It Really is Sunrise in Kansas!

Jun 7, 2017 by

Good happens!

House and Senate majorities on Monday night passed comprehensive tax reform (SB 30). They restored the three income tax brackets and repealed both the glide path to zero and the LLC income tax loophole. They also began the restoration of income tax deductions that help middle and low income families, including medical expenses, child and dependent care expenses, and property taxes paid.

The debate and bill passage were not easy. Some legislators are dug firmly into the position that all taxes and all government services are bad – one Senator even suggested that if you need a service like education, then you should pay for it yourself. But in the end, a majority in both the House and Senate voted to support tax reform. Unfortunately, those majorities were not strong enough to support an effort to override a veto. They fell one vote short in the Senate and 15 in the House.

Governor Brownback did not take long to announce that he would veto the plan because, in his world, his tax experiment is working. Despite all evidence to the contrary, he truly believe his experiment is working.

He vetoed the bill on Tuesday and that night, the Senate took up a motion by Senate Vice President Jeff Longbine (R-Emporia) to override the veto and pass the bill. A roll call vote in the Senate is conducted by calling each Senator’s name and they respond Aye or No. It was the last Senator called who put the bill over the top on the override. Senator Rick Wilborn (R-McPherson), who had voted No on Monday night, voted Yes on the override assuring that it passed.

Those voting NO on the override were Republicans Alley (Winfield), Baumgardner (Louisburg), Fitzgerald (Leavenworth), Hilderbrand (Galena), Lynn (Olathe), Masterson (Andover), Olson (Olathe), Petersen (Wichita), Pilcher-Cook (Shawnee), Pyle (Hiawatha), Suellentrop (Wichita), Tyson (Parker), and Wagle (Wichita).

The veto message then went to the House, where Tax Committee Chairman Steven Johnson (R-Assaria) made the motion to override the veto.

Again, the debate focused mostly around the idea that Kansas “has a spending problem, not a revenue problem,” despite the fact that revenues continue to decline and we have had multiple rounds of budget cuts since 2012.

Moving the House to override was a much bigger task than in the Senate since we had to find 15 members willing to override in addition to the 69 who voted for the bill initially. In the House, roll call votes are done when legislators press a red (for no) or green (for yes) button on their desks. Their names light up in red or green on the vote board. The initial vote came up with 84 Yes votes – just enough to override. Some legislators explained their votes and then four more moved to the Yes column. The final House vote was 88 yes to 31 no.

One legislator, Joe Seiwert (R-Pretty Prairie), voted “present.” Rep. Shannon Francis (R-Liberal) did not vote. Four others – John Barker (R-Abilene), Trevor Jacobs (R-Fort Scott), Les Mason (R-McPherson), and Jack Thimesch (R-Spivey) – were on excused absences.

Those voting NO on the override were Republicans Arnberger (Great Bend), Awerkamp (St. Mary’s), Blex (Independence), Burris (Mulvane), Carpenter (Derby), Claeys (Salina), Corbet (Topeka), Delperdang (Wichita), Dove (Bonner Springs), Ellis (Meriden), Esau (Olathe), Garber (Sabetha), Highland (Wamego), Hoffman (Coldwater), Houser (Columbus), Huebert (Valley Center), Humphries (Wichita), Jones (Wellsville), Landwehr (Wichita), Osterman (Wichita), Powell (Olathe), Rahjes (Agra), Resman (Olathe), Schwab (Olathe), Eric Smith (Burlington), Sutton (Gardner), Vickrey (Louisburg), Weber (Wichita), Whitmer (Wichita), and Williams (Augusta). Also voting NO was Democrat Henderson (Kansas City).

This action puts tax reform to rest for the session. But there is still more to be accomplished.

School Finance Passed But Will It Be Vetoed?

The school finance plan has passed, as we reported yesterday, and is sitting on the Governor’s desk awaiting his decision. So far, Brownback has not given any indication as to whether or not he will sign the bill and let it be sent on to the Supreme Court for review.

While KNEA does not believe the bill will meet constitutional muster, it is important that action be taken on it as quickly as possible. If he intends to veto it, he needs to do it now so the legislature can either override the veto or get to work immediately on an alternative. If he intends to sign it, it should be done now to give the Supreme Court time to review the bill and hear arguments on its pros and cons.

Hopefully a decision will be made soon. Perhaps even before you read this!

What makes us think this bill (SB 19) will not satisfy the Court? Primarily, we believe it will not meet adequacy of overall funding. While most of the policy forms a solid finance formula, the funding amount is far below what the State Board has indicated is needed and will certainly not be adequate in the eyes of the plaintiffs.

