Top issues to watch during the 2013 legislative session:
Public schools want to restore cuts that have been made to base state aid per pupil, and they just got a big assist from a three-judge panel that ruled on Friday the Legislature has failed its constitutional duty on school finance.
The state judges ordered a $440 million increase, but Republican leaders will focus on legislation that would retain third-graders who fail to read at grade level, review and possibly narrow state laws that give teachers collective bargaining rights, and consider allowing the use of tax dollars or credits to send students to private schools.
The school funding case will likely be decided by the Kansas Supreme Court after the legislative session. Lawrence public school officials have urged the Legislature to provide “constitutionally suitable funding” for schools and noted that base state aid has been cut to $3,838 per pupil when the law — and now three judges — say it should be at $4,492 per pupil.
Programs serving approximately 200,000 children statewide are sweating out an arbitration decision between Kansas and tobacco companies that are seeking to reduce payments to states.
This fiscal year, Kansas received $56 million as part of its annual share of the settlement with cigarette makers, but officials have said next year it could be as low as $12 million.
Recently, Kansas officials announced they would participate in a multistate agreement that would reduce the risk of losing tens of millions of dollars.
Mental health funding
Meanwhile, the state’s mental health community centers have been cut by nearly $20 million in recent years. Douglas County officials have said the cuts have put a great strain on services and increased costs for public safety and jail operations.
Gov. Sam Brownback has proposed a $10 million shift in mental health funding, but officials are eager to see details.
The Brownback administration’s remade Medicaid system, called KanCare, will get some attention. Legislators have announced they will review implementation of KanCare, which started Jan. 1, and appoint an oversight panel. Under KanCare, nearly 380,000 Medicaid beneficiaries will be enrolled in one of three private managed care companies.
On another front, Brownback hasn’t announced whether he will to opt in to an expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. The expansion would provide coverage for an estimated 135,000 people and be paid for by the federal government for three years. Then the federal share would drop to 90 percent by 2020.
The annual battle over illegal immigration will feature some nationally known names. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach has signaled he will help legislators who want to push for tougher illegal immigration restrictions, as he has done nationwide.
The Kansas Chamber of Commerce, however, will counter with anti-tax activist Grover Norquist who will warn against restrictions that could hurt businesses.
Pension system changes
Last year, the Legislature approved changes to the public pension system but stopped short of putting new teachers and government workers in a 401(k)-style plan. This year, the Kansas Chamber of Commerce wants the Legislature to go all the way. But employee groups say setting up a 401(k)-style plan will actually worsen the unfunded liability in the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System.
KU Med Center funding
Kansas University is lobbying for state funding for improved medical education efforts, including construction of a medical education and training facility at the KU Medical Center’s main campus in Kansas City, Kan.
But the school may find itself fighting battles from last year, including allowing concealed carry of guns on campus and efforts to ban abortion training by KU doctors in training.
Shifting tax burden
Local governments are on high alert to keep an eye on the Legislature. Cities and counties are warning of efforts by the Legislature to shift costs to the local level, impose caps on local taxing and expand the property tax exemption on machinery and equipment.
A proposal before the Legislature to expand that exemption would cost Douglas County $3 million in revenue and all local governments in the county $12 million. The city of Lawrence and Douglas County also have voiced opposition to proposals in the Legislature that would place limits on state spending and taxes, such as the so-called Taxpayer Bill of Rights, or TABOR.
Conservatives want the governor to have more power in selecting appellate judges. Currently, the governor picks one of three nominees provided by a commission.
Proposals will be heard to change the Kansas Constitution to provide for the governor picking judges subject to confirmation of the Senate. The school finance ruling by the three-judge panel is being used by conservatives to ratchet up calls for changing the way judges are selected.
The Kansas Chamber of Commerce will weigh in on the side of allowing liquor to be sold in convenience stores and grocery stores. Mom and pop liquor stores will fight the proposal.