Half Time at the Kansas Legislature

Feb 23, 2017 by

What happens to all those Bills?

The Kansas Legislature wrapped up its first half today and won’t resume their work until Monday, March 6.

Under the rules, any bill that has not passed its chamber of origin is now dead and cannot be considered as a stand-alone bill again this year. The exception to this is any bill that was introduced in a time-line exempt committee The House and Senate Federal and State Affairs, Senate Ways and Means, Senate Assessment and Taxation, House committees on Calendar and Printing, Appropriations, Taxation are all exempt committees. An exempt bill is defined as “those sponsored by, referred to or acted upon by an exempt committee.”

When a bill from a non-exempt committee is referred to an exempt committee, it is then a time-line exempt bill. While the K-12 Education Budget Committee is not an exempt committee, the four school finance bills were referred to exempt Appropriations Committee. This is referred to as “blessing” the bill.

We will be reviewing all bills of interest to see which are still viable.

Of course, no idea is ever dead and bills that are not in exempt committees or blessed can certainly re-emerge as amendments to other bills.


Issues this Week Demonstrate a Strong Coalition of Democrats and Moderate Republicans Willing to Stand up for Good Policy

For all the social media rants about whether Moderate Republicans will put Kansas ahead of party or whether Democrats will cooperate with Moderates to advance good policy; what has been clearly demonstrated this week is that both Moderates and Democrats are honoring their commitments to work with each other to advance policies beneficial to Kansas.

The best examples of this were the votes on the tax bill (HB 2178), the motion to override the veto of the tax bill, and the successful effort to pass Medicaid expansion.

HB 2178 passed the House on a vote of 76 – 48 and Senate on a vote of 22 – 18. The override vote passed the House 85 – 40. While the override failed in the Senate, Moderates and Democrats delivered 24 votes in favor of the override to 16 opposed.

The Medicaid expansion effort in the House found similar margins passing with 81 votes. And more importantly, five amendments offered by Conservative Republicans as poison pills went down to defeat; one by 68 votes, three by 74 votes, and the fifth by 72 votes. These were what we might call “postcard votes” – those expected to lose but likely to end up on campaign postcards later.

These votes demonstrate, beyond a shadow of doubt, that Democrats and Moderate Republicans are working from a position of mutual respect and remarkable cooperation. They are united in their determination to put Kansas back on a path to stability and prosperity.

We applaud them!


Why Not Visit Them When They Are Back Home?

With the legislature on the turnaround break until March 6, they will undoubtedly be attending forums and town hall meetings. We urge all who are interested in the actions of this legislature to take the time to attend an event and use the time to thank those who stood up for Kansas and take to task those who have maintained their allegiance to Governor Brownback’s failed policies.

 

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House Crafts Its Tax Plan

Feb 10, 2017 by

House Tax Bill Comes Out of Committee

The Senate on Thursday abandoned debate on their tax bill when it was clear that it would not get the votes necessary to pass. That bill, SB 147, would have raised about $280 million by raising income taxes on all Kansans. While it repealed the LLC tax loophole, it did not end the Brownback glide path to zero. The money raised in the bill would have resulted in the need to once again raise taxes later this year or immediately in 2018 and the continuation of the glide path would have put Kansas in the same budget crisis in the future.

Also on Thursday, moderate Republican and Democratic Senators handed leadership yet another defeat when they announced that they would not vote for SB 27, the cuts bill that would have reduced education funding by $154 million dollars in the current year.

Senate president Susan Wagle has been insisting that cuts were needed and that support for increased taxes must be concurrent with budget cuts the largest of which would be applied to K-12 public schools.

Over in the House, they are taking a radically different approach. Late yesterday the House Taxation Committee assembled and passed a comprehensive tax restructuring bill that goes a long way to restoring stability to the state’s revenue system.

Under the House plan, House Substitute for HB 2178, the glide path to zero income tax would be repealed as would the LLC loophole. The loophole would be repealed retroactively to all of 2017.

The House would restore the third income tax bracket set at 5.45% for those with an adjusted gross income of $50,000 or more filing as an individual and $100,000 for married couples filing jointly.

Income rates under the House plan for those married filing jointly would change as follows:

Taxable income (AGI) 1992-2012 Current law (2017) Sub for HB 2178 (2018)
$0-$30,000 3.5% 2.7% 2.7%
$30,001-$60,000 6.25% 4.6% 5.25%
$60,001-$100,000 6.25% 4.6% 5.25%
$100,0001 + 6.45% 4.6% 5.45%

 

The full deduction for medical expenses which was repealed in 2013 would be restored effective 2017.