Additionally, there are legitimate concerns about how some provisions will impact required equalization. Last year, the Court sent the legislature back to fix equalization issues. This year, some are questioning new provisions regarding the false base for LOB which, under the bill, grows with the CPI-U and a provision on expanded spending authority under capital outlay. The Court may agree that these provisions are disequalizing and reject them. It is unclear whether the Court could separate them from the whole bill or not.

Longest Session Ever?

Well, not yet. The longest Kansas Legislative Session ever was the 2015 session, which lasted 114 days. Today is day 110 for the 2017 session so we’re pushing it now.

We believe it will be over before breaking the record, but it really depends on how the Governor deals with that school finance bill. If it’s vetoed, we could very well move beyond 114.

 

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School Finance, Tax Reform, & a Veto Pen

Jun 6, 2017 by

Tell your legislators to override the Governor’s veto of CCR for SB 30!

School Finance Passes on Second Try

Yesterday saw the consideration of two school finance plans. The first was created from the conference committee work on HB 2168. The House put tax policy in the bill. Three provisions were included: the establishment of three income tax brackets, the repeal of the glide path to zero, and the repeal of the LLC loophole. Additionally, the bill would direct all state income tax receipts to K-12 education in Kansas. Under this, all other state services would have to be funded with sales and excise taxes and fees.

This bill also required a “trailer bill” (CCR SB 30) that included other tax provisions many of which lowered the income tax receipts possible under the change in brackets. The revenue raised in the bill was lower than other tax bills considered this year.

KNEA, along with other education organizations, opposed the bill (contained now in CCR SB 19). This bill failed on a vote of 32-91 and was sent back to the conference committee. Since the tax trailer bill was tethered to the school finance bill through a provision that assured if one of the bills failed, they both failed, there was no need to then vote on the trailer bill.

Back in the education conference committee, the income tax changes were stripped out of CCR SB 19 and it was sent back to the floor as a school finance bill only. With the tax policy stripped out, the report was adopted in the House on a vote of 67 to 55 and later in the Senate on a vote of 23 to 17.

KNEA believes that the education finance bill that passed is not likely to meet constitutional muster because the funding is not adequate and because there are several provisions which may be considered by the court to be disequalizing. Additionally, the bill expands the tuition tax credit program diverting state money to private schools. We know that many legislators voted against the bill for these reasons; others voted against it because they have no interest in increasing funding for schools. We also know that many legislators who agree with us on the above issues also voted for the bill because they firmly believe at this late date something must be sent to the court for review. They are counting on a court ruling to move more legislators to support a better plan perhaps in a July special session.

Tax Bill Finally Passes; Governor Vows to Veto

After the failure of the tax/school combo bill, the tax conference committee met and assembled a new tax plan (again in CCR SB 30) that restored the three income tax brackets at higher levels than now but lower than 2012, repealed the glide path and the LLC loophole, and phased back in to law some of the family-friendly deductions (medical care, property taxes paid, mortgage interest, child care) over several years. This bill raised significant new revenue – about $600 million per year – and helped Kansas families. KNEA, AFT, Kansas Action for Children, the Kansas Organization of State Employees, the Kansas Center for Economic Growth, and other allies in Rise Up Kansas threw their support behind the tax bill.

The stand-alone tax bill (CCR SB 30) was ultimately adopted by the House on a vote of 69 to 52 and then by the Senate after midnight on a vote of 26 to 14. We were delighted that a good tax plan was finally adopted but of course, there is still one more hurdle – the intransigence of the man on the second floor.

It wasn’t long before Governor Brownback let it be known that he would veto CCR SB 30. We expected this. After all, Brownback has invested much of his tenure in destroying the tax basis of Kansas, starting with the reckless and irresponsible tax cuts of 2012.

Legislators and Kansas voters know it is time to get the state’s fiscal house in order. In August and November of last year, voters threw out many of the most vocal supporters of the Brownback experiment, replacing them with moderate Republicans and Democrats. Despite Brownback’s lame duck status and persistent rumors of his pending appointment to a position in the Trump administration, he vows to leave the state in fiscal collapse. And sadly, it appears that some in the Legislature are okay with that.

At this time, after six years of falling revenue, after 19 rounds of cuts to state services from universities to K-12 education to public safety, roads and highways, and the social service safety net; after multiple credit downgrades; after putting the state in massive debt through bonding and skipping payments to KPERS, it is time to turn this ship around. It is time to get on the path to fiscal stability.

The Kansas House and Senate must stand up and override the Governor’s veto of CCR SB 30. If they do not, they risk the closure of public schools on July 1.

