2019 Legislative Session Officially Over Sine Die

May 30, 2019 by

The House and Senate returned to Topeka for their Sine Die day and officially ended the 2019 Legislative Session just after 1:30 pm.

Usually this is a largely ceremonial day and many legislators don’t even show up, but this year there were a number of items of importance to be handled. Attendance was very high with only two Senators absent (Democrat Tom Hawk and Republican John Skubal) and eight Representatives (Democrats Stan Frownfelter, Broderick Henderson, Annie Kuether, Nancy Lusk, KC Ohaebosim, and Valdenia Winn and Republicans JR Claeys and Russ Jennings).

Disaster relief

A non-controversial item to handle was HCR 5015, a resolution extending the state of emergency declaration made by Governor Kelly. Such a declaration by the Governor is limited to a relatively short timeline and given the severity of this year’s tornado season, the Legislature unanimously extended the declaration which allows Kansas to seek federal disaster assistance.

Court of Appeals

The Senate also held a confirmation vote on Governor Kelly’s appointment of Sarah Warner to the Court of Appeals. This action had been mired in political wrangling about just who got to make the appointment after Kelly’s original pick, Jeff Jack, was found to have written posts on social media highly critical of Donald Trump and in a tone that many found quite offensive. Jack withdrew his nomination. Kelly subsequently appointed Warner, the Senate Judiciary Committee met on Tuesday to vote on the nomination and the full Senate confirmed the nomination 37 to 1 with only Independent John Doll voting no.

Those so-called “activist judges”

On a motion from Senator Ty Masterson (R-Andover) and after a vote of 28 to 10, the Senate withdrew SCR 1610 from a committee to the full Senate. SCR 1610 is a constitutional amendment to end the merit selection process for Supreme Court justices and make them political appointees at the sole discretion of the Governor. Removing this from the committee process is designed to avoid transparency and avoid public discourse (more below) and instead ram the amendment through the Senate without pesky public input.

Masterson and his fellow conservatives hate merit selection because it has resulted in a Court that has found against the state in school finance litigation and on some abortion issues. In Masterson’s mind, a justice that disagrees with him is an “activist judge” while one who votes his way is a good judge. Ending the merit system would take Kansas to the system used at the federal level under which each appointment becomes a partisan political war.

Making this action even more controversial is the fact that the resolution was introduced on March 29 and referred to Committee on April 3 making it too late in the session to get a public hearing in Committee. If the resolution were to stay in Committee it would be available for a public hearing and debate in January 2020. Masterson’s action means that the public will not be given the chance to weigh in on the resolution in a hearing – it will simply be taken directly to the full Senate. So much for the democratic process!

Multi-national Corporate Tax Cuts

After Governor Kelly vetoed a bill cutting taxes of multi-national corporations and wealthy individuals by $500 million and the Legislature failed to override that veto, they tried again with HB 2033.

This time the tax cut for multi-national corporations and wealthy individuals was scaled back to $250 million in an effort to make it more palatable to moderate Republicans. Kelly vetoed the bill, calling for fiscal caution and urging the Legislature to allow the state to continue to recover from the Brownback tax disaster.

Since it was a House bill, they got to take the first crack at overriding the veto. It takes a supermajority in both chambers (84 votes in the House and 27 in the Senate) to override a veto. The vote in the House was 78 to 39 to override meaning it failed to get the supermajority necessary and that the Governor’s veto was sustained. As a result the Senate did not need to take the issue up. Six Republicans joined 33 Democrats in voting to sustain the veto – Diana Dierks, Larry Hibbard, Bill Pannbacker, Tom Phillips, Mark Samsel, and Kent Thompson. Two Democrats – Tim Hodge and Jeff Pittman – voted to override the veto.

KNEA strongly supported the veto and applauds those 39 members who voted to sustain it, blocking the override.

