reasoned analysis of these issues- sit in the committee room waiting patiently to be asked to what seems to be a party they’ve clearly not been invited to.

With about six minutes left in the meeting today, Wagle pushed the bill out of committee on a voice vote. It will now go to the full Senate for debate, probably next week.

Then there’s the House Committee on Taxation chaired by Steven Johnson (R-Assaria). In contrast to the Senate, Johnson has not brought a bill forward. Instead he is holding briefings by the Department of Revenue on how the various issues play out in reality. They spent one day on itemized deductions diving into how many Kansans actually did itemize before the change and what the impact is on those taxpayers who can no longer itemize. They even reviewed hypothetical scenarios to reveal the impact on middle class taxpayers.

They had another day to dive into the two corporate provisions – GILTI and Repatriation – to find out how these provisions work in the real world, again looking at how a typical corporate entity would be taxed with and without the changes sought by the Chamber.

The Chamber will have their time before the committee but not until a bill is scheduled for a hearing. The difference is that in the Senate, the Chamber has essentially been given the spotlight before the committee while the Department of Revenue waits silently in the wings.

It’s a rhetorical question, but we must ask; which chamber is interested in ramming a corporate wish list through the process and which is working deliberately and thoughtfully?

So back to cynical, partisan politics. There are some who believe that Wagle and her allies in the Senate want to ram as many revenue slashing bills through the Senate as they can simply to deny Governor Kelly the ability to responsibly deal with the State’s budgetary obligations – schools, highways, health care, and the crumbling foster care system. In that way, Wagle and her supporters can criticize the Governor for not solving those problems. It’s kind of like a similar strategy used against public schools. Defund them so they’ll struggle, label schools a failure and enact policies that benefit a select few while calling it all “reform.” The Kansas City Star has hypothesized that this is all about Senator Susan Wagle and her desire to run for the United States Senate now that Pat Roberts is retiring. The Star noted, “It’s a deeply cynical, hyper-partisan approach to tax policy.” To read the Star’s take, click here. We’ll have to wait and see how this plays out in the coming weeks.

Governor’s school finance bill to get a hearing next week- A CALL TO ACTION.

Senate Bill 44, Governor Kelly’s school finance bill that would enact the State Board of Education’s finance recommendation in response to the latest Supreme Court ruling in the Gannon lawsuit, will get a hearing in the Senate Select Committee on Education Finance next Wednesday.

The bill will provide for the inflationary funding increase called for in the Supreme Court ruling without making any other changes to the school finance formula. If adopted as is, most education advocates believe that it will finally result in a fully constitutional school funding system – the first such system in about a decade!

We hope that the Senate will approve the bill with no changes and do so quickly. With the deadlines set by the Supreme Court, the Legislature’s response should be done by March 1. That would allow time for the Attorney General to prepare for the April Court hearing.

We would urge you to contact Senators and let them know how important this issue is. Kansas school employees want to be assured that their schools will open on time for the 2019-20 school year. The time for games and posturing is over. Kansas is close to closing the book on the Gannon suit and ensuring our school finance system is constitutional.

Members of the Senate Select Committee on Education Finance are; Molly Baumgardner, Jim Denning, Anthony Hensley, Bud Estes, Dan Goddard, Dan Kerschen, Carolyn McGinn, Pat Pettey, and Eric Rucker. You can email them using firstname.lastname@senate.ks.gov. Ask them to support Senate Bill 44 without amendment.


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Of Taxes, College Credits, and the Sad Case of Foreign Languages

Jan 28, 2019 by

Tax decoupling on the Senate fast track

There’s been quite a tax kerfuffle in the Senate. Tax Committee chair Caryn Tyson (R-Parker) appeared to have fast tracked a tax giveaway bill – the so-called “windfall” bill. Her intent was to decouple part of the Kansas income tax code from the federal income tax code. 

When Congress adopted the Trump tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, the changes they made to the code would prevent many middle income Americans from itemizing deductions and instead taking a higher standard deduction. But since the state code and federal code are “coupled,” itemization would go away for most Kansans but without the benefit of a higher Kansas standard deduction. Thus some Kansans would see their state income taxes go up. 

This additional tax revenue is being portrayed as a “windfall” to the state that the state never planned on getting. Republican conservatives are crying foul and demanding that the state give this revenue back to the taxpayers (and conveniently forgetting that the entire Kansas Republican Congressional Delegation gleefully voted for the Trump tax changes). 

