Bullying and Budgeting

Feb 20, 2019 by

A solid week of bullying bills!

This is turning out to be the week of the bully under the dome. It started with a Valentine’s Day hearing on HB 2150, a bill that allowed any child who reported bullying – just reported it; it didn’t have to happen to him/her and it didn’t actually have to happen at all – to be offered a voucher to attend a private school where, we guess, bullying must not happen.

Okay, it wasn’t a bill to address bullying, it was a bill to create vouchers. Now this week, we have hearings on two more bullying bills.

One, HB 2257, was drafted by Equality Kansas, an advocacy organization for LGBTQ Kansans. Equality Kansas took the time to confer on their draft with education organizations including KNEA and was receptive to suggestions resulting in a bill that is generally considered the best one out there at this time.

The second bill is HB 2330. This bill was based on the infamous Walt Chappell drafted bill that was so much overkill that even advocates for stronger bullying laws opposed it. The bill was given to freshman Representative Mark Samsel (R-Wellsville) who worked to purge it of some of the more onerous provisions. Samsel has also reached out to KNEA, KASB, and USA for input in the hope of creating something that everyone can agree to – perhaps a melding of HB 2257 and HB 2330. Complicating the problem is that the bills are having hearings in two different committees!

Bullying legislation is a perennial issue in the statehouse with education organizations looking for local control on the issue and other organizations seeking statutes with “more teeth.”

KNEA opposed HB 2150 for what it is – a voucher bill. We are appearing neutral on the other two and encouraging legislators to deal with this issue as they did with the other perennial issue, dyslexia. Last year, with the leadership of Rep. Brenda Dietrich (R-Topeka), a controversial dyslexia bill was transformed into the establishment of a task force made up of teachers, administrators, State Board members, parents, legislators, and advocacy organizations.

The Dyslexia Task Force met over the summer and fall and managed to collaboratively develop a set of recommendations – unanimously adopted by the members of the task force – that will hopefully satisfy all of the interested parties. We believe the same process should be used to come up with a solution to bullying that helps schools, protects students, and deals with the underlying issues.

HB 2257 had a hearing today; HB 2330 will get a hearing tomorrow. And that voucher bill, HB 2150? It is scheduled for a vote in committee tomorrow.

Money mess

Since budgeting, spending, and taxes are all intertwined, we thought it best to let you know where things are as of today.

The mostly corporate tax giveaway, SB 22, has passed the Senate with 26 votes and is getting a hearing in the House Tax Committee today and tomorrow. It reduces revenue by nearly $190 million.

Both the Senate and House Tax Committees are hearing bills this week to lower the food sales tax rate. Lowering the rate by one cent, from 6.5% to 5.5% would cost the state about $60 million.

The Senate has also passed SB 9 which would require the state to immediately pay back $115 million in funds delayed to KPERS. This bill has had a hearing in the House Appropriations Committee and was voted out of committee favorably. It awaits action in the full House probably this week. It represents a reduction of $115 million from the treasury which would make the budget harder to balance.

Governor Kelly had recommended the re-amortization of KPERS in order to lower the immediate costs and help balance the budget. Her re-amortization bill was soundly defeated on the House floor.

So lots of things are happening that will make it more difficult to balance the budget and meet the priorities for Kansas that Governor Kelly highlighted in her state of the state address – funding schools, repairing the foster care system, hiring correctional officers to end the crisis in Kansas prisons, and expand Medicaid to provide health insurance to 150,000 uninsured working Kansans.

We are approaching the half-way point of the session. There is much still to be done!

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On a mission to wreck the Governor’s budget? Pass Brownback 2.0.

Feb 5, 2019 by

Brownback-style tax bill up this week in Senate

Susan Wagle & Sam Brownback

Senate Bill 22, the tax bill created and rammed through committee by Senate President Susan Wagle (R-Wichita), will be debated on the Senate floor this week.

If passed, this bill will take Kansas back to the Brownback tax disaster of 2012 – 2017 when revenues to the state treasury plummeted, schools and all other state services were slashed, the state’s credit rating was repeatedly downgraded, and we were on brink of fiscal collapse. Luckily voters sent a new Legislature to Topeka in 2017 and they worked quickly to reverse the so-called “tax experiment.” Since then revenues have been rebounding and Kansas is now at the point where we can begin to rebuild our state.

Wagle’s bill is estimated to reduce revenue by $191.6 million immediately with almost all of the benefits going to corporations. Another part of the bill would allow wealthier individuals to continue itemizing deductions and would provide those individuals with a small tax reduction. The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) estimates that only about 11% of individual taxpayers earning less than $111,000 would benefit from being able to itemize on their Kansas tax return. Even the section of Senate Bill 22 intended to benefit individual taxpayers is highly skewed to benefit the wealthiest Kansans!

In a recently written op-ed authored by Wagle, she asserts that SB 22 “will return the unexpected windfall from federal tax reform back to Kansas families.” Nothing could be further from the truth. The Kansas Department of Revenue estimates that of the $191.6 million in “returned” taxes, $137.2 million would go to corporations while only $54.4 million would to to individual taxpayers with the vast majority of that money going to the wealthiest individuals. SB 22 is not about helping Kansas families – it is about benefiting large corporations. It’s just the newest version of the Brownback tax experiment.