Make no mistake despite the talking points you will hear from conservative Republicans, the vast majority of the tax cuts in this bill went to multi-national corporations who enjoy sheltered earnings overseas. Under the Trump tax bill, some of those earnings were “repatriated” with the United States- meaning the corporations would have to pay taxes. This bill was a demand of the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and Americans for Prosperity, a Koch-founded and financed “grassroots” operation. The bill also allowed Kansas individuals to itemize on state taxes even if they could not on their federal taxes. The wealthiest individuals did not lose itemization and this benefit would be for those at higher income levels but not quite Koch status. The vast majority of Kansans would get no benefit. HB 2033 would not benefit “working Kansans” despite what conservatives will tell you.

Line-Item budget vetoes

The Governor also made line item vetoes to several items in SB 25, the budget bill. These included some small items in the education department ($800,000 for CTE incentives, $270,000 for Teach for America), a mental health program (although the Governor allowed the same funding to come for other sources), and an additional $51 million payment to KPERS beyond the $115 million payment passed earlier and signed into law.

The Senate took up the vetoes first and voted 27 to 11 to override the veto. The next action was in the House where they voted 86 to 30 to override the veto. Since the supermajority was reached in each chamber, these vetoes were overridden and the funding remains in the budget.

The majority of the debate was over the mental health funding and the KPERS payment; almost nothing was said about the education department fund vetoes.

Wagle versus the Constitution

The Press has naturally been reporting on the actions of Senate President Susan Wagle (R-Wichita) who called for the removal of a number of protesters in the Senate gallery who were calling out the Senate for failing to take a vote on KanCare expansion.

Not only did Wagle demand the protesters be removed, she also closed the gallery so the public could not watch the Senate and threatened to rescind the press passes of any reporters who dared to cover the incident or the arrests of protestors.

Wagle issued a statement in which she said, “Legally protected peaceful protest is consistent with some of the best traditions of American dissent. But sadly, today’s events were far from peaceful. The demonstrations were pure obstructionism that stifled debate, placing a roadblock in front of democracy.”

There is one point which needs to be made and that is that the protest was over the expansion of KanCare/Medicaid on which Wagle herself is fully responsible for “obstructionism that stifled debate.” It was Wagle and her Majority Leader Jim Denning that made sure expansion would not be discussed in committees or debated on the floor. They used their positions to obstruct discussion and to prevent and stifle debate. That is why the protesters were there in the first place. If Wagle and Denning had allowed the legislative process to work – had they not practiced obstructionism and stifled debate – there would have been no protests.

Further, their threats against journalists are a clear violation of both the United States and Kansas Constitutions. Her actions – and those of her staff – have brought a condemnation from the Lathrop and Gage Law Firm representing the Kansas City Star and the Wichita Eagle.

We would recommend you read the notice that was sent to Wagle by the newspapers regarding her actions. Click here for that letter.

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Windfall? Not Really. & Kansas Teacher of the Year Team Visits Legislators

Jan 29, 2019 by

Fiscal note on SB 22, tax cut bill, is out … and it’s a doozy!

The fiscal note for SB 22, the so-called “windfall” tax bill being pushed by Senate President Wagle (R-Wichita) is out and it’s big. Passage of SB 22 would strip about $400 million out of the state treasury in three years – $191 million in 2020 alone.

The issue is relatively simple to understand. When Congress, with the full support of all six conservative Republican members of the Kansas delegation, passed the Trump tax bill they simply ignored the fact that their huge tax break for the wealthy would result in a state tax hike for average Kansans. By raising the standard deduction in the federal tax code, they wiped out itemization for most middle-income taxpayers. And since the state and federal codes are “coupled,” that means that if you can’t itemize on your federal taxes, you can’t itemize on your state taxes. Thus state taxes for most middle-income earners went up.

The Department of Revenue released three hypothetical Kansas taxpayers (married filing jointly with 2 children and a federal adjusted gross income of $120,000; married filing jointly with no children and a federal AGI of $60,000; and married filing jointly with one child and a federal AGI of $60,000). In those three scenarios, the first taxpayer with the AGI of $120,000 saw an increase of $39 in state taxes due to the federal law while the other two saw an increase of $12. That state tax increase was not passed by the Kansas legislature but instead by Trump and the congressional Republicans.