We need every Kansan who cares, to contact their Representatives and Senators and call upon them to override the Governor’s veto of CCR SB 30.

You can tell your legislator that you want them to override the Governor’s veto easily here.
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First School Finance Bill Passes; Four Day Weekend

May 25, 2017 by

The House this morning passed Sub for HB 2410 on final action on a vote of 84 to 39, moving it on to the Senate.

The Senate meanwhile has crafted their own school finance bill which was originally in SB 251 but on moving it out of committee, it was put into HB 2186.

We now know what’s in HB 2410 and can report that we believe the policy in the bill makes for a good school finance plan and will likely be found to be constitutional. The bad news is that the funding in the bill remains low and we expect the Court to call it inadequate.

Sub for HB 2410 contains many important policy pieces including:

  • Full funding of All Day Kindergarten and funding for 4-year-old at-risk,
  • A higher level of at-risk funding and a floor of 10% for districts with fewer than 10% free lunch students,
  • High-density at-risk weighting, low enrollment, and high enrollment weightings,
  • Enrollment count provisions to protect districts impacted by military deployments/transfers, and
  • Funding for mentor teacher and professional development programs.

The bill contains many provisions that re-enact elements of the school finance formula that was in place before its repeal and replacement by the unconstitutional block grant system.

The bill also makes changes to the corporate tuition tax credit scholarship program. The bill would require that private schools receiving students under the program be accredited by the State Board of Education. Eligible students would have to be in one of the 100 lowest performing schools as determined by the Kansas State Department of Education and be free lunch eligible. 50% of those students would also have to be directly certified by the Department of Children and Families. While KNEA still opposes the payment of state monies either directly or indirectly to private schools, HB 2410 makes significant improvements to the program.

The Senate Bill, contained in Sub for HB 2186, is perhaps a different animal altogether.

While it started out similar to HB 2410, there are a number of significant differences including an even lower funding level.

In crafting the bill, while legislators had a copy of SB 251 as drawn up for Senator Denning, very few amendments were submitted in written form. They were offered and debated as “conceptual” amendments all of which were further amended by more conceptual amendments. With nothing in writing it was very difficult to determine the impact of most of the amendments ultimately adopted.

As of today, the amended bill was not available for review. So we apologize, but we will have to wait to report to you on the specifics of the bill until we have had the chance to read it. The word under the dome is that the Senate will caucus on HB 2186 on Tuesday with a vote to follow on Wednesday. If this bill passes, it is possible that the two chambers will go directly to conference with their two versions of school finance as the guides.

And just remember – we have a long way to go before this is done. The Senate must deal with a school finance bill and then a House/Senate Conference Committee will need to hammer out the differences before a final bill can be submitted to the Governor and ultimately the Supreme Court.

It Still Has to be Funded

Yes, funding is needed. Something the state does not have right now.

A tax plan that restores revenue to the state and allows for an increase in school funding has yet to be passed.

On Monday, the House defeated a tax conference committee report in SB 30 that would have restored three income tax brackets, repealed the glide path to zero, and ended the LLC tax loophole. The no votes came from conservatives who don’t believe there is a revenue problem or that schools need more money and from Democrats who pointed out that the bill was not big enough to fund the current budget and increase school funding.

Like HB 2410, KNEA believes that SB 30 (the Monday version) was the right policy but we agreed that more would need to be done to fund schools. We supported the bill because it would have put the income tax system back on firm ground but we agreed that a second bill would be necessary to cover school funding increases.

The House put SB 30 back in committee and the next version to come out was a smaller, more anemic bill. This time we opposed SB 30. And apparently, a lot of legislators did as well because it was pulled before it hit the floor.

Okay, so here’s the problem in following along – SB 30 is the tax bill. It is the tax bill over and over (Groundhog Day?) and each time it emerges out of its hole, it’s different. Sometimes it’s good; sometimes it’s bad. The next tax bill is likely to be SB 30 and we don’t know if it will be a good SB 30 or a bad SB 30. But look for it on Tuesday or Wednesday of next week.

Should We Be Mad That There is a Four-Day Weekend?

We know, it seems somehow wrong that as soon as they hit 101 days, they decided to take a four-day weekend.

But this has been an extraordinary week under the dome. They have been building tax plans, debating them, arguing about them. The House has finally passed a school finance plan that was the result of a lot of hard work and long hours. This week they’ve been meeting late into the evening and it has been trying.

We know we are exhausted and we also know that they are exhausted. And knowing that good work is seldom done by the unrested, we hope that they will use the long weekend to relax and refresh. That’s what we will do.