Senate advances bill to send $115 million to KPERS

On Monday, the Senate advanced SB 9 to final action on a voice vote. The bill was adopted on final action on Tuesday and now goes to the House for consideration.

Senate Bill 9 would repay $115 million to KPERS this year – money that was withheld by the Legislature in an attempt to balance the budget in a prior session.

While we are happy to see legislators who have willingly voted to decrease and withhold KPERS contributions over the years suddenly come to the conclusion that those actions were wrong and need to be rectified, it is hard to see this action as anything more than an attempt to remove as much money as possible from the state treasury in order to prevent Governor Laura Kelly from achieving her budget prioriteis.

Kelly’s budget includes money to satisfy the Supreme Court order on school finance, to expand Medicaid in order to provide health care to 150,000 uninsured Kansans, repair and restore the state’s disastrous foster care system, and give state employees a long overdue pay increase. By depleting the treasury, her goals become far more difficult. It will make it much easier for conservatives to argue that Medicaid, pay raises, and hiring more case workers at the Department for Children and Families are unaffordable. (We assume they still want to address the school funding fix, but we’ll see!)

Just to put this in a little historical context, in FY 2015, 2016, and 2017, the Legislature reduced the statutory rate for KPERS payments, putting less into the system. In FY 2016 they reduced payments to KPERS by $97 million, promising to pay it back with interest and then reneging on that promise. In FY 2017 they reduced payments to KPERS by $64.1 million and scheduled the repayment over 20 years. In FY 2019 they reduced KPERS school contributions by $194 million and scheduled repayment over 20 years.

So again, while we are glad to see that so many conservatives who repeatedly voted to under-fund KPERS have suddenly had an epiphany, we remain skeptical of their motives.

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Logic, Budgets, and Taxes

May 3, 2017 by

We have a belief in the logical order of decision making. That is, since the state is out of money and can’t fund its current budget, there will need to be a revenue/tax bill passed that allows state services to continue. We also know that the legislature must meet the Supreme Court ruling in Gannon. So our logic is to approach this in a specific order. First, pass the new school finance formula that determines how much money is needed for K-12 education. Second, pass a state budget that spells out funding for all state agencies/services. Finally, pass a comprehensive tax plan that allows the budget to be funded.

Putting the tax bill first constrains actions on the budget and school finance.

But logic does not always apply under the dome.

Right now both chambers are arguing about tax policy while the school finance formula and budget are stalled.

Many legislators are fighting for the application of a logical order. They want to make only one more vote on taxes and they want that vote to both fill the state’s budget hole and fund our schools.

Yesterday a planned tax vote in the Senate was pulled and today the same thing happened in the House. That’s not bad news. It is a result of legislators making the case for logic and denying votes for a bill that does not solve the two problems they face.

What it is important to remember now is that we are only three days into this veto session and the legislature has 24 days available and budgeted. There is no reason to panic and ignore rational decision making. And while we all want this done, it is more important that it be done right.

K-12 Budget Committee Considers Taxes in School Finance Bill

Within this ongoing debate about how much in taxes and what to pay for, the House K-12 Budget Committee met today to talk about the possibility of putting dedicated tax increases in the school finance formula bill to pay education increases.

The first part of the discussion was simply whether or not that was constitutional under the “two-subject” rule. Since the bill already contains at least one tax provision – renewal of the statewide 20 mill property tax levy – it would appear to be legal, provided that the proposals in the bill specifically reference paying for provisions in the bill.

After some discussion including asking questions of House Tax Committee Chairman Steven Johnson (R-Assaria), there did not appear to be consensus on whether or not this was a good idea. One problem brought up by several legislators is that even if this legislature put the taxes in the bill and targeted them to education, future legislatures would be free to sweep those revenues for other purposes.

The Committee will meet again tomorrow to hear from Jeff King, the attorney hired by the legislature to advise the Committee on the likelihood that this bill would be found to be constitutional.

Tax Agreements Scheduled for Votes; Votes Cancelled

Things indeed seem messy in the quest to find a tax bill that will fill the holes, fund our schools, and get enough votes to override an expected veto by the Governor (84 in the House; 27 in the Senate).

The first tax bill this session (HB 2178) easily passed both chambers before being vetoed by Governor Brownback who insists that his failed tax experiment is working. The House secured 85 votes for an override but the Senate failed to get to 27.

It was said that the Senate would be voting yesterday on a new tax bill but the bill in question would not have raised enough money to fix the problems facing the state right now let alone fund a new school finance bill. Leadership did not bring the bill forward for a vote.

Instead, the tax conference committee met again to hammer out another bill, this time putting it in a Senate bill so that the House would vote first. That vote was expected after lunch today but again, the vote was delayed. As we write this update, we are waiting for the House to reconvene. Rumors under the dome are that the bill is still short of what is necessary for funding and so is also still short of the needed votes. If this is true, it is very likely that there will be no vote today.

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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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