Kansas Republicans are aghast and seek to immediately decouple from the federal tax code to prevent this increase. Wagle wants to do this so quickly that she formed a special committee in the Senate naming herself as chair to get it out of committee this week. Today the Kansas Chamber and some corporate tax advisers talked to the committee about provisions in the bill that would exempt corporations from paying state taxes on overseas earnings that are “repatriated” to the U.S.

KNEA is neutral on the policy – whether or not to adjust the Kansas tax code to deal with the unintended consequences of rushed tax changes by Congress is a decision the Legislature should debate. But we are not neutral on the impact. If a bill is passed that strips nearly $200 million out of the treasury in one year with more than $100 million per year lost in the following two years, how does the Legislature plan to pass a responsible budget that funds our schools and restores service cuts across agencies? And perhaps that is the point.

We all know what happens when tax policy is done in a rush! Trump and his supporters in the House and Senate in Congress rammed through their tax bill without having any idea of its impact and the harm it might do to middle income taxpayers. Sam Brownback and his allies rammed through a tax bill in 2012 that brought Kansas to the brink of collapse.

So here’s our plea. Stop the rush! Be deliberate; consider the consequences of each change; look for alternative ways to address the issue without decoupling. Try exercising a little restraint. SB 22 will strip too much money out of the Kansas treasury while we are still in recovery from the Brownback disaster.

Kansas Teacher of the Year Team 2019

KTOY Team 2019

As today was “Kansas Day,” it was a perfect time to celebrate all that makes our state great, including the dedicated professionals who work so hard to make sure our kids are safe, learning and growing in our public school classrooms. The 2019 Kansas Teacher of the Year team is recognized for its members’ outstanding contributions to their students, but also works to be a strong voice for educators during the year. Today, the team addressed a joint House and Senate Education Committee to bring both their optimism and concerns before our state representatives.

2019 Kansas Teacher of the Year, Whitney Morgan

The 2019 Kansas Teacher of the Year, Whitney Morgan shared some of what she believes would be beneficial for students including embracing diversity, targeted interventions, smaller class sizes and professional development. Whitney teaches English and English for speakers of other languages in Kansas City, Kansas.

Team member Sharon Kuchinski, a high school social studies teacher from Leavenworth, gave some very strong testimony over concerns for the difficulty our state is facing attracting new teachers to the profession, particularly when many teachers- but certainly early career educators- are faced with working multiple jobs in order to make ends meet.

We applaud the Kansas Teacher of the Year team for their efforts and advocacy. The team will continue to meet with various groups throughout the state, including Kansas NEA, to share their insights throughout the coming days and weeks. We look forward to hearing and learning from them.

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Wagle, Ryckman Launch Diversionary Attack on Deputy Ed Commissioner Dale Dennis

Jan 25, 2018 by

GOP Leaders Demand that Dale Dennis be Suspended

Senate President Susan Wagle (R-Wichita) and House Speaker Ron Ryckman (R-Olathe) sent a strongly worded letter to Jim Porter, Chairman of the State Board of Education demanding that the Board put Deputy Commissioner Dale Dennis and other KSDE staff members on administrative leave and calling for an investigation into whether or not Dennis violated the state law on school transportation funding.

At issue is the distribution of funds in addition to the regular transportation formula that has been done annually for many years so that children in high-density school districts can safely transport children to school. (Look below for a more detailed explanation of the issue.)

The action of Wagle and Ryckman is making a mountain out of a molehill. The practice has been addressed many times in open legislative committees and never hidden from legislators. Legislators have struggled for years with the transportation formula and this practice was initiated long ago in order to provide safe routes to school.

Further, Wagle and Ryckman are interfering in the operation of the State Department of Education which functions under the State Board of Education. SBOE Chairman Jim Porter made this point clear to the Lawrence Journal-World saying, “It is not the responsibility of the Legislature to staff the Department of Education.”

Anyone involved with education in Kansas knows Dale Dennis as a man of integrity, a man who serves the Department and advises the Legislature on issues of school finance – and has done so for many years. This perhaps is why members of House and Senate are coming to his defense.