This tax bill is estimated to raise an additional $590.2 million in fiscal year 2018.

The bill is a major step forward in the debate over tax policy under the dome.

Next week, the House Appropriations Committee will hold a hearing on HB 2161, a bill that would liquidate the pooled money investment portfolio putting about $317 million in the treasury. The portfolio would then be paid back at about $45 million per year for seven years. This action would likely create enough one-time money to plug the hole in the current year budget. It would, however create a seven year obligation. KNEA believes that this is the best way to get out of 2017 without cutting state services but must be done in conjunction with a comprehensive tax fix that provides for state services and allows the new obligation to be paid.

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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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Too little, too late.

Sep 2, 2016 by

BrownbackWhat a surprise. Governor Brownback has suddenly awakened to the fact that his legislative allies are being thrown out of the legislature by angry voters. And Brownback knows what we all know – the leading issues for Kansas voters are the slow demise of Kansas’ quality public education system, the patently unfair Brownback tax system that benefits the wealthiest Kansans at the expense of middle and lower income residents, and the general collapse of the state’s budget that is damaging our highways, public safety and the social service safety net.

Now he’s in a panic that the voters are going to throw out more of his allies and that the new legislature will work to reverse the anti-education, anti-government agenda he has promoted for the past six years.

Make no mistake, this is a political move. A move intended to fool the public into thinking that he cares. No, he doesn’t care. He wants to continue the path toward the elimination of public services including public education.

The Governor says he wants to lead on school funding. Well, he had his chance.

For the past six years, when he could have been a leader, he has rejected the voices of educators. He has ignored school board members, school administrators, and teachers. He put together education study groups that he packed with anti-public education zealots. He and his legislative allies have taken all of their input from the anti-government, Koch funded folks who have bankrolled their campaigns.

The Governor and his hand-picked education “advisors” have deliberately refused to listen to teachers in particular. The Governor’s education policies have been written by “advisors” that included Dave Trabert of the Kansas Policy Institute and Mike O’Neal of the Kansas Chamber of Commerce. Leading his advisory groups have been anti-government zealot Sam Williams and the extreme right member of the State Board of Education, Ken Willard.

When teachers asked to appear before these committees they were told that there was no time for teachers. If teachers had something to say, we were told, they could write a letter or email the committee members.

So here is what we need to remember about Brownback’s sudden interest in public input. Don’t expect it to change anything. He will still take his orders from the same anti-public education think tanks and Koch-funded organizations. He will take his legislative ideas from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). This effort is a falsehood. As, Kansans are fond of saying, “Take a look at the man behind the curtain.”

We were among those receiving a letter from Brownback’s office letting us know how to provide input in the development of a new school finance formula. We were happy the Governor finally decided that teachers might have some ideas (it’s taken him six years to figure this out). Sadly we note that he has no plans to provide for hearings and public forums. Instead we are asked to submit our ideas via email.

And we should note that while a number of Kansas school districts, KASB, USA/Kansas, the Kansas PTA, and a number for other education organizations were asked to participate, the invite was also extended to some of the most virulently anti-public education organizations in the country including the Kansas Policy Institute, the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, the Heritage Foundation, the Brookings Institute, and the Friedman Foundation. All of those organizations work primarily to strip money away from public education and send it to unaccredited and religious schools in the form of vouchers and tuition tax credits or scholarships.

The reality of the Governor’s sudden interest in showing some “leadership” on education is the fact that the public has soundly rejected all of the Governor’s ideas up to this point. On August 2, Kansas voters ousted many of the Republican legislators who have blindly followed Dave Trabert, Mike O’Neal, and Sam Brownback in enacting their policies. Most observers believe that more of his allies will lose their bids for re-election in November.

We’re ready to help make a responsible and constitutional school finance formula a reality. But we believe the leadership in creating such a formula will come not from the Governor’s office but rather from a new, more responsible legislature sent to Topeka by Kansas voters who have tired of the Governor’s reckless policy agenda.

At KNEA we will continue to seek out, elect, and work with legislators who will put Kansas and Kansans ahead of an extreme anti-government ideology; who will pull Kansas back from the edge of the fiscal cliff and once again provide for quality state services that support the high quality of life we have come to expect.

