The State of the State

We are not sure where to begin on Governor Brownback’s State of the State Address last night. But what we learned is this:

  • Our sports teams are great,
  • Water is important,
  • He’s more pro-life than almost anyone and promises to stop any money from getting to Planned Parenthood,
  • President Obama is at fault for closing the Independence, Kansas hospital and threatening rural health care,
  • President Obama and terrorists have hurt the Kansas economy which is why tax revenues continue to plummet.

But there were also a few comments about education. Yesterday, KNEA along with the Kansas Association of School Boards, the Kansas School Superintendents Association, and United School Administrators of Kansas issued a joint statement calling upon the Governor and the Legislature to work together to support a public education system that works for children and prepares every Kansas child for entry into post-secondary education or the workforce. There was little about that in the Governor’s speech last night. (Click here to read our statement.)

He did say that he really loves teachers. He loves teachers so much that he signed legislation stripping them of due process protections. He has so much respect for the work teachers do that he signed legislation allowing almost anyone to teach math and science because, apparently, teaching does not require any special skills or training. He wants more money to go to support our teachers and that’s why he supports legislation giving corporations $10 million in tax credits to encourage families to take their children out of public schools. And he lauded these accomplishments in his speech.

Now he wants a new school finance plan that will pay a few teachers more in an undefined “merit pay” scheme. His budget, though, does not fund the merit pay plan that has been in effect for years – the one that recognizes teachers in all subject areas who participate in and achieve National Board Certification (NBCT). The NBCT process is fair, objective, rigorous, and open to all teachers. Which is precisely why teachers support it. If we want to reward really exceptional teachers then fund the process we have in place right now!

We don’t know what else to say about this speech except that it is sure to energize the 18% of Kansans who still believe Governor Brownback is doing a good job managing our state.

Perhaps the best analysis came in this morning’s editorial in the Kansas City Star entitled, Gov. Sam Brownback’s State of the State had it all: braggadocio, scare tactics and bad ideas.

You can read the speech yourself by clicking here.

Budget Director Briefs Legislators on Gov’s Budget Proposal

Budget Director Shawn Sullivan appeared before a joint meeting of the House Appropriations and Senate Ways and Means Committees this morning to brief them on the Governor’s proposed budget for 2016 and 2017.

By way of background, Sullivan reviewed tax collection data. Revenue generated in the wake of Gov. Brownback’s reckless tax cuts continues to drop month after month putting enormous pressure on the budget which must be balanced. The State cannot deficit spend.

At the end of the 2015 session, the Governor and his legislative allies managed to maintain all his income tax cuts while at the same time passing the largest tax increase in state history. Despite the sales tax increase, sales tax collections are lower than predicted. Millions of dollars in budget adjustments are required to balance this year’s budget and fix a responsible budget for next year.

Sullivan was pointed in his presentation, taking some of the Governor’s critics to task in his remarks. He declared the work of Duane Goossen (former budget director for Governors Graves, Sebelius, and Parkinson) to be wrong, called out “early childhood advocates” (Kansas Action for Children) and the press as alarmists operating in the “post-truth era,” and he told legislators to ignore the billboards about road repairs (from the Kansas Contractors Association).

The Governor’s 2017 budget proposal does take another $25 million out of the highway fund and sweeps $50.6 million from the Children’s Initiative Fund into the State General Fund.

Most of the budget fixes are sweeps and some found savings due to new estimates but there is no attempt to address the underlying issue of the continuing collapse in revenue collections.

There are proposals big and small – one would even put a means test on the Parents as Teachers program. After Sullivan told the Committees that he and wife benefited from PAT while raising their four children, perhaps people like him – with good incomes – should have to pay for the services.

This is, of course, the very beginning of the process. Legislators will debate the proposals and decide which ones they can and cannot accept. And they’ll have ideas of their own as well. It will be a challenging budget process to say the least!

Click here to see Director Sullivan’s report to the Committees.

House KPERS Committee Holds First Meeting

The committee Chair, Representative Steven Johnson, announced that during the coming session he would be hesitant to move forward with any bill that would have a fiscal impact on the state’s budget and he would be equally hesitant to move forward on any bill that addresses items previously addressed.

He also stated that the work load of the committee might be such that there would be some Mondays that the committee would not meet.

That being said they will revisit the Working After Retirement rules. The Superintendent’s group presented suggestions to the committee that include removing the 6/30/17 sunset for grandfathered employees working after retirement and to drop the $25,000 cap for those who return to work for another school district. They suggest that KPERS maintain the 60 day waiting period, but that the employer pay the additional KPERS costs so that there would not be a need for the $25,000 cap to contain costs to KPERS.

Additionally the Kansas Statewide Efficiency Review released yesterday cited their number one suggestion to the state regarding KPERS is “make required Contributions to KPERS as Specified under Current Law”.

Representative Ed Trimmer also stated to the committee that because of the performance of the staff at KPERS which has been reviewed by a number of outside consultants, “that there is absolutely no need for privatization”. Representative Edmunds further stated that this gives him the somewhat rare opportunity to state that he agrees with his Democratic Colleague on the Committee.

The committee will take up business again next Wednesday with a review of the impact of the bonds sales on the KPERS system.