The Longest Ever Session is Finally Over

Jun 15, 2015 by

What is the sign of good policy?

A number of years ago, there was a bill proposed that would require a 2/3 majority vote for the legislature to approve any tax increase. During the debate way back then, Rep. John Edmonds (R-Great Bend) took to the floor with an amendment. He told his fellow legislators that this would be such a good idea, he wanted to apply the rule to all votes – nothing could become law without a 2/3 majority. Edmonds argued that if something was a really good policy, it ought to be easy to get 2/3 of one’s colleagues to agree.

The 2/3 majority bill did not pass. And Rep. Edmonds made some very good points that should speak to us as we watch this legislature, the 2014 legislature and future legislatures.

In 2014, the school finance bill that eliminated due process for teachers and enacted a $10 million corporate give away voucher program was passed by 63 votes in the wee hours of the morning after a long call of the House. Just like the tax bill in the 2015 session.

If one’s policy can only garner the minimum 63 votes after 3:00 am when legislators have been locked in the chamber, bullied, threatened, and sleep deprived, does one really think it’s a good policy?

We do not advocate for a 2/3 majority rule. But we question the benefit of policies that can only get to the minimum vote necessary after bully tactics are implemented. If the Legislature can’t get to a majority on the merits of the argument, then perhaps they shouldn’t.

Tax Policy

Majority rules.

That’s true. And in the House a majority is 63; in the Senate it is 21. Often under the dome people speculate on “what will get 63 and 21.”

That was certainly the way things worked with tax policy this year.

What was known coming into the session last January and became more clear with every revenue report moving forward was that the state was in dire straits when it came to revenue.

The tax plan passed in 2012 at the command of Governor Brownback – his “real live experiment” – three years later has proven to be a failed experiment. And yet the Governor and his cronies hold on to it with a death grip.

Both chambers split into multiple camps when it came to tax policy changes. Democrats and moderate Republicans saw no benefit to helping pass a plan that balanced the budget on the backs of working people and left the worst parts of the Brownback plan in place. Center-right Republicans wanted to spread the pain of a tax increase, bringing businesses back on the tax rolls and increasing consumption taxes. Brownback supporters opposed bringing businesses back on the tax rolls but were happy to enact a large increase in sales and other consumption taxes like cigarettes, gasoline, and liquor. And then there was the hard core right. This group opposes all tax increases all the time and insists that the budget should just be cut.

The governor vowed to veto any bill that imposed taxes on the 330,000 Kansas businesses that his 2012 plan exempted or rolled back his “glide path to zero” plan to end the income tax entirely. He and his budget director Shawn Sullivan threatened to strike out post-secondary education funding, cut nearly $200 million from K-12, reduce social services, and lay off public safety personnel if the legislature did not balance the budget with consumption taxes only.

The legislature repeatedly fought back, bringing plan after plan to the floor and watching them go down in defeat. As the governor and House leadership tried to force legislators to adopt bad tax policies, they even suspended a call of the House for eight hours, keeping a vote in limbo over night.

As the session dragged on, more and more legislators checked out. Whether for vacations or returning to work, attending weddings, or dealing with family emergencies, numbers thinned out over the last couple of weeks.

In the end, as the last tax plan came to the House floor, it appeared to fail having gained only 61 votes. And that’s when the doors were locked, House members forced to sit in their seats, and the brow-beating, fear-mongering, and threats began in earnest. At about 4:00 am a 63rd vote was secured, the call was lifted and the bill passed.

It also received the minimum votes necessary in the Senate.

The bill raises the state sales tax in Kansas to 6.5%. Some parts of the state will see their sales tax as high as 10% when the state rate is combined with the local rate. The bill also raises cigarette taxes by 50 cents/pack. Kansas will now have one of the highest food sales tax rates in the nation. And 330,000 Kansas businesses still pay no income tax at all.

Collective Bargaining

Collective bargaining for public employees in Kansas is contained in two statutes – the Professional Negotiations Act (PNA) for K-12, community college and technical college professional employees and the Public Employer Employee Relations Act (PEERA) applying to all other public employees including education support personnel in public schools.

There were legislative attacks on both the PNA and PEERA during this legislative session as conservatives sought to severely restrict or even deny collective bargaining rights for public employees.

For the PNA, there were bills to abolish exclusive representation and allow every employee to bargain a contract individually. There were proposals to restrict negotiations to only minimum salaries. But there was also a bill crafted by consensus of KNEA, KASB, USA/KS, and KSSA at the request of the 2013 legislature.

The consensus bill was introduced but ignored by the House Education Committee in favor of a proposal by a minority of the School Efficiency Commission (Dave Trabert, Mike O’Neal, Sam Williams, and Dennis DePew). The same thing happened in the Senate Education Committee where they worked anti-collective bargaining proposals from Senator Jeff Melcher (R-Leawood).