But here’s the big thing – we are fully expecting them to come back on Tuesday rested and ready to roll up their sleeves. There’s still a lot to be done and we’re about out of time. There will be long days and night work ahead.

 

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House Pulls Tax Bill; Advances School Finance

May 24, 2017 by

The House was expected to debate a new tax plan today that had been put together in a conference committee last night. After convening this morning, the full House recessed until 1:00 to allow the tax conference committee to meet yet again to make some tweaks to said bill (SB 30). Those tweaks were agreed to and the report was set to go but when the House returned, it seems that a decision had been made to pull it yet again. It was perhaps clear that there were not enough votes to pass it and so it was unceremoniously set aside.

The House did, however, take up Sub for HB 2410, the school finance bill. It was rumored that there were more than 80 amendments prepared for the debate so we settled in for a long night.

Here’s a run-down of amendments:

  • An Aurand amendment to remove the Autism ABA therapy mandate was adopted. (KNEA supported),
  • A Trimmer amendment to strip out the local enrichment budget, transfer the money budgeted for that to a fund for schools losing money with the end of the block grants, and reinstate the cost of living levy was adopted. (KNEA supported),
  • A Trimmer amendment to change the name of the local foundation budget (LFB) back to the local option budget (LOB) was adopted. (KNEA supported)
  • A Trimmer amendment to strike the 10% at-risk floor and put the savings on the base ($2/student) failed. (KNEA did not support striking the 10% floor),
  • A Trimmer amendment to count all-day K enrollment for funding purposes in the current year for the first year of the new law was adopted (KNEA supported),
  • A Trimmer amendment to increase the funding in the bill to provide for $200 million new dollars per year for three years failed (KNEA supported),
  • A Highland amendment to put in a number of very bad policy pieces including high deductible health care plans for school employees, grading schools, merit pay, and more failed (KNEA opposed),
  • A Trevor Jacobs amendment on “bathroom privacy” – mandating use of bathrooms in schools according to the gender on one’s birth certificate – was ruled not germane and so was not voted on (KNEA opposed the amendment),
  • A Sutton amendment to end funding for out-of-state children (most of these are employee’s children, children whose parents work in Kansas, or children whose families own property that spans both sides of the border) failed (KNEA opposed the amendment),
  • A Clark amendment to stabilize funding in school districts impacted by military deployments and transfers was adopted (KNEA supported),
  • A Stogsdill amendment to restore due process for Kansas teachers was ruled non-germane and so was not voted on (KNEA supported the amendment),
  • A Whitmer amendment to have firearms safety training in schools based on the NRA “Eddie Eagle” program was ruled non-germane and so was not voted on (KNEA has never testified on this issue), and
  • An Ousley amendment to phase out the corporate tuition tax credit program failed (KNEA supported the amendment).

At this point Rep. Campbell was called upon to close on the bill. Apparently a lot of amendments were either duplicates or were pulled because the Rules Committee was strictly ruling any amendment that was policy alone as non-germane. According to the rules, there must be two points of nexus between the bill and an amendment. In the case of the three ruled non-germane, they were education policy only and did not touch on the second part of the bill, school finance.

While we are disappointed in the failure to get due process attached to the bill, the Rules Committee did interpret the rules correctly and applied their rulings fairly.

The bill was advanced to final action on a vote of 81 to 40. There will be a final action vote tomorrow morning.

 

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Senate School Funding Hearing Wraps Up; Work Starts Monday

May 19, 2017 by

The Senate Select Committee on Education Finance reconvened this morning and entertained a long list of conferees on this, the second day of a hearing on SB 251, the Senate’s school funding bill.

While the morning started with educators including United School Administrators and the Kansas City, KS School District, much of the testimony came from utility companies, agricultural interests, and municipalities. It’s surprising to see these lobbyists in an education committee but this education finance bill contains elements that they vigorously oppose.

The bill would fund schools by creating a special “tax” on utilities. Residential utilities would include a fee of $2.25/month for utility and businesses would pay a $10/month fee. If one has a gas, electric, and water bill, it would be $6.75/month for residential bills and $30/month for business bills. Agricultural interests oppose the bill for this and a $120 annual fee imposed on irrigation rights. And municipalities oppose the exemption of the 20 mill statewide property tax levy for schools on economic development initiatives. When municipalities allow property tax abatements for economic development, there is often no property tax levied for schools for the life of the abatement.

The hearing ended shortly before 1:30.

Written testimony will be accepted through the close of business Monday.

The committee will meet again on Monday at 1:00 when they will begin working the bill.

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