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Archive for Saturday, January 7, 2012

Brownback has full agenda awaiting legislators as session starts Monday

January 7, 2012

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— The 2012 legislative session that starts Monday will feature Gov. Sam Brownback trying to push through major changes in nearly all facets of state government.

But those who take care of vulnerable Kansans, teach school children and advocate for public workers are hoping they can get legislators to slow down the Brownback Express.

That will be a formidable task.

Brownback, a Republican, has a gale-force wind at his back with a 92-33 party edge in the House, with most of those Republicans supportive of the governor’s political philosophy.

Republicans outnumber Democrats in the Senate 32-8, but the only firewall between Brownback and many of his goals is a thin margin between so-called conservative and moderate Republicans in that chamber.

Heading into his second year as governor, Brownback, a former U.S. Senator, has launched a far-reaching agenda to overhaul school finance, contract with private companies for all Medicaid services, install a 401(k)-style savings plan to replace the current defined benefit public pension system, and cut state income taxes.

But on several occasions over the past several months, there have been stumbles.

Both Republican and Democratic legislators, have found themselves at odds with Brownback and his team, arguing over not only policy but also the seeming lack of due diligence when the administration tries to change things.

This includes the fight over closing state welfare offices, including the one in Lawrence, making Kansas the first state in the nation to stop providing arts funding, and a proposal to move several juvenile justice programs to another agency.

After public uproars over these proposals that have crossed party lines, Brownback has said he will propose re-funding the welfare office in Lawrence at the state level, revisit the arts issue and abandon the juvenile justice reorganization.

Medicaid battle

The latest tug of war is over Brownback’s request for proposals for companies to manage Medicaid, which expends nearly $3 billion per year to provide health care to 350,000 Kansans.

Several states have gone this route, but Brownback is plowing new ground by seeking a managed care system for long-term care of Kansans with severe disabilities. Brownback officials have said this will save money in the long run and provide better services.

But there is no example in the nation where this has worked, according to Kansas groups that provide these services now. The long-term supports of people with disabilities are different than providing immediate health care, said Sharon Spratt, chief executive officer of Cottonwood Inc.

In a meeting with Douglas County legislators, Spratt said she has met with the governor’s staff on this issue.

“They think they understand it all, but we’ve done our homework,” she said.

She said that even the managed care organizations concede they have no experience in serving people with developmental disabilities.

“I really don’t think the administration fully understands,” she said.

Appeals to restore funding

Another major battle of the session will be over money.

After several years of budget cuts during the Great Recession, state revenues have rebounded somewhat, totaling approximately $300 million more for the current fiscal year than what had been projected earlier.

Brownback has said the state needs to continue to hold the line on spending because federal funding that covers the cost of much of state expenses is going to dry up as Washington battles its deficit.

A recent manifestation of federal budget problems, he said, was the decision by Boeing Co. to close its Wichita defense plant.

“That is why I am going to propose a state budget here that is a strong state budget to get us in a stronger fiscal position. We would not be prudent if we didn’t prepare for this,” he said.

But advocates who have seen their budgets slashed are building pressure to loosen the purse strings to start restoring what has been cut.

In a meeting with Douglas County legislators, Stacey Hunter Schwartz, executive director of Independence Inc., laid out the problem in one area.

There are 3,369 people with physical disabilities who are on a waiting list for assistance that could be provided in their homes instead of having to go to a nursing home. The last person to receive the home-based services waited nearly three years.

There are 6,082 people receiving this assistance, down from 7,200 people a year ago.

“That’s a reduction of 1,200 persons, yet no one is moving off the waiting list,” she said. “Meanwhile, the state’s ending balance continues to rise to $318 million,” she said.

The battle over social service and health care funding will be waged throughout the budget.

School funding and taxes

That leads to Brownback’s stated desire to reduce taxes, specifically the state personal income tax, and overhaul the school finance formula, which accounts for approximately one-half of state spending.

On taxes, Brownback said he will provide details of this plan during his State of the State address, which is scheduled for Wednesday.

The governor has already released his school finance proposal, and that has raised alarms with school advocates.

His plan would eliminate state limits on local property taxes for schools, provide a small increase to rural districts but no increase for most mid-size and large districts, and junk a system of funding “weights” to provide for children whose education costs more.

“Our proposal is a modern formula that will provide districts the flexibility that is necessary to meet today’s challenges, prepare tomorrow’s opportunities, and excel in education,” Brownback said.

Kansas Democratic Party Chairwoman Joan Wagnon said, “We believe the governor is focused on the wrong problem. The current formula doesn’t need to be fixed, just funded.”

Drawing new lines

Meanwhile, the Legislature will engage in the once-a-decade task of redrawing political boundaries for congressional, legislative and State Board of Education districts to account for population shifts.

As almost always, Democratic-leaning Douglas County will be in the crosshairs as the Republican-dominated Legislature decides whether to move Lawrence into one congressional district or keep it split as it is now.

Comments

ThePilgrim 2 years, 3 months ago

Brownback talks "fracking" all the time, not just in OKC.

He talks fracking crazy.

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Richard Heckler 2 years, 3 months ago

If taxpayers want an in depth view of the Brownback tax increase agenda go to the Kansas City Star.