In the meantime, we do encourage you to let the Governor know your thoughts. We hope you will take advantage of this to give the Governor a piece of you mind. You don’t have to sketch out the details of a new school finance formula. We suggest that you simply suggest ways in which a new legislature might provide for an adequate and equitable school finance formula that meets the needs of our students.

Here are a few of ideas you might want him to consider:

  • Kansas can’t provide adequate funding when tax revenues continue to decline. It’s time to roll back the irresponsible tax cuts that have benefited the wealthy and been punishing to middle and low income Kansans. Put business back on the tax rolls, stop the “glide path to zero income tax,” and get our state budget back to stability.
  • Elevate the advice of education practitioners including classroom teachers and parents with children in public schools over that of anti-government organizations like KPI and the KCC.
  • Increase funding to the levels promised by the legislature in 2005-06. Reinstate the prior school finance formula and focus only on modifying it with input from educators – school board members, school administrators, and classroom teachers. The plan put forward by KASB and USA/KS is an excellent starting point.
  • Put money directly into increasing the salaries and benefits of all teachers. Not just a few – ALL. College graduates leave Kansas public universities with undergraduate debt in excess of $23,000 and start teaching with salaries as low as $27,000. All teachers need to be better paid. Current research shows that the gap between teacher earnings and the earnings of others with the same required level of education is widening. Enhancing the salaries and benefits of all teachers will go a long way to making teaching an attractive career option.
  • Any changes to the school finance formula must allow it to respond to changing needs (increases in enrollment, student needs such as at-risk and bilingual, and shifts in local property tax valuations), and must be adjusted annually for inflationary increases and increased expectations.
  • Repeal statutes that strip money away from our public schools and send it to private schools including unaccredited schools. Start by repealing the tuition tax credit program and return that $12 million to our public schools.
  • Demand that all legislators immediately stop bad mouthing teachers and their union. This rhetoric and the continual attacks on teachers only serve to discourage young people from becoming teachers and encourage those now teaching to retire as soon as possible or just quit.

These are just a few ideas. We know that teachers have plenty more. So send those ideas in to the Governor at StudentsFirst@ks.gov.

And while you’re at it, check out the KNEA list of education friendly candidates for the Kansas House and Senate. Volunteer for those candidates and vote for those candidates. Discuss the importance of a pro-public education legislature with your friends and neighbors. And on November 8, let’s finish the job we started on August 2.

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What’s Going On?

Apr 30, 2016 by

We’ve been here in the statehouse since 8:30 this morning and we’re approaching dinner time now. And we have nearly nothing to report.

There had been hopes that this would be the last day of the session but that is looking less likely as the minutes roll by.

The budget committee has been meeting on and off all day and much of the debate in there has been over education.

First, they are adjusting the cuts to universities such that KU and KSU will get larger cuts; PSU and ESU get smaller cuts and WSU stays about the same. This issue was pressed by Senator LaTurner (R-Pittsburg), a strong supporter of the Governor’s tax plans that have moved the state to near-bankruptcy and caused several highway projects in his district to be delayed or cancelled. LaTurner has sent a letter to the Governor begging him to let the transportation projects in his district go forward. LaTurner is also the brains behind a bill capping the ability of local units of government to raise tax dollars that could be used to offset state losses. His avid support of Brownback is costing his district plenty and he faces a strong challenge in his re-election bid this fall. So far he has only managed to get PSU’s cut down to about $750,000 instead of $1 million.

The next debate on the bill is over K-12 education. House members want to “put a fence” around K-12 funding, prohibiting the Governor from cutting K-12 funding going forward. Senate negotiators don’t want to protect K-12. At this time it looks as if the report will go to the House floor with the K-12 protection.

Of course, the bill also contains the delay in KPERS payments as well as the delay in paying KPERS back. The state would be off the hook for the delayed KPERS payments until 2018. The bill contains a provision that calls for KPERS to be given any money that comes in above the revenue estimates. Since the estimates have not been hit 11 of the last 12 months, it is unlikely that KPERS will get any payments any time soon.

The Senate is now out until 8:00 pm at which time they will consider some conference committee reports but not the budget report. That has to go through the House first. The House is not expected to have the budget report ready until around 11:00 pm.

A budget debate could take them past midnight and going past midnight requires a special vote. Additionally, there is some thought that the budget might not have the votes to pass.

All of this means that ending the session tonight is looking more challenging. We anticipate being back tomorrow or maybe moving into next week.

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