A significant amount of work was accomplished during the tenth week of the 2012 legislative session with the House debating tax legislation and the proposed House budget. This week was also the last full week most House committees had to consider legislation with Friday being the hard deadline for bills to be passed out of committee. March 31 marks the end of the regular session and the legislature will adjourn for its annual break before returning to Topeka on April 25 for what is called “veto session.”
During veto session we’ll continue to work to reach an agreement with the Senate on areas of unfinished business like redistricting, the budget, tax reform and addressing the unfunded liability of KPERS. The veto session is scheduled for the first two weeks in May. However, the reality is we will not leave Topeka until both chambers reach an agreement on the aforementioned issues. This will be a daunting task, but the work must be finished.
Next week, the House will spend most of its time on the floor debating bills to clear our legislative calendar. On weeks like this, it is not uncommon for us to debate for entire days on the house floor. As always, I’ll keep you updated on our activities and encourage you to contact me with your thoughts, concerns and suggestions. I always enjoy hearing from my constituents on the topics under consideration and appreciate the perspective from those outside the Statehouse.
If you’re tracking legislation or have a bill of interest you’d like to voice concerns on, time is quickly running out. To track the bills we’re debating, simply log onto the legislative website at www.kslegislature.org and scroll to the “calendars” tab near the top of the page where you will find our daily debate calendar listed under the heading “General Orders” and the bills we’ll be taking final votes on listed under “Final Action.”
House Budget Proposal (H. Sub. SB 294)
Last year, the Legislature passed a budget that, for the first time since 1972, decreased all-funds state spending by nearly a billion dollars and turned a $500 million deficit into a $100 million surplus without raising taxes. Since then, we’ve been fortunate enough to have a number of good months and revenues are finally headed in the right direction. However, we still have very serious obligations facing the state, which makes it important for us to remain committed to keeping our spending in check. For too long, Kansas government lived beyond its means and we've worked diligently to turn the tide. History shows revenues will remain erratic as the economy struggles and we must pay off state debt and spend conservatively to better stabilize the budget and avoid some of the major shortfalls we were forced to deal with in recent years.
To continue building on the progress made in 2011, the House debated its proposed budget this week (H Sub. SB 294) which had an approximate ending balance of almost $500 million, exceeding the 7.5 percent statutory requirement for the first time since 2008. This budget is yet another example of the Kansas House exercising fiscal restraint and responsible governing. In the past, it’s reasonable to assume this ending balance would have been quickly spent – perpetuating the cycle we’ve been stuck in for years.
If you recall, the budget submitted by Governor Brownback had an ending balance of $436.2 million and the House budget contained an additional $60 million in savings. Most of the savings came from two provisions: 1.) Requiring state agencies to internally finance longevity pay; and 2.) Allowing school districts to tap into unencumbered funds for additional funding. Additional legislation will be considered after the annual April break to consider additional funding requests of state agencies, departments and programs.
During the floor debate on Friday several amendments were considered by the House. Please keep in mind the House abides by a pay-go rule that requires any amendment that spends additional money to have a method in it to pay for the additional costs. The following amendments were added to the bill:
- Mah Amendment: Allow KNI to admit patients in FY 2013.
