Capitol Comments – June 29, 2017
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Session adjourned Sine Die on Monday, June 26. The 2017 Legislative Session has officially come to an end, for now. This year’s session reached 114 days, including Sine Die, which ties the record for the longest session in Kansas history set by the 2015 Legislature. On the 110th day of session, I had the privilege of leading the Senate in prayer (pictured on the right).
In the extended time that we were in Topeka, the focus remained on a tax plan, a school funding plan, and a budget. The Legislature also covered a number of issues that were considered unfinished business for the session including: prohibiting guns in mental hospitals and other community healthcare facilities, adjusting KPERS working after retirement rules, delaying amusement park regulations, creating a child welfare task force, and expanding consumption areas in cities and counties.
Our work to restore fiscal stability to Kansas has only just begun. The Kansas Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on the new school funding plan in July. Schools will remain open while they consider the new law, but I anticipate the Legislature will be reconvening for a special session to address the unconstitutional components of the new law.
Now that summer is officially here, I am looking forward to spending some quality time out in our community. Should you have any questions, feel free to contact me at 785-296-3245 or by email at Anthony.Hensley@senate.ks.gov. I also encourage you to follow me on Facebook.com/SenatorAnthonyHensley.
Thank you, again, for your continued support.
Senate Democratic Leader
In this issue:
- Beyond Brownback’s Experiment
- Credit Rating Stabilizes
- Budget Highlights
- Pay Increases for State Employees
- Working After Retirement
- School Funding Update
- Concealed Carry Exemptions
- Child Welfare Task Force
- Local Elections
BEYOND BROWNBACK’S EXPERIMENT
As a result of a collaborative effort between both parties, Kansas taxpayers will see a change in their taxes beginning July 1. Although the changes go into effect on July 1, Kansans likely will not notice a difference in their paychecks until mid-August, depending on how their pay periods fall. These changes were a necessary first step in making Kansas fiscally stable. To be clear, taxpayers will still be paying less than they paid in 2012. In fact, if this plan had passed instead of the governor’s reckless experiment, it would have been called a tax cut.
In 2012, a married couple filing jointly making between $30,000 and $60,000 in adjusted gross income paid a tax rate of 6.25 percent. Under the new tax plan, the same couple will pay a rate of 5.25 percent.
In 2012, a married couple filing jointly making $30,000 or less in adjusted gross income paid a tax rate of 3.5 percent. Under the new tax plan, that same couple will pay a rate of 3.1%.
Additionally, under this new tax plan, the child care tax credit has been restored for families with children. The itemized deductions for mortgage interest, property tax, and medical expenses have been restored at 75 percent in 2019 and 100 percent in 2020.
The removal of these deductions and credits in 2013 to help pay for the disastrous Brownback tax experiment targeted primarily Kansans living on fixed income and Kansas families with small children.
Further, the restoration of the child care tax credit will cause some families to pay less now than they did last year in state income taxes.
The actions of the 2017 legislature are a crucial beginning to the recovery from the self-inflicted budget crisis caused by Sam Brownback and his political allies, but there is still more work to be done.
Our sales tax rate on food remains of the highest. Our state debt has expanded causing us to pay more in interest on that debt. Our state highway plan – which would have created 175,000 jobs by 2020 – has been nearly eliminated by continued sweeps. Our schools continue to be funded at unconstitutional levels.
Our work has only just begun. The damage done by the Brownback administration cannot be undone overnight. It will take years to restore Kansas. But, it can now be said that the steps to restoring our state began in the 2017 session of the Kansas Legislature.
CREDIT RATING STABILIZES
Less than 24 hours after passing the tax plan, Moody’s Investor Services adjusted the credit outlook of Kansas from negative to stable. Their release explained, “…the stable outlook indicates the rating should remain at its current level for the next 12-24 months.”
Over the past few years, Moody’s has downgraded the state’s credit rating multiple times, citing fiscal instability caused by ongoing budget shortfalls. The most recent credit downgrade came from S&P back in February.
This credit rating adjustment is further proof that the Kansas Legislature made a step in the right direction with the passage of the new tax plan.
The last item of business for the 2017 Legislative Session was passing a budget. For the first time in years, I supported the budget for a number of reasons:
· State employees get a pay increase, many of whom haven’t received a raise in nearly a decade;
· Individuals who provide Home and Community based services will receive a 7 percent rate increase over the next two years;
· Employer contributions for KPERS are restored for FY 2018 (July 1, 2017-June 30, 2018);
· It provides funding for additional beds at Osawatomie State Hospital and restores mental health grants;
· It addresses the massive backlog of sexual assault kits with $1.5 million for forensic scientists;
· It restores the 4 percent funding cuts to Regents Institutions.
