Washington Days 2016, February 26, 2016
As a lifelong Kansan I know and understand Kansas values – priorities that you and I as citizens of this great state have in common.
We value strong public schools and public school teachers who prepare our children for lifelong success.
We value fair taxation and fiscal responsibility that balances our state’s budget and still takes into account the needs of the people.
We value the right of citizens to make decisions for themselves at the local level, rather than decisions being made for them in Topeka.
Most importantly we value commonsense, good government that is responsive to the people of Kansas.
It goes without saying that Sam Brownback and his legislative allies have either forgotten these values or never had them in the first place.
Six years ago when Sam Brownback came into office the tenants of good government and sound fiscal policy were replaced by an ideological agenda and extreme fiscal mismanagement.
And with it came:
- Record budget cuts to public education
- The single largest tax increase in Kansas history
- Month after month of lower than expected revenue
- Budget shortfalls year after year
- Continuous raids on our state’s highway fund
- Three credit downgrades from two reputable credit rating agencies
- And a persistent assault on local control
For example, last session Republicans placed a cap on local property taxes that will take effect in 2018, despite local officials across the state warning the legislators of the adverse consequences.
And, now, Brownback has announced plans to accelerate the property tax lid so it takes effect this summer.
Republicans are also proposing that a special committee of the legislature be created to oversee and approve any school bond issue before the issuance is placed on a ballot before local voters.
Whatever happened to the longstanding practice in Kansas of local control?
House and Senate Democrats strongly oppose this proposal because it is an insult to the intelligence of every local elected school board member and local school district voter in Kansas.
House and Senate Democrats believe in the power of the people through the democratic process.
We put our trust in local policy makers and voters to think for themselves and to make decisions and take actions that are in the best interests of the children, parents and taxpayers in their local community.
In addition to this proposal, they have introduced a bill to reduce the number of school districts from the current 286 to 132.
In counties with less than 10,000 students, local school districts would be consolidated down to one district. Consequently, this proposal would be devastating to rural communities and rural school districts.
While imposing a property tax lid on local governments, the 2015 Legislature approved a state budget that included a provision – at the request of Governor Brownback – to suspend the 18% bonding debt cap for the Kansas Department of Transportation for 2016 and 2017.
This hypocritical provision allows the Brownback administration to circumvent the balanced budget requirement of the state’s constitution.
Then in December the Secretary of KDOT issued another $400 million in bonds which was supposedly for the T-Works highway improvement program. This raises KDOT’s bonded indebtedness to an all-time high of $2 billion.
It’s obvious that the plan is to use this money to help eliminate the shortfall in the State General Fund. This is reckless and irresponsible fiscal policy. It’s like taking out a second mortgage on your house to pay for your living expenses.
This is a financial scheme that Bernie Madoff would proud of. And, you know where he is these days? He’s spending 150 years in prison.
Worse yet, the first payment on the principle for this bond issue is not due until 2025, seven years after Sam Brownback leaves office.
We are borrowing money now to pay this year’s bills and we won’t start paying on the principle for another 10 years. And, those who voted for this call themselves conservatives?
They are decimating sound budget principles that have been the foundation of state government in Kansas for decades.
As one editorial writer put it, “Bearing the brunt of this morally bankrupt policy will be those in Kansas who can least afford it as well as our children and their children who will have no choice but to pick up the tab.”
He went on to write, “They are more concerned with fulfilling their political agenda of giving tax breaks to the wealthiest individuals and corporations while further restricting the ability of government to perform its duties.”
And just last week the Republicans approved a budget that allows Brownback to make only three quarterly payments into the state retirement system this fiscal year, if money runs out. The fourth payment must still be made, but not until next year, and then with 8% interest tacked on.
That means three payments in FY 2016, but five in FY 2017. In other words, they’re using KPERS like a credit card. The state slides by now, but pays big time next year.
All of this because Sam Brownback has set our state’s course on what he calls his “glide path to zero” on income taxes.
And, what about taxes?
After the 2015 session ended on its 114th day, the longest session in state history, Sam Brownback held a news conference and claimed that the tax plan he signed into law is not a tax increase.
The truth is, not only was it a tax increase, it was the largest tax increase in history.
As of July 1st of last year the statewide sales tax was increased to 6.5% statewide.
Senate Democrats offered amendments twice to lower the sales tax rate on food. Both passed by wide margins. Unfortunately, the final tax plan did not reduce the sales tax on food.
As a result, Kansas now ranks number one for the highest sales tax rate on food in the country. This dubious distinction belonged to Mississippi, which has a 7% statewide sales tax but very limited local sales taxes.
Our combined statewide and local sales tax is what moves us ahead of Mississippi.
For example, in Liberal, Pittsburg and Parsons the statewide plus the local sales tax is now 9.25%, while in Coffeyville, Independence and Leavenworth the combined rate is 9.5%.
Johnson County consumers will pay the sales tax on food ranging from 8.85% in Overland Park to 9.35% in Shawnee, and yet Gov. Brownback doesn’t seem at all concerned that they will shop in Missouri where the food sales tax is only 1.225%.
The most troubling consequence of being number one is the adverse impact it will have on older and lower-income Kansans who are already struggling to meet their daily needs.
That is why Senate Democrats now have our own “glide path to zero.”
We have introduced Senate Concurrent Resolution 1612.
This is an amendment to the Kansas Constitution to reduce the sales tax on food until it is eliminated by 2019. The amendment would be placed on the November 2016 election ballot.
Another bill in the House would end the unfair “pass through” income tax cut for 330,000 businesses and use the revenue to reduce the sales tax on food to 2.6%.
And, then there’s the 12,000 pound Elephant in the room.
On February 11, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that the Republican Legislature violated Article 6 of our state’s constitution when they repealed the previous school finance formula and replaced it with a system of block grants for two years.
This ruling upheld a district court decision which said the block grant system is not equitable.
This is what the Supreme Court said in its ruling: “The Legislature’s chosen path during the 2016 session will ultimately determine whether Kansas students will be treated fairly and the schoolhouse doors will be open to them in August for the beginning of the 2016-2017 school year.”
“We regard the decision of the Supreme Court in the school cases as a clear abuse of judicial power. It climaxes a trend in the judiciary undertaking to legislate.”
“The Supreme Court, with no legal basis for such action, undertook to exercise their naked judicial power and substituted their personal political and social ideas for the established law.”
“This unwarranted exercise of power by the Court leads us to use all lawful means to bring about a reversal of this decision which is contrary to the Constitution and to prevent the use of force in its implementation.”
Actually, these comments were penned back in 1956 as part of the “Southern Manifesto” signed by 100 Southern Senators and Congressman in protest of a Supreme Court ruling known as Brown v. Board of Education.
Last session, every House and Senate Democrat voted against the Brownback block grant plan because we knew then it was unconstitutional.
We now call upon the Republican leadership to join us at the table to do the right thing and make sure we pass a fair and adequate school finance plan this session.
And, we now call upon the Republican leadership to join us to do the right thing in passing the Kansas Hospital Association’s bill to expand Medicaid.
Not only is the right thing to do for 150,000 Kansans without health insurance, it is the right thing to do to insure that rural Kansas hospitals remain open.
Finally, I ask all of us in this room to join together in electing Democrats to the House and Senate so that we can put a stop to the reckless and irresponsible Brownback agenda.
When you look at his agenda there isn’t any wonder why he is the most unpopular Governor in America and we need to seize the opportunity in 2016 to defeat those who rubberstamp that agenda.