- D. Gatewood Amendment: Exempts the Department of Corrections, Juvenile Justice Authority and the Highway patrol from language in the bill that requires 90 percent of a positions funding to be returned to the state bank account if it is left unfilled for 120 days
- Colloton Amendment: Transfers $5 million from the Oil and Gas Depletion Fund for community mental health programs
- Meier Amendment: Sets a preference in state law for disabled veteran businesses for state contracts
- Burgess Amendment: Takes $600,000 from an underused state housing program and directs to the tornado ravaged community of Harveyville to pay for an infrastructure project funded through parking meters in the city which were destroyed in the tornado
- Spalding Amendment: Transfers $29 million from the State Highway Fund for K-12 education
- Patton Amendment: Prohibits any state agency from using taxpayer dollars to provide or perform an abortion unless the life of the mother is in danger or it is required by federal law
The following amendments were proposed but failed to get sufficient votes to be added to the bill:
- Donohoe Amendment: Return the state food stamp household income policy to previous policy, in effect until September 2011, that counts all household income equally, regardless of the resident’s citizenship status
- Arpke Amendment: Requires Kansas State University and the University of Kansas to cut their operating budgets by one percent. Of those funds: $1.272 million goes to Fort Hays State University; $300,000 goes to Emporia State University to help create a nursing degree program; and $848,000 goes to Pittsburg State University for general operating expenses
- Rubin Amendment: Prevents money received from federal health care reform from being used to implement the KEES system in Kansas
- Ballard Amendment: Takes funding from the legislature’s budget, Legislative Post Audit budget and the Governor’s fatherhood initiative to restore cuts for foster care, foster care parenting and foster care training
- O’Hara Amendment: Takes $2.39 million from the State Highway Fund to fully fund the autism waiting list
- Colloton Amendment: Transfers $1.3 million from the State Highway Fund to the Juvenile Justice Authority for local diversion programs
- Gatewood Amendment: Removes the legislative exemption in the bill that requires agencies to surrender 90 percent a positions funding if it remains unfilled for 120 days
- S. Gatewood Amendment: Removes provision that allows Highway Patrol Funds to go straight from KDOT to the highway patrol without passing through the State General Fund
- Mah Amendment: Takes $8.5 million from various local fee funds to fund the fourth year of the state employee under market pay plan
- Peck Amendment: Takes $600,000 from public broadcasting and $400,000 from the K-State veterinary program to fund the Juvenile Justice Authority for local diversion programs
The Senate approved its budget on Thursday, March 15. Once the House budget is passed, a conference committee with members of the House and Senate will be appointed to negotiate the differences between the two budgets. It's a burdensome process and will absolutely play a pivotal role in the future of our state.
While several economic factors are out of our control as state legislators, we still maintain a great responsibility to determine what strategies will most effectively spur our growth here at home and project how these factors will influence the Kansas economy. Kansas is a diverse state with distinct urban and rural issues, often making reasonable and agreeable solutions difficult. Budgeting is never an easy process and increased revenues and sizable ending balances often complicate the process. However, I believe it is in the best interest of the state that we continue to work on shrinking the size of state government, pay down our debt and spend responsibly to better improve the fiscal condition of Kansas. The product we’ve produces so far accomplishes these goals.
Kansas Income Tax Reform (H Sub. SB 177)
This week the Kansas House debated legislation (H Sub. SB 177) that would reduce the income tax rate beginning in 2013 and begin the process of eliminating it altogether. Key provisions include: maintaining current tax deductions, credits and exemptions, including food sales tax refunds, historic tax credits, mortgage deductions and the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) proposed for elimination in other proposals. It also eliminates the individual income tax on non-wage business income at a graduated cap for four years and expands the successful Rural Opportunity Zone Program to include 23 more counties.
In addition, the bill also maintains the statutory sales tax sunset, passed during the 2010 session, which lowers the sales tax rate to 5.7 percent in 2013 and includes a three percent growth factor that requires any increased revenues over three percent to trigger reductions in individual income tax rates. Each of these provisions were designed to lower income tax rates while also ensuring a healthy ending balance to keep Kansas at a sound fiscal status while limiting spending. Until we control our spending problem, we will not make substantial progress in repairing the long term viability of the Kansas economy.
On Tuesday, March 14, the House debated the bill and added the following amendments to the bill:
- Goodman Amendment: Exempts most food purchases from sales tax
- Carlson Amendment: Clarifies the nine percent EITC remains refundable in 2013
- Billinger Amendment: Residents who reside in counties with unemployment rates over five percent and move to a county designated a Rural Opportunity Zone for employment opportunities will receive a tax credit for three years
- Hineman Amendment: Removes provision in the bill that amends severance tax collections to keep current law
- Hill Amendment: Removes the current sunset provision on the state historic tax credit
- Wetta Amendment: Adds Sumner County to the list of Rural Opportunity Zone counties
- Kleeb Amendment: Allows cities or counties to opt out of the food sales tax exemption to lessen the impact on local municipal government budgets
This bill builds on our success from H Sub. SB 1 which passed the House last session and has yet to receive serious consideration from the Senate. The bill debated this week allowed the House to further strengthen its position to better encourage small business growth. Key to repairing the Kansas economy is limiting state government spending while encouraging private sector growth. Each provision of the bill, including amendments added during the debate are subject to removal in a conference committee where the House and Senate will work out the differences between their respective bills. The end product could look quite different and most likely will not contain each provision contained in the House bill, but our work this week built a firm foundation for the final product.
