In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, the House opened with the bag pipe music of former State Senator Rich Gannon. Each year he plays various Irish and Scottish music that filled the House Chambers and the halls of the Capitol. It gave us some time to reflect on the important impact Irish and Scottish Americans have had on our country. Mr. Gannon served in the Senate from 1979-1989.
This week the Governor announced a 20 member advisory board of medical professionals from across the industry as well as stakeholders to evaluate the transition to a new, more efficient health management system. This is a critical step as it will provide for another layer of accountability to the process. The goal of the KanCare proposal is to create the best person-centered care coordination model in the country. The board will hold its first meeting later this month in Topeka.
FY 2013 Budget
Friday, the House held the first of several debates on the budget for the state for Fiscal Year 2013 which begins July 1st. This is one of the better budgets that I have had the opportunity to vote for because it will make real strides in reducing spending, holding a responsible ending balance to protect against further economic uncertainty, loss of federal funds, and to support Kansans during various disasters. There were many difficult decisions made in drafting this bill along with the hundreds of hours poured into the bill we voted on. This budget cuts almost $51 million from the Governor’s recommendation and reduces spending by almost $600 million from FY 2012.
The House position also goes further by reducing authorized state FTE by 320 positions. Some of these were due to early retirements and others were because of the elimination of noncritical programs. This budget will continue to further establish getting the State on strong fiscal footing in order to respond to the financial challenges ahead of us.
Sub. for HB 2634 would support the State School Board’s policy of improving the teacher evaluation process which the State Board has been developing over the last few years. The improved evaluation is based on multiple measures of student achievement and growth which would be developed by the State Board of Education. It would go further to allow teachers who receive a progressing or inefficient grade to apply for a grant from the state board to attend mentoring programs designed to improve their teaching ability. In order to receive a waiver from NCLB, a standard evaluation is required. NCLB is a problem for our high achieving schools in Miami County and that is why we need this bill and the waiver.
To address cost concerns and arbitrary retirement dates for school buses, school districts have come to the House Transportation Committee with HB 2749 to remove the 25 year retirement date for school buses. To ensure the safety of the buses and school children who ride them, the Kansas Highway Patrol and a mechanic must inspect each bus before it can be used by school districts to transport school children. This would also include activity busses and passenger vehicles.
Property Tax Policy
The House on Monday passed HB 2609 which transfers $45 million for two years and is hopeful that it will reduce the property tax burden of local units of government on property owners. There has been an almost doubling in the property taxes over the past few decades. This is a first and right step to reverse that trend.
The bill would prevent your property tax bill from increasing on its own just because the value of your property increases. This bill would adjust county mill levy rates based on property valuations. For example, in a given year X the property valuation of a county was $1 billion and it raised $1 million in revenue for the county. If in the next year, the value of the county was now $1.5 billion, the resulting property tax bill would be $1.5 million. That’s a 50% increase in the revenue for the county without voting to raise the property tax. This bill would adjust the mill levy rate in the year where the value was $1.5 billion so the revenue to the county for that year would be the same as the previous year, $1 million instead of $1.5 million. In an effort to rain in exploding property tax bills, the legislature voted to pass this real piece of property tax reform.
Income Tax Policy
On Wednesday, the House passed out its version of a tax bill aimed at growing the state’s sluggish economy to boost our state’s revenues. Economic growth is the best way to help Kansans by not just getting them a job but getting them off unemployment. The bill works to do this by reducing individual income taxes for all tax brackets.
The plan would also exempt small businesses from nonwage income which would then be used to create jobs and grow the economy. About 70% of new jobs are created by small businesses making it a prime target for tax reform needed to grow our economy and provide jobs to those who are unemployed.
There were some other amendments made to the bill which I do not support but are “feel good” amendments which seem like good policy but aren’t. There was an amendment which removed sales tax on all food and beverage purchases. The argument on the floor was made that this was to help poor people. Unfortunately, there is little understanding about the current food sales tax rebate program which provides rebates for low income Kansans. This amendment, in essences creates a $372 million cost to the state but does little in the way of creating jobs or growing the economy because the tax didn’t focus on job creation. While it may be politically difficult to oppose such an amendment, it is not good policy for the state.
The next step in the process for the House tax position is for the bill to go to the Senate and follow the process to get to conference committee so we can work out the differences between the House and Senate tax positions.
Next week, the House will be working education and pension and benefits bills to address budget concerns in the first half of the week. During the second half of the week, the House will be engaged in conference committees where we work through differences with the Senate on bills both houses have passed.
If there is anything you need or a question I can answer, please let me know by phone at 785.291.3500 or email at email@example.com