Less Health Care, More KPERS Delays, and Increased Student Debt

May 19, 2016 by

BrownbackLaughHow do you protect irresponsible tax cuts for the wealthiest Kansans?

You make the poor, children, public employees, and college students pay for them.

That’s what Governor Brownback has done with his latest move to balance a budget destroyed by his reckless tax cuts.

As state revenue continues to crater, the Legislature caved in to Brownback and refused to even talk about an “option 4” – restoring the income tax. Instead they punted to Brownback allowing him to decide what was important in Kansas. And what is important? Protecting his failed tax policy.

Most alarming to educators is Brownback’s $30 million cut to university funding. The bulk of the cut comes directly out of university budgets ($23 million) with another $7 million coming from the Board of Regents budget.

Making up for the cuts, universities will likely have to increase tuition rates. It’s not lost on those of us who have followed the budget debate this year that the legislature repealed a tuition increase cap they enacted just a year earlier specifically to allow bigger tuition hikes.

So, in order to protect a failed “march to zero” income tax policy, our students will either be priced out of a university education or saddled with additional debt.

Brownback also cut another $3 million from the Children’s Cabinet and delayed an additional $100 million in contributions to KPERS. $38 million was taken from KanCare – the state’s Medicaid program which serves the poor.

The Topeka Capitol-Journal reported that the Governor, in announcing the cuts, said, “The three main drivers of budget growth continue to be education, Medicaid and KPERS.” And so, this time around, he took money away from those three areas. He is also quick to assert that he has “protected” K-12 funding at a time when the Supreme Court is expected to rule soon on K-12 funding equity and then take up adequacy.

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Oops! They Did It Again!

May 3, 2016 by

Yes, Governor Sam Brownback and his legislative allies have delivered another budget bill that has resulted in another credit downgrade for the State of Kansas.

In response to a budget bill that takes another $185 million out of funds earmarked for the Kansas Department of Transportation, credit rating service Moody’s have moved the outlook on Kansas highway revenue bonds from “stable” to “negative.” This the fourth credit downgrade Brownback has earned for the state.

Essentially Moody’s is saying that if you are thinking of buying Kansas highway revenue bonds, you might want to think twice because the state has made a habit of taking highway funds to fill holes in the state general fund.

The Governor and some legislators – Senator Forrest Knox, in particular – have been touting the small increase in revenues collected over estimates in April as proof that the “sun is shining in Kansas.” Yes, April revenues came in $2.6 million above estimates but one must not lose sight of the fact that the estimates have been lowered repeatedly since the Brownback tax cuts took effect.

It’s like this…If I estimate that my monthly paycheck will be $1000 and I actually get $900, I might lower the expectations for next month. Now I expect $900 and I get $850. Eventually I can lower my expectations to the point where my income might actually exceed my expectations. I’m still earning less than I need to pay my bills, but at least I’m making more than I thought I would.

And as for that $2.6 million, under the budget passed this weekend the Governor will need to come up with more than $100 million in sweeps and cuts. It’s really not time to celebrate.


Watch a video interview with KNEA Director of Legislative and Political Advocacy, Mark Desetti answering some of your questions about the state budget bill, KPERS, and the LLC tax holiday.

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Our Error; Boots in the Statehouse; and a Brilliant Op-Ed

Apr 22, 2016 by

Error Alert!

Senator Kay Wolf DID NOT Support the Brownback Tax Plan

Yesterday in Under the Dome, we listed the names of incumbent legislators who vote in favor of the reckless Brownback tax cuts of 2012. We went back to the legislative archives to collect the names and found to our surprise that “B. Wolf” had voted in favor of the bill. We pulled the state’s Legislative Handbook from back then and found that Senator Kay Wolf is listed officially by her first name, Brenda. Saying to ourselves, “Well, that’s unfortunate,” we listed her as having voted in favor.

We were reminded this morning however that the “B. Wolf” of 2012 was actually Bill Wolf who represented Great Bend back then.

So the long and short of it is that Kay Wolf, as a House member back in 2012, did NOT support the Brownback tax plan, Bill Wolf (now not in the legislature) did.

We have corrected the error in the online version of Under the Dome and wish there was some way to correct the email version.

We apologize to our readers for the error and we apologize to Senator Kay Wolf for suggesting that she had anything to do with the complete fiscal mess we find ourselves in today.


Getting the Boot

boots.jpgWhat do you want your Lucchese Boots made from? A quick look at the website of the Texas bootmaker indicates that you can save some money by picking goat but if you’ve got enough expendable income you can choose sheep, calf, alligator, caiman crocodile, Nile crocodile, pirarucu (it’s a fish), lizard, shark, American bison, baby buffalo, ostrich, or even elephant.

We find it a matter of poor timing that while the state is on the verge of financial collapse, Speaker Ray Merrick (R-Stilwell) issued an invitation to legislators and select lobbyists to have themselves fitted for custom made Lucchese Boots in the Statehouse. Priced to fit your budget, Lucchese Boots can be found for $319 all the way up to $12,995.