The governor signed the budget bill into law, but made two line item vetoes. Both vetoes are related to disability services and the Brownback administration having control over consolidating services.
PAY INCREASES FOR STATE EMPLOYEES
I have been receiving a number of inquiries from state employees regarding the specifics of the pay increases. The budget is structured with three different categories. First, judicial branch employees are all receiving a 2.5 percent pay increase. State employees who were hired before July 1, 2012, and have not received a pay adjustment will receive a 5.0 percent pay increase. Employees hired after July 2, 2012, and are considered new hires (meaning they have not held a benefits-eligible position with the state prior to being hired into their current position) will receive a 2.5 percent pay increase. The intent of this structure is to ensure that state employees who have not received a pay adjustment or promotion of any kind will receive a pay increase.
WORKING AFTER RETIREMENT
In response to the teacher shortages and other issues with the working after retirement policies implemented in recent years, the Kansas Legislature adjusted the law and the governor signed it. Effective January 1, 2018, there is no earnings cap. Additionally, for retirees under the age of 62, there is a 180-day waiting period before they can return to work. Retirees 62 and older have a 60-day waiting period.
Employers do not make a contribution for employees who work less than 630 hours or less in a calendar year. Employers do make the statutory contribution on the first $25,000 of the employee’s earnings in a calendar year and 30 percent on earnings that exceed the first $25,000.
Pre-arrangement for employment is still prohibited as it was under current law.
SCHOOL FUNDING UPDATE
On March 2, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that funding for K-12 schools is constitutionally inadequate, and ordered the Kansas Legislature to increase funding to schools by June 30.
On June 5, the Senate passed a school funding plan on a vote of 23-17 and in the House on a vote of 67-55. I did not support the plan as I believe it riddled with flaws and I do not believe it will pass court muster. This is why I submitted a constitutional protest to reflect these concerns in the Senate Journal.
It fails to provide adequate funding. It provides $294 million in new money in the next two school years. This means the per-pupil amount will only grow from $4,006 to $4,128 over that same period. (This amount does not factor in any additional weightings or costs affiliated with KPERS.) While this is an increase in base state aid, it falls far short of achieving the high-water mark of $4,400 in the 2008-09 school year, meaning that five years from now we will still be below where we were eight years ago.
It creates equity issues. Discrepancies in weightings provide a handful of districts with opportunities to receive more funding than others disrupts the equity ruling made last year by the Kansas Supreme Court. All Kansas children have the right to a quality education regardless of their geographic location or their family’s financial status. These weightings prevent that from happening.
The governor signed the bill into law on June 15. It now goes to the Kansas Supreme Court, who will determine whether it satisfies their opinion of what is constitutional in terms of adequacy and equity.
The Kansas Supreme Court is allowing the law to go into effect while they review it. This allows schools to remain open and for districts to move forward with making plans for the upcoming school year. The Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments on July 18. If they rule that it is not constitutional, there will likely be a special session.
CONCEALED CARRY EXEMPTIONS
Governor Brownback allowed the bill that exempts certain healthcare facilities from concealed carry of handguns to go into law without his signature. Senate Substitute for House Bill 2278 exempts state or municipal-owned medical care facilities and adult care homes, community mental health center, indigent health care clinics, and any building in the health care district associated with the University of Kansas Medical Center.
Under previous law, these buildings would have been required to have adequate security measures in place or would have been required to allow concealed carry of handguns. I voted in favor of this bill.
This law, however, does not address guns on college campuses. As of July 1, 2017, it will be legal for guns to be carried on campus unless appropriate security measures have been installed.
CHILD WELFARE TASK FORCE
The Legislature passed and the governor signed into a law the requirement for the appointment of a Child Welfare System Task Force by the Department of Children and Families (DCF). This task force would be required to provide additional study and oversight of DCF’s administration of child welfare, protective services, family preservation, reintegration, foster care, and permanency placement. The first report to the Kansas Legislature by the task force is required in January 2018 with a final report by January 2019.
This year is an election year for locally elected positions. Mark your calendars: August 1, 2017, is Primary Election Day and November 7, 2017, is General Election Day. On the ballot will be local races for Mayor, City Council, and local school boards. Are you registered to vote? Check your registration status by clicking here. You may think that your one vote doesn’t count, but it does.
A full list of candidates and more information regarding the upcoming elections can be found on the Shawnee County Election Office’s website (www.snco.us/election).