Monday, January 12, marked the opening of the legislative session in Kansas and it is good to be back! The week had a flurry of activity, including inaugurations, the State of the State address by the Governor, and the announcement of the Governor's budget. For me, I began work with my new office assistant, Greg Davis, who also assists Rep. Melissa Rooker, my office-mate. My office also includes a fantastic intern, Amanda Gress, a senior at KU majoring in Economics and Political Science. My year is off to a fantastic start in spite of the many challenges that stand before us.
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Governor's Address to the State
Thursday evening Governor Brownback, in his State of the State address, apparently refuses to face reality about the budget crisis at hand. No specific references were made to seeking new revenue sources, but the "march to zero income tax will continue boldly". The governor suggests a new school finance formula crafted over the next two years. During that time the Legislature should appropriate money directly to school districts.
As quoted from the Governor: "My suggestion to you is simple, and I believe necessary — a timeout in the school finance wars." The funding formula "should reflect real-world costs and put dollars in classrooms with real students, not in bureaucracy and buildings and gimmicks." He stated that we are funding "100,000 new students that don't exist" referring to the weightings added to the base state aid per pupil for at-risk students among other weightings in the formula.
The Governor also embraced moving city elections to the fall and changing the way Kansas selects its Supreme Court justices. There was no mention of expanding Medicaid using a "Kansas plan". Direct reference was made to making Kansas "the most pro-life state in the union".
Although I am eager to evaluate the education funding formula, I am not supportive of block grants to directly fund our schools during the rewriting phase. Listening to the Governor blaming the at-risk, poor, and special needs children of our state for our education funding challenges was appalling. Related to moving all elections to the fall, all four cities in my district stand opposed and I will vote accordingly. The selection process for Kansas Supreme Court justices should remain and again, I will vote against a change. Click here for a link to the Governor's speech.
Governor's Tax Proposals
The Governor's plan includes freezing some tax rates currently scheduled to be reduced.
Tax collections more than 103 percent above the previous year would go directly to a new "Tax Reduction Fund". Tax collections between 102 and 103 percent of the previous year's intake would be directed to a new "Budget Stabilization Fund," which would be used to offset unforeseen budget circumstances in future years.
The governor's proposal would also accelerate the implementation of a 50 percent "haircut" for itemized deductions. This brings in an additional $50 million in FY16.
Another proposal includes a month and a half long tax amnesty program in FY16, whereby Kansans who are delinquent in paying taxes due before the end of 2013 could pay those back without interest or penalties. This is projected to bring $30 million in taxes owed to the state.
Finally, the governor is proposing increasing cigarette tax to $2.29 per pack, and 25 percent of the wholesale price for other tobacco products. He is also proposing that liquor taxes increase from 8 percent to 12 percent.
Governor's Budget Proposal
The Governor's budget was just released yesterday so I have had limited time to study it. As a result, I will save most of my comments for next week's newsletter. At first blush, there appears to be a cut in school funding of potentially more than $100 million when applying the new block grant method suggested by the Governor. School revenues are frozen at the current level yet local districts will be required to pay pension expenses (KPERS). Local property tax money will also be counted as if coming directly from the state. Stay tuned for more impressions next week!
My Committees for 2015-2016
As District 21 Representative I have been assigned to Vision 2020, the Education Budget committee, and the Health and Human Services committee.
For my first three years in the legislature I was a member of the Vision 2020 committee and now return. The purpose of this committee is to bring forward key issues that need to be addressed by the legislature in the near future. This year we will be working to write a bill introducing a Kansas plan for Medicaid expansion. Past work that is now under legislative consideration include a 50 year water plan for the state, accessible broadband for all parts of the state, and work to reduce the number of higher education students requiring remedial classes upon entering college. Very few states take the time to plan ahead, and it is exciting to see Kansas move forward on ideas recommended by this committee.
Education Budget is a new committee for me. With no other Northeast Johnson County legislator on an Education committee, the responsibility to enhance or at least maintain funding for our public schools weighs heavily on my mind as the session begins. With three years under my belt on the regular Education committee, my understanding of the funding formula is solid and my commitment to the education of our students unwavering. Over half of the State General Fund money is budgeted through this committee, so the task ahead in light of the state's diminished revenues will be critical.
This will be my sixth year on Health and Human Services committee. As a physician, there is no doubt that this is where my expertise and passion fit best. One of the issues we will deal with again is scope of practice for Advance Practice Nurses. We have already listened to some general presentations about KanCare, our Kansas Medicaid program. Our chairman is opposed to Medicaid expansion, which explains why the Vision2020 committee will work on an expansion proposal. I have been working on a few bills that will be introduced into this committee over the summer and will share specifics later in the session.
Education Committees hear from Efficiency Commission
The K-12 Student Performance and Efficiency Commission's chairman presented their report to a joint meeting of the House and Senate Education Committees this week. The presentation included a minority report that took issue with a number of the findings and recommendations of the majority of the Commission. The Commission's report calls for elimination of the 65% on instruction goal currently in law and for no changes to the professional negotiations act other than to encourage KNEA, KASB, USA, and KSSA to continue discussing ways to improve the act.
The Year Ahead
Things are quite busy for me as I enter my sixth year serving you in the legislature. In future newsletters you will hear more about bills that I am supporting along with the "big news" from here in Topeka. If you follow my FB page (link if possible), you know that I regularly post articles about Kansas politics from multiple news sources. Feel free to contact me at any time with issues or concerns. I am here to serve YOU!
Rep. Barbara Bollier
State Representative, District 21
Kansas House of Representatives
785-296-7686 (Topeka Office)