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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Kansas Day Under the Dome

Jan 30, 2017 by

Post Highlights

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

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


Budget Talks Happening; Rumors Still Abound

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

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

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

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

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


Rise Up Tax Plan Introduced

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

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

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

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


Working After Retirement- WAR

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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Court Arguments and Tax Discussions

Nov 6, 2015 by

School Finance Equity Hearing in Supreme Court

The Kansas Supreme Court heard from the state and from the plaintiffs in the equity portion of the Gannon School Finance lawsuit today. The hearing took about 2 ½ hours.

Attorneys for the state were questioned first. They defended the block grant funding scheme passed by the legislature (SB 7) and asserted that the money the legislature had appropriated for the equity resolution last year was appropriate to meet the requirement.

The money that had been appropriated was about $138 million but the final cost was closer to $200 million. The state argued that the money appropriated was based on what they were told by the State Department of Education. KSDE had provided an estimate of the amount that would be needed based on the prior year’s data – the only data available at that time.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs maintained that it was long past time to resolve the issue and that the repeal of a constitutionally sound but underfunded school finance formula was an inappropriate action by the legislature.

Questioning of both sides by the justices was pointed but it was difficult to tell with any certainty what position they might be forming.

We don’t know when they will make their ruling but most expect it to come early in the session.

The issue of adequacy is still to be resolved.

Special Tax Committee considers sales tax exemptions, tax credits

A special Joint Committee on Taxation spent the last two days learning about the challenges of sales tax policy and tax credits.

The committee studied the history of the sales tax in Kansas and reviewed Legislative Post Audit studies that have been conducted on sales tax exemptions, tax credits, and economic development incentives.

They took public testimony today. Shawnee Mission Superintendent Jim Hinson gave them much food for thought regarding Tax Increment Financing Districts (TIFs) which have the potential to stress the budgets of school districts – particularly growing districts like Shawnee Mission.

KNEA lobbyist Mark Desetti testified, urging the committee to reign in the granting of sales tax exemptions by developing guidelines under which an organization would be eligible for such an exemption. Today these exemptions are generally granted every time an organization comes before the committee with a pitch leading to an enormous laundry list of individually named organizations with exemptions.

A coalition of non-profit organizations urged the committee to proceed cautiously while the Sisters of Charity made a plea for the preservation of the Earned Income Tax Credit which applies to the lowest income Kansans.

The Kansas Livestock Association and Farm Bureau both spoke on behalf of rural and agricultural interests in the state.

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