The last time a pair of boots got this much press was when Representative Virgil Peck (R-Tyro) tried to pay for his with campaign funds. (Read about that “bootgate” here.)

After reports of the event surfaced in the press, Merrick’s staff quickly pulled it. It does seem a little gauche to be debating selling off preschool funds, robbing from highway maintenance, delaying retirement payments, and cutting $57 million from K-12 education while you’re being fitted for a pair of $12,000 boots.


The Future of Public Education in Kansas

By Don Hineman, State Representative, District 118, Dighton

Public education has a long tradition in the U.S., having first germinated in Thomas Jefferson’s early advocacy. In 1837 the concept was put into practice by Horace Mann of Massachusetts, when he established a statewide system of professional teachers and common schools. Mann’s system soon spread to other states as many began to subscribe to the idea that the common school could be the “great equalizer” in American society. The schools were termed “common” because they were viewed as a civic asset held in common by all and available to all.

From its very beginnings the objective of free and universal public education went beyond mere learning to include social efficiency, civic virtue, and development of character. And in the formative days of Kansas “The Territorial Legislature believed education was key to the state’s growth and development, since a literate and skilled citizenry could help build business and industry.”

Support for public education remains strong today, as stated by Tom Brokaw: “There is a place in America to take a stand: it is public education. It is the underpinning of our cultural and political system. It is the great common ground. Public education after all is the engine that moves us as a society toward a common destiny… It is in public education that the American dream begins to take shape.”

In short, the purpose of public education was, and still remains, the creation and advancement of a well-educated citizenry.

Like any well-conceived governmental program, public education exists for the benefit of all, whether that benefit is direct or indirect. It was never intended as a government subsidy for the parents of school-age children, for if it were then logic implies that childless couples would be entitled to a refund of that portion of their taxes which went for the support of public education. They are not, of course, just as an individual without a car isn’t entitled to a refund of taxes which are devoted to creation and maintenance of public roadways.

Recent attempts have been made to divert Kansas state government funds to private education and to chip away at the concept of public education as a bedrock principle of society. It began during the 2014 legislative session, when a provision was inserted into a school finance bill to provide tax credits for corporate scholarships to private schools. That marks the first time in state history that state tax dollars have been diverted from public education to private schools.

Now a much greater threat to public education has been proposed as part of HB 2741, which would provide for a payment to the parents of home-schooled students, or those enrolled in private school, equal to 70% of per pupil state aid. Estimates put the cost of that program at $130 million to $300 million per year. Those are dollars which would be unavailable for public education, at a time when financing public education is the subject of an ongoing court dispute over adequacy of funding.

If this proposal were to become law it would cause a shrinking of the public education system as funding dwindles, leading the brightest and most capable students to increasingly choose private education instead. Public schools would be left as residual institutions for the education of the most impoverished students as well as those most difficult to educate (and therefore not accepted into private schools). The result would be vast disparities of educational opportunity for Kansas school children, and an end of the long-held concept of public education as a foundational building block of our society.

Are Kansans ready to take this step? Are we collectively willing to endorse the downsizing and impoverishment of public education? Are we willing to support the transfer of hundreds of millions of state dollars to private and home-school institutions with little of the oversight or control under which public schools must operate? This proposal is a revolutionary approach to the way Kansas supports education. It is imperative that all Kansans join in the discussion and let their opinions be known. As for me, I remain committed to the principle that public dollars are intended for and must be devoted exclusively to public education.

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Another Fine Mess

Apr 21, 2016 by

Brownback Offers Three Plans to Further Degrade Kansas

Laughing_brownbackIn response to yesterday’s reduction in estimated tax collections, Governor Brownback and his Budget Director Shawn Sullivan quickly released three proposals to balance the budget.

The first option would take nearly all of the remaining sales tax revenue dedicated to maintaining roads and highways further jeopardizing the safety of Kansas’ transportation infrastructure and extend a 3% reduction to Universities into FY 2017. Under this option he also asks the legislature to give him permission to bond the tobacco fund money (known as the Kansas Endowment for Youth and the Children’s Initiative Fund) and turn this continuing revenue source into a continuing debt. This money is currently used to provide services including pre-school for Kansas children. The Governor promises that most of these programs would be preserved in the state general fund. But of course, we know what happens to such promises as the state’s revenue stream continues to erode.

The second option also takes the highway fund money and continues the reductions to Universities as in option one but instead of selling off the tobacco receipts delays more payments to KPERS and delay paying KPERS back until 2018. Don’t forget that the Governor has already delayed $93 million in KPERS payments. Option three is expected to delay another $99 million in KPERS payments.

Option three takes the highway fund money as in options one and two but instead of delaying more KPERS payments or bonding the children’s initiative fund asks the legislature to give the governor the ability to cut most state agency budgets between 3 and 5%. Under this plan K-12 education would be cut by more than $57 million.


