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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Conference Committee Actions

Apr 30, 2016 by

CCR SB 63: Repealing the business tax loophole

This bill would repeal the loophole in the tax code supported by Gov. Brownback that allowed more than 330,000 Kansans to pay no income tax at all.

Most of Kansas supports this repeal but this bill proved problematic. While the bill would have repealed the loophole, it was being sold as a solution to the state’s fiscal woes. Unfortunately, it was not. The bill would have provided an estimated $61 million in 2017 and something over $200 million in 2018. Passage of the bill would have given some legislators the opportunity to say they voted to reverse the damage done to the state, we would actually have faced the same disastrous issues we are facing now. This bill would not have funding our schools, fixed our highways, or protected our pensions, universities, and pre-school programs from the Governor’s cuts, sweeps, and delays.

The legislature needs to face up to the fact that “option four” is the only way out of this fiscal mess. Yes, the business income loophole needs to be reversed, but it needs to be done as part of a complete package that reverses the disastrous “march to zero” advocated by Gov. Brownback and his extreme allies in the legislature.

CCR SB 63 was an election year gimmick intended to some who support the Governor’s plan the cover necessary to survive their re-election campaigns. By voting for this bill, they could claim to have “broken with Brownback” to solve the problem while actually doing little to help.

We can guarantee that those who voted yes on this bill will be tagged as “tax raisers” by the radical right elements of the Kansas Chamber, Kansas Policy Institute, and Americans for Prosperity. And yes, they would have done a good deed in making the tax system more fair but they would have done almost nothing to solve the fundamental revenue problems caused by the Governor’s comprehensive and reckless tax cuts passed in 2012 and 2013.

Now that CCR SB 63 has been done away with, let’s hope that the legislature will actually stand up for Kansas and put together a bill supporting option four – reversing the reckless and irresponsible Brownback tax cuts.

No votes are a mixed bag of legislators containing many Democrats and moderate Republicans along with hard right anti-government ideologues. Democrats and Moderates who voted no want to fix the system so that schools, highways, public safety and other vital state services are funded. The hard right wants to continue the “march to zero” and the gutting of those same services.

The report failed on a vote of 45 to 74.

CCR SB 323: The education report

This conference committee was adopted easily. It contains three bills heard in committees and voted on by the legislature.

The first bill, the Jason Flatt Act, requires 1 hour of annual suicide prevention training for school employees,
The second bill establishes a program to track the language development of deaf and hearing impaired students,
The third bill changes the rules for capital improvement state aid, establishing a 6 year rolling average cap on expenditures and allowing the State Board of Education to prioritize projects based on certain criteria.

KNEA supports all three bills. The report was adopted 118 to 0. It now goes to the Senate.

CCR SB 168, KPERS, Working after retirement

This bill does a number of things but those impacting teachers include the following three:

Prohibits pre-arranged working after retirement agreements,
Extends current provisions for three years, until 2020,
Makes certain changes in how to extend employment under the exceptions in current law.

The bill was adopted on a vote of 117 to 1. Only Rep. Jerry Lunn voted now. We imagine this is because he wanted the bill to include his study of retirement “spiking” via deferred compensation. But we’ll let him explain his rationale.

We’re back for the weekend!

Or at least Saturday. The House has now adjourned until 8:30 am tomorrow (yes, that’s Saturday). The Senate has not yet adjourned for the day.

Keep alert tomorrow! Follow us at underthedomeks.org or by using the KNEA app on your smart phone. We may need your help!

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House to Vote on Repeal of Business Tax Loophole

Apr 29, 2016 by

The House and Senate Tax Conference Committee has teed up a report that will repeal the income tax exemption from some 330,000 Kansas businesses.

A key part of the Brownback tax plan that has all but sunk Kansas into the abyss, the Governor has so far sworn he will not support any repeal. But as the revenue hole sinks ever deeper some legislators have had second thoughts.

So today, they came forward with a bill that simply repeals the loophole. Does this mean we can look forward to a turnaround in the state’s dire revenue system? Absolutely not.

While the business income loophole has been the most talked about problem with the 2012-13 Brownback tax plan, it is far from the costliest. And the bill crafted today will provide no relief until 2018 because it doesn’t go into effect until the 2017 tax year.

Even if this bill passes, it is highly likely that the legislature and Governor will forge ahead with plans to rob the highway plan, delay KPERS payments, mortgage early childhood programs, and cut everything from universities to kindergartens.

A YES vote on this bill does restore some fairness to the tax system – it is patently unfair that a partner in a law firm pays no income tax while his receptionist does – but it really raises far less money than a restoration of the tax brackets and rates to pre-2012 levels would.

You might be happy if it passes because you hate the unfairness in the current system, but you’ll likely be upset when it doesn’t buy a pencil or fill a pothole.

KNEA supports the repeal of the loophole as a matter of fairness and fiscal common sense, but believes it should be done inside of a complete overhaul of our tax system such that revenue is restored and state programs can again be fully funded.

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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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Oops! We Missed it Again!

Mar 1, 2016 by

New revenue figures just out showed that the state missed revenue projections yet again – this time by $53 million. Kansas was down significantly in both income tax and sales tax receipts.

The budget bill passed by the legislature and not yet signed by Governor Brownback, left the state with a $6 million balance so the figures in today put Kansas once again in the hole. And yet we still have not heard a whisper from House or Senate leadership or the Governor about how to stop the bleeding.

Months and months of continual losses have jeopardized all state services from highways to public safety to education and everything in between. Still leadership refuses to acknowledge what most Kansans have already figured out – the disastrous and reckless tax cuts of 2013-13 have bankrupted the state. How they can continue to cut rates and allow more than 330,000 businesses to pay no income taxes at all and expect revenues to increase boggles the mind.

None of the figures accounts for the requirement that the legislature restore equity to the school finance system. This has been estimated to be somewhere between $54 and $100 million.

Brownback has the authority to line-item veto portions of the budget bill to make up some of the deficit. The bill also gives him permission to use up to $100 in KPERS payments to shore up the budget but this money is required to be paid back to KPERS with 8% interest by September. Such a payback would certainly require a big turnaround in collections.

This is the atmosphere in which the legislature returns to Topeka tomorrow after their turnaround break.

 

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