The Legislature has adjourned the regular session and your representatives are headed for home. The House, which was last to adjourn, was out by 11:54 am. Legislators will be home the rest of April and return to Topeka for the veto session – more commonly these days called the wrap-up session.
The biggest issues of the 2017 session remain unresolved.
- They did pass a budget but it does not balance.
- They failed to pass tax reform that will fund our vital state services going forward.
- They have not yet passed a new school finance formula although it is assembled and awaits a vote in committee in May to send it to the floor for consideration.
- They failed to expand Medicaid, denying 150,000 Kansans access to health care.
Their accomplishments? They successfully defended the National Rifle Association by ensuring that come July 1, 2017, Kansas community colleges, tech colleges, and universities will be wide open for firearms. Anyone can carry a firearm on any post-secondary campus at any time unless the campus can provide metal detectors and security staff at entrances. It didn’t matter that parent organizations, student organizations, faculty and college administration – even General Richard B. Myers, the retired military hero and current president of Kansas State University – wanted the law changed to allow campuses to control weapons. It only mattered that the NRA wants our campuses to be open to all guns all the time.
The last attempt to address the guns on campus issue happened on Tuesday, April 4, when Rep. Jim Ward (R-Wichita) made a motion to bring a related gun bill to the floor for debate. Ward’s motion failed when it only got 44 votes. All 40 Democrats voted to bring the issue to the floor for debate; they were joined by only four Republicans – Rep. Shelee Brim (R-Shawnee), Rep. Stephanie Clayton (R-Overland Park), Rep. Melissa Rooker (R-Fairway), and Rep. Tom Sloan (R-Lawrence).
They also successfully declared pornography to be a public health issue in Kansas and prohibited Kansas from doing business with any company that is boycotting Israel.
So, despite the reality in Kansas today – a reality in which Gov. Brownback remains the most unpopular governor in the United States with overwhelming public opposition to the tax disaster he forced upon Kansas in 2012 – the legislature has been unable to muster enough votes to override his vetoes of reasonable tax reform and the expansion of Medicaid, leaving Brownback to believe his ideology and policies are invincible. He will continue to cling to his failed policies as long as the legislature remains unwilling to stand up for their constituents.
The attitude of the obstructionists in the legislature can best be seen in the comments and votes of Rep. Brenda Landwehr (R-Wichita). After voting to sustain the Governor’s veto of Medicaid expansion, she told the press that the state just did not have the money to do this. Yet earlier in the session, Landwehr voted NO on HB 2178, the first comprehensive tax reform bill that would have reversed much of the Brownback disaster. And she then voted NO on the motion to override his veto of that bill. The argument that the state does not have the money would sound more honest if she had actually joined with those who were trying to solve the money problem.
While HB 2178 would have been a great step in the right direction, with the subsequent Supreme Court ruling in the Gannon school finance case, we know now that it would not have gone far enough. Since then, the legislature has done nothing serious to return to common sense tax policy. They have sent out bills to raise cigarette and liquor taxes, they have thought about motor fuels tax increases, and yesterday after the Governor expressed support for a “flat tax” bill, the Senate defeated that bill on a vote of 3-37. KNEA opposes the flat tax bill because it radically raised taxes on low and middle-income Kansans while essentially protecting the wealthiest. The flat tax bill would have been a massive tax increase on lower income individuals and a minor tax increase on the wealthiest.
There is a way out of this disaster but it takes some courage. Some legislators are now floating the idea of repealing the 2012 tax cuts and going back to the income tax as it was before Brownback conned the legislature into passing his disastrous experiment. These legislators would end the glide path to zero, and put 330,000 businesses back on the tax rolls while reinstating their business loss deduction. They would reinstate the third tax bracket on higher income individuals while providing middle-class relief by reinstating deductions for child and dependent care, medical expenses, and home mortgage interest.
A proposal of this sort would raise enough revenue to bring our state back from the abyss and allow the legislature to stop robbing the highway fund, to respond appropriately to the Gannon decision, and even expand Medicaid.
We are well past the time for gimmicks and protecting a failed Governor. When the legislature returns on May 1 their first order of business needs to be reversing the failed tax policies of 2012 and 2013. And they need to find the resolve to stand up to the bully on the second floor in order to save this great state.
Your legislators will be back home from now until May 1. It is critical that they hear from their constituents; from Kansans who want good roads, excellent schools, and support for those facing difficult challenges. Tell your legislators that you’ve had enough of the Brownback experiment. It is a failed experiment and it is time to reverse it.