On Wednesday, March 14 the House passed H Sub. SB 177 by a vote of 68 to 56.
Teacher Evaluations (Sub. HB 2634)
Sub. HB 2634 proposes to make adjustments to current state law regarding the evaluation of teacher performance in Kansas public schools. The bill would require teacher evaluations to be based on multiple measures of student achievement and growth, as determined by the State Board of Education. The bill would classify each teacher in one of the following categories: highly effective, effective, progressing or ineffective. The classification would primarily be based on the growth in student achievement. Also included in the evaluation would be recommendations for improvement and plans of assistance, if needed.
Teachers who are classified as progressing or ineffective would be subject to at least one evaluation within the first 60 days of a school semester, regardless of their year of employment. Teachers who receive highly effective and effective ratings would continue to be evaluated at least once every three years, as found in current law. If a teacher receives an ineffective designation in two consecutive years, the bill allows for the teacher’s employment with the district to be terminated. Before the termination could occur, the teacher must be provided an opportunity by their employing district to go through appropriate professional development.
This bill was a part of Governor Brownback’s Excellence in Education Act. The bill has been thoroughly vetted by two House committees and is the result of much consideration, discussion and compromise. I believe this is a positive step forward in improving public education in Kansas. On Friday, March 16, the House approved HB 2604 by a vote of 94 to 30.
As the regular session draws to a close it is imperative we continue to make significant progress on redistricting the state’s legislative, congressional and state board of education districts. This week the House Redistricting Committee approved a new congressional map, called Eisenhower B, and sent it to the full House for debate and consideration.
The redistricting committee held hearings on 17 congressional maps submitted for consideration and voted on over half a dozen maps with only the Eisenhower B map gaining enough votes to pass. Because the First Congressional District had the most significant population loss and the Third Congressional District experiences the most population gain, it was difficult to draw a map with clean district boundaries since the Second Congressional District divides significant portions of the First and Third districts. The committee felt the Eisenhower B map best balanced the population difference between the districts.
In addition, House leadership joined together this week to encourage the Senate to pass the House district map, contained in HB 2606, out of the Senate Reapportionment Committee. In early February, the bill passed the House with overwhelming, bi-partisan support and leaders in both the majority and minority parties would like the Senate to approve the map in an effort to keep the redistricting process moving forward.
As always, I’ll continue to provide you with weekly updates on the redistricting process. Although it might seem like a drawn out, highly partisan process, redistricting affects everyone who resides in Kansas. If you have the time, please visit http://redistricting.ks.gov to review all the maps under consideration.
Celebrating the Wildlife & Sport Fish Restoration Program (HR 6015)
This week the House commemorated the 75th anniversary of the Wildlife and Sport Restoration Program with House Resolution 6015. Over a century ago hunters, anglers and trappers realized America’s natural resources were in danger and could not sustain unregulated harvest and habitat destruction. Therefore the group joined forces to support laws to end the excessive harvest of fish and wildlife.
The first law supporting the Wildlife and Sport Fish restoration program was created on September 2, 1937, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act to raise fund through a dedicated excise tax on sporting guns and ammunition. In 1950, the act was enacted and provided funds to fish conservation and boating and fishing recreational programs in each state through an excise tax placed on certain fishing and boating equipment.
The House approved this resolution by a voice vote on Tuesday, March 13. I was pleased to recognize the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration program and believe it has been essential to the restoration and management of the fish and wildlife resources across the United States.
A Note From Arlen…
I hope you take the time to track the Legislature’s work in Topeka over the course of the 2012 session. Although early, policy proposals on the above issues, and many others, are quickly forming and I believe it is an important part of the process to keep my constituents updated. As you know, the devil is in the details and many components of these policies are subject to change. I encourage you to let me know your thoughts on the issues discussed by the legislature and others which might be affecting you. Please feel free to call (785) 296-7662 or e-mail Arlen.Siegfreid@house.ks.gov and I’d be happy to discuss any topic you are interested in. Thank you for the honor of serving you!