When those proposals hit the floor of each chamber, there was a move to gut them and replace the contents with the education community’s consensus plan. In the House, on a motion by Rep. Sue Boldra (R-Hays), the consensus bill was adopted in its entirety. Over in the Senate, on a motion by Sen. Tom Arpke (R-Salina) with support from Sen. Caryn Tyson (R-Parker) and Sen. Molly Baumgardner (R-Lousiburg), a bill almost identical to that in the House was approved. Both bills were then supported by KNEA, KASB, USA/KS, and KSSA.

There things sat for some time with neither chamber taking up the other’s bill.

Late in the session, the legislature was considering some necessary amendments to Senate Bill 7, the school finance bill passed earlier. These changes were put into HB 2353 and, during debate on the Senate floor, Senator Steve Abrams (R-Arkansas City) amended in the language that the Senate had passed earlier.

HB 2353 was eventually passed by both chambers and so beginning on July 1, 2015 the following changes to the PNA will take effect:

  • The notice date is changed from Feb. 1 to March 31,
  • The impasse date is changed from June 1 to July 31,
  • Each year the parties shall negotiate “compensation of professional employees and hours and amounts of work,”
  • In addition, “each party may select not more than three additional terms and conditions of professional service from the list” in current law.
  • “All other terms and conditions of professional service” in the current list “shall be deemed permissive topics for negotiation and shall only be negotiated upon the mutual agreement of the parties,” and
  • Both parties to the negotiation shall be required to receive training on conducting negotiations.

Senator Melcher’s proposal on PEERA (SB 179) would have essentially ended collective bargaining for state and municipal employees and school district personnel other than teachers. The Senate Commerce Committee coupled SB 179 with SB 212 and rolled them both together into HB 2096.

SB 212 would prohibit public employee organizations from using any money to participate in partisan or political activities and prohibit public employers from using payroll deduction to collect union dues. It was amended such that payroll deduction could not be used for any contribution that was not required as part of an employee benefits program.

When HB 2096 went to the Senate floor, Sen. Garrett Love (R-Montezuma) offered an amendment that would allow all payroll deductions except union dues. Love’s amendment failed and Senate leadership pulled the bill and sent it back to the Ways and Means Committee. That’s where the bill spent the rest of the session. It will be available to legislators in the 2016 session.

Use of Payroll Deduction

Senate Bill 212 which banned the use of payroll deduction for public employee union dues was rolled into HB 2096 and, after a brief floor debate, was sent back to committee where it sat for the remainder of the session. It will be available to legislators in the 2016 session. (See our write-up on collective bargaining to learn more about what happened to SB 212.)

School Finance

Yes, the legislature repealed the school finance formula that has been in place since 1992.

Why was this done? Well, one can only speculate on the rationale. Here are a few reasons that have been floated under the dome:

  • The 1992 formula is too complicated for legislators to understand (although SB 7, the block grant replacement, is equally complicated).
  • Many legislators believed that if the 1992 formula went away, so would the Gannon lawsuit. The thinking is that the lawsuit is over the 1992 formula and that’s gone so the lawsuit can’t continue.
  • A large percentage of legislators don’t support public education and this was a way out of giving any consideration for additional funding.

But whatever the rationale is, the 1992 formula is gone and has been replaced by a “block grant” proposal under which school districts for three years will get an amount of dollars roughly equal to what they got before it started. But the plain truth is that most school districts are getting less.

We are now waiting to see what the court has to say about this move. Some people believe they will stay SB 7 and keep the old formula in place until the dust settles on the lawsuit. Only time will tell.

The block grant has a number of serious flaws. Probably the most important is that it does not adjust for any enrollment changes from increases in enrollment to increased poverty, increases in ELL students, etc. With funding frozen for three years, we are certain to see some seriously negative consequences in the future.

KPERS Working After Retirement

The Legislature agreed on a bill amending the working after retirement rules governing KPERS retirees who return to work in a KPERS-covered position.

Changes adopted include:

  • Raising the earnings cap to $25,000,
  • Enacting restrictions on who can work after retirement in the schools.
  • Hiring retirees to work in KPERS covered professional positions will be allowed in special education and up to five areas identified as shortage areas by the State Board of Education and allow for special “hardship” positions identified by school districts that have tried to find new employees but cannot.
  • Current retirees working after retirement are grandfathered until 2017 when all retirees will be under the new rules.

The changes were in reaction to information that KPERS was taking a loss for every retiree between the ages of 55 and 62 who returns to work and that pre-arranged agreements jeopardized the tax status of KPERS. There was no appetite to simply lift the sunset on current rules and extend them.

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