So here’s where things get sticky. Tyson’s bill also included a number of other tax changes not related to the income tax changes. Then Tyson invited the Kansas Chamber to present their wishlist of tax changes to benefit corporations. These are tied up largely in two complex provisions dealing with overseas earnings – the GILTI provision and the Repatriation provision. 

It was clear that Tyson intended to put the corporate tax revisions into the bill which would further clutter up the package. 

And, that’s when Senate President Susan Wagle (R-Wichita) stepped in. Wagle apparently wanted to go in a slightly different direction and so she formed a new committee to deal specifically with federal tax implications naming herself as Chair – The Senate Select Committee on Federal Tax Implementation.

Speculation is that Wagle wants the decoupling for itemized deductions and the GILTI and Repatriation provisions requested by the Chamber but doesn’t want them jumbled up with a bunch of unrelated provisions. Some say Tyson disagreed, wanting to push her bigger tax bill. 

That’s where things sit right now. And Wagle’s Select Committee will be meeting Tuesday through Thursday this week to hear SB 22, the bill decoupling from the federal tax code. The plan is to have final action by the Committee on Thursday.

The Governor is opposed to the decoupling at this time, urging the Legislature to go slowly on tax issues. No one has yet been able to accurately determine the impact of the decoupling and Kelly is suggesting that until that can be done – possibly this summer – there should be no changes as those changes could have a significantly negative impact on the state budget.

Meanwhile, the House Tax Committee, instead of rushing into the abyss, are engaged in thoughtful discussions about the actual impact of the federal tax changes on Kansas taxpayers, whether or not there is an alternative to decoupling that would accomplish the same thing, and what the fiscal impact of each option might be.

More tax issues being discussed

The House Tax Committee moved on to discussing new options on the collection of internet sales taxes.

This discussion is the result of a recent US Supreme Court decision that changes the standard for collection of sales taxes on internet sales. In the past, under a decision called the “Quill Decision,” sales taxes on internet sales were required only if the the seller had a physical presence in the state. This new decision – the “Wayfair Decision” – overturns the physical requirement and says physical presence or economic presence counts.

States are adopting a minimum sales threshold under which an internet sales provider would be required to collect destination sales taxes. Most states have adopted $100,000 in sales as the threshold; some have an either/or situation – either $100,000 in sales or 200 sales transactions in the state. Also in this discussion is how to handle the sale of digital properties like Netflix, Hulu, iTunes, etc.

The Kansas legislature will likely take this matter up.

Concurrent enrollment discussion in K-12 Budget Committee

A discussion in a meeting of the House K-12 Budget Committee focused primarily on the issue of concurrent enrollment programs for Kansas high school students.  Dr. Blake Flanders, President and CEO of the Kansas Board of Regents, joined Kansas Commissioner of Education, Randy Watson to present a plan to grow the current program.  Both presenters extolled the virtues of attainable post-secondary programs and the impact those graduates have upon the Kansas job market, salary growth and overall growth of economic prosperity.  

By growing the concurrent enrollment program, along with other pathways to post-secondary opportunities, more students in all parts of Kansas can seek certificates, undergraduate and graduate degrees.  Under this program, teachers of concurrent enrollment courses would be employed and paid by the district while the post-secondary partner institution- typically a community college- would receive funding for tuition, books and supplies for each enrolled program student.  The tuition fee- paid through an allocation of state dollars to this program- would be approximately $275 per course.  

Both the committee chairperson, Representative Kristey Williams (R-Augusta) and Vice-Chair Representative Kyle Hoffman (R-Coldwater), had questions regarding the funding amounts, who would be paid (the district or the college) and why this program would- in effect- be akin to double paying for students.  The funding amount- per enrolled student- is the median of a range of tuition amounts from ongoing programs throughout the state.  Dr. Flanders indicated that it would be the institution that would receive the funds under this program but that local agreements with districts could push portions of those funds back to the district. 

Are foreign language studies disappearing?

Last week we were sitting the House K-12 Budget Committee listening to a discussion on school performance and the Kansas school accreditation system. At one point Chairperson Kristey Williams (R-Augusta) commented on the importance of foreign language instruction. As Kansas educators know the value of studying foreign languages, we were pleased and surprised to hear a representative mention a subject other than STEM subjects.

But today we came across an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education reporting that from 2013 to 2016, colleges in the United States lost 651 foreign language programs (among those were 118 Spanish programs, 129 in French, 86 in German, and 56 in Italian). By comparison, only one program was lost between 2009 and 2013.

Given the global world in which we operate and in which today’s young people will compete, we hope this is an anomaly and not a trend but expectations are that the decline will continue into 2020.

You can read the article in the Chronicle by clicking here.

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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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