Rep. Clay Aurand (R-Belleville), Chairman of the House Education Committee, has issued a statement saying, “I have worked closely with Kansas Dept. of Education, Deputy Education Commissioner Dale Dennis and have found him to be consistently straightforward, diligent, and honest. I have deep respect for him and trust in his work.”

It seems so far that Wagle and Ryckman have little support. So far the only person publicly supporting the Wagle/Ryckman demands is Secretary of State and Gubernatorial candidate Kris Kobach.

Take Action!

We urge all our readers to call their representative and Senator and ask if they support the Wagle/Ryckman attack on Dale Dennis. We also urge you to contact your State Board of Education member and urge him/her to support Dale and reject the demands of Wagle and Ryckman.  Tell your elected officials to end their politically-motivated overreach!  The State Board of Education will meet tomorrow afternoon starting at 1:00 to consider their response and action.

KNEA, KASB, USA, KSSA, and AFT Issue Joint Statement in Support of Dale Dennis.

CLICK THE IMAGE TO VIEW THE JOINT STATEMENT OR CLICK HERE

 

The Post Audit and the Transportation Funding Question

According to an analysis of the transportation formula conducted by the Division of Post Audit, the formula is adjusted using a “statistical curve of best fit.”

“…a statistical “curve of best fit” is used to estimate per student transportation costs based on student density. Student density is the number of students who live at least 2.5 miles from a school divided by the square mileage of the district. Each district’s per-student cost (calculated in the previous step) and density are plotted on a graph. Statistical regression techniques are used to determine a “curve of best fit” through the data points. This curve represents the estimated per-student cost of providing transportation services at each density point.” (Performance Audit Report R-17-020, December 2017, p 8)

This has been done outside of the statutory transportation formula. The LPA found that

“Over the past five years, KSDE’s minimum funding level has provided a total of $45 million more in transportation funding than allowed by law. Figure 1-2 shows the effects of KSDE’s minimum funding level for high-density districts in each of the last five years. As the figure shows, districts have received a total of $8.0 million to $11.5 million in additional funding each year for the last five years.” (Performance Audit Report R-17-020, December 2017, p 13)

The Kansas Department of Education provided an explanation of how this came to be.

“The following is a historical explanation for how we arrived at the current line of best fit. Many years ago, at a time the Legislature was discussing the school finance formula, they were making every effort to not discriminate against high-density school districts. KSDE staff was called to the State Capitol and told that the purpose and intent were for KSDE to flatten out the line of best fit so that it would not be disadvantageous to those school districts with high-density per pupil. At that time, legislators were having difficulty defining in writing the line of best fit for high-density school districts. However, they verbally provided KSDE with their definition of line of best fit.

The theory legislators had at that time was to split the line of best fit for high-density school districts by choosing the median expenditure as a minimum funding level. That theory has been in effect for many years. This calculation has been explained and reviewed before numerous legislative committees over the years and met their criteria.” (Performance Audit Report R-17-020, December 2017, Appendix A, p 34)

The Division of Post Audit recommended that the practice be codified as part of the transportation formula. Rep. Melissa Rooker (R-Fairway) has introduced a bill – HB 2445 – that would do just that.

 

 

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Senate leadership wants to cut education? Really?

Mar 10, 2017 by

UPDATE: 9:00 p.m. After receiving several messages from you, we’ve received word from key Senators that they will be taking the weekend to review this development.  We are suspending our action alert at this time.  Stay tuned early next week for more information.

PREVIOUSLY:

Senators Wagle and Denning

What we are hearing is that Senate President Susan Wagle (R-Wichita) and Senator Jim Denning (R-Overland Park) are spearheading plans to debate a rescission bill impacting the current fiscal year.  Reports are that this bill includes as much as a 2% cut (estimated $60 million) to public schools for the current school year. In other words, schools would lose 2% of their annual budget and have to make up for their loss during the last few months of the school year.  Talk under the dome is that a hearing could come on the floor of the Senate by Wednesday.  The fiscal year ends on June 30.

We do not have a bill number yet but it’s time to take action.

If you attend a back home legislative forum this weekend tell your Senator to vote NO on any bill that would cut school funding. Instead, they must work to adequately fund our public schools as directed by the Supreme Court.

 

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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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