Promises, Promises

Brownback and his allies are full of promises to Kansans. They promise that they will fund pre-school programs even if they sell off the tobacco settlement money. They promise that they will repay the KPERS funds with 8% interest. They promise that their radical reckless tax cuts will be a shot of adrenaline into the heart of the Kansas economy. They promised that their education block grant program would provide certainty in school funding.

But after four years of continuing economic collapse and broken promises, what faith do any of us have that they will keep any of their promises in the future?

If revenues continue to decline, what promise will they break first? Dump pre-school programs? Renege on the 8% interest on KPERS fund delays? Don’t pay back KPERS at all? Make ever deeper cuts to K-12 and higher education?

We wonder how much faith the people of Kansas have that promises made will be kept.


Who is Responsible for this Mess?

Back in 2012, when Brownback launched his “glide path to zero income taxes” plan, based upon advice from the architect of trickle-down economics Art Laffer the plan eventually ended up in Senate Substitute for House Bill 2117. It was initially voted down in the Senate but after moderate Republican senators were persuaded by Brownback that the bill as it was would never become law – it was only a vehicle to get a tax conference committee to write a better plan – there was a vote to reconsider and the bill was passed and sent to the House. There, the much more conservative House moved to concur in the changes to HB 2117. At first the bill was not passing but after a long call of the House and much arm-twisting and wood-shedding from House leadership and the Governor, 64 votes were cobbled together and the bill became law.

Since its passage the revenue situation for Kansas has been grim. Month after month, revenues have declined resulting in massive spending cuts and sweeps of millions of dollars in fee funds and highway fund to shore up the budget. In desperation, the Governor called for the largest tax increase in Kansas history – a sales tax increase that, like Laffer’s trickle-down plan for income taxes, falls heaviest on the lowest income Kansans and has driven residents of border counties across state lines to shop for food.

Despite the sales tax increase, revenues have continued to fall until we came to yesterday. Now we are faced with even more draconian cuts to already badly damaged state services.

So who among today’s incumbent legislators were among those in 2012 who enthusiastically embraced the Brownback agenda?

Here’s the list!

Representatives in 2012 who voted in favor of the reckless Brownback tax bill:

Alford, Arpke, Bruchman, DeGraaf, Denning (now a Senator), Garber, Goico, Grosserode, Hedke, Hildabrand, Hoffman, Huebert, Kelley, Kerschen (now a Senator), Kiegerl, Kleeb, Knox (now a Senator), Mast, O’Brien, Osterman, Peck, Powell (now a Senator), Rhoades, Rubin, Ryckman, Sr., Scapa, Schwab, Schwartz, Seiwert, Smith (now a Senator), Suellentrop, Tyson (now a Senator), and Vickrey.

Senators in 2012 who voted in favor of the reckless Brownback tax bill:

Abrams, Bruce, Donovan, King, Love, Lynn, Masterson, Merrick (now in the House), Olson, Ostmeyer, Petersen, Pilcher-Cook, Pyle, and Wagle.

So far most of the above legislators have shown little appetite to revisit their tax cuts and put Kansas back on the road to recovery.

And the original group of moderate Republican Senators who reversed course when the Governor assured them this bill would not be the final product? The Governor joined the campaign against them and managed to oust all but McGinn, Longbine, and Schmidt from the Senate, replacing them with more obedient conservative Republicans.

Look at the list carefully. We expect that many of them will soon be campaigning for re-election. Feel free to ask them about their votes on tax policy when they come knocking on your door.

 

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More Bad News for Brownback and His Legislative Allies

Apr 20, 2016 by

Breaking The Bank

Brownback’s Broken Promises

Consensus Revenue Estimates were released today and it appears that projections for this fiscal year (which ends June 30, 2016) are being revised down yet again – this time by $93.9 million. For the next fiscal year, estimates are being revised down by another $134.7 million.

This increases the budget hole the legislature must fill for this year to about $140 million and $151 million for next year. Of course, Governor Brownback continues to insist that there can be no reversal in his reckless tax policy, passed willingly by his legislative allies in 2012 and 2013.

We expect the Governor to release a plan to balance the budget some time tonight. One wonders where the needed revenue will come from. The transportation plan is almost gone, he has already delayed payments to KPERS, and most available funds have been swept up. Brownback has proposed issuing bonds against the state’s portion of the master tobacco settlement – a plan which jeopardizes early childhood programs in Kansas.

Of course another option would be to restore the income tax on more than 330,000 Kansas businesses but so far he has refused to budge on this “shot of adrenaline into the heart of the Kansas economy.”

So Kansans should steel themselves for more and deeper cuts to vital state services. We could see higher education or K-12 on the chopping block as well as social services and public safety.

We will report more on the revenue estimates and the Governor’s proposals tomorrow.

 

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