Brownback learned something in Washington D.C. That is promote tax reductions that do not result in tax reductions instead tax increases.

When RINO repubs talk tax reductions one must ask where is the revenue coming from to replace any tax reductions.

Our tax bills do not go down they only go up which makes Brownback a phoney. Brownback is not sending any of our tax dollars back to Lawrence,Kansas. He will keep those and spend those. Republicans in reality are the biggest spenders of all time in spite of the image they have created and we taxpayers do eagerly accepted = duped again and again and again and again and again and .................................. Fraud is the word!

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vuduchyld 2 years, 3 months ago

Be very afraid.

Welcome to Brownbackistan, it's where Kansas used to be Welcome to Brownbackistan, it's our new theocracy Brownback and Koch call all the shots, we're governed by the rich The wealthy all get wealthier and the rest can all eat !@##$

the vid: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SLUfNPdirdE

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ibroke 2 years, 3 months ago

hyper--- there are alot of people who believe we need to increase property taxes so there will be more school funding so the kids will learn more

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hyperinflate 2 years, 3 months ago

I just shudder to think what will happen down here in Baldwin City if the new school funding formula goes through. The clown-lackeys on the school board will be pressured by the administration to raise our property taxes to heights never before seen. "But it's for the children" is the common refrain for everything that is a "must-have" here, whether it's shiny new iPads for every student, or video camera systems on school buses, or fingerprint-reader systems to make it so that little Johnny doesn't have to carry a school lunch card.

All the brand new buildings down here have brass gutters on them, yet we're woefully short of operating funds. I can only imagine the Superintendent is licking his chops on a daily basis awaiting the passage of the new formula. He knows he can easily get the Board to double our property taxes, thus allowing the unfettered spending to REALLY get going. Best of all, I'm sure our totally brain-dead State rep, Madam Gregory will play right into his hands on this. As one of Savior Sam's teabagger groupies, she's surely already in the 'yes' column, no matter what her constituents want.

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Jayhawk1958 2 years, 3 months ago

"Let's open this session by reading a quote from the bible".

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50YearResident 2 years, 3 months ago

Sam Brownback needs to be reined in. His agenda is to stir the pot enough that the Church People of Kansas (and other states) will think he is Presentioal material. I hate to be the one to burst his bubble but, it ain't going to happen Sam, quit while you are ahead.

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Alceste 2 years, 3 months ago

I expect the legislators to exempt themselves from any change in THEIR retirement package.

I know everyone knows that our ever so dedicated Legislators in Topeka participate in KPERS, also. After all, they're state workers. But, guess what? These legislators set up a very special system for how they get their KPERS benefits. Here it is in a nutshell:

Legislators have given themselves one heck of a sweetheart deal in how their own KPERS benefits are calculated. 372 days in a year! Leave it to a political hack to figure that one out!

For the legislator listing all income - the daily rate, subsistence and allowance - this is how annualization is calculated:

•$88.66 (daily rate) x 31 (days) x 12 (months) = $32,981.52

•$123 (subsistence) x 31 (days) x 12 (months) = $45,756

•$7,083 non-session allowance.

Altogether, that equals $85,820.52, and that's the pay figure that would be used for that legislator retiring now.

The Senate president and House speaker are at the top of the pay scale, and annualized pay for those posts could be as high as $99,859.74, depending on their enrollment choices.

This guy Morris who is the President of the Kansas Senate has even been quoted as saying he deserves that kind of KPERS benefit because he is so underpaid!!! Man, this is some amusing stuff!!! Aren't legislators supposed to be servants of the people? Isn't the common thinking that people run for office, not to get rich, but to serve? We sure do think stupid real good like in this state: The people who do the day to day work which make Kansas run have their KPERS figured one way.....and the galoots who pose for 3 months a year as "legislators" get to figure their KPERS benefit in a totally different manner.....to the point where they've invented a new calendar: 372 days in a year and they work each and every one of them!! Woo Hoo!!!

Where do the Douglas county legislators stand on this? Let each of them step forward and state they did NOT claim to work a 372 day year. My money says they're not going to step forward because they've been in on this deal since they joined the party. That guy, Tom Sloan....he claims to be a "business man"....did he ever step forward and point a finger at just how stupid a 372 day year is let alone the "annualization" process for these hacks? What was Sloan's "election" for pension pay out when he "joined"? Let him publically explain his public payout when he "retires". What about that guy Paul Davis? He is a lawyer. What did he choose when he joined the party? Etc. Hacks....and dirty deal makers the lot.

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ibroke 2 years, 3 months ago

I didnt think brownback has been in office long enough to increase the property taxes

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lucky_guy 2 years, 3 months ago

So what constituency is Brownie catering too? Who benefits from the income tax decrease? My 84 y/o mother owns farm land, but pays no income tax because she only breaks even on it. If because of Brownie and Laffer's silliness her property taxes go up and my income tax goes down how is that fair? Talk to land owners who rent out land for agriculture and you won't hear anybody screaming wahoo way to go.

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somebodynew 2 years, 3 months ago

“I really don’t think the administration fully understands,”

OR, worse yet, they really don't care.

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