Topeka — House and Senate budget writers on Tuesday remained at an impasse over funding of higher education.
The House has approved a 4 percent reduction to higher education while the Senate has proposed a 2 percent cut.
In addition, the House has proposed other cuts from job vacancies, salary caps and other changes for a grand total of $63.35 million in reductions, compared with the Senate's cut of $21.25 million.
On Monday, Kansas University Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little met with House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, and other House leaders to talk about higher education funding.
Higher ed officials pointed out that a recent national report noted that recent cuts in higher education have led to steep tuition increases.
States are spending $2,353 or 28 percent less per student on higher education in the current fiscal year than they did in 2008, when the recession hit, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
During that period, tuition has increased $1,850, or 27 percent, the study said.
"Reversing these trends and reinvesting in higher education should be a high priority for state policymakers. A large and growing share of future jobs will require college-educated workers," the study said.
Gov. Sam Brownback has proposed keeping higher education funding at its current level.
Without comment, Gov. Sam Brownback on Monday signed into law a bill that bars public employee unions from taking voluntary deductions from members' paychecks to help finance political activities.
House Bill 2022 was sought by the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and conservative legislators.
They argued that state and local government agencies processing payrolls shouldn't be involved in the transactions that divert money to political action committees. They also contended that people were being coerced into making this contributions.
Opponents, including the Kansas National Education Association and Kansas Organization of State Employees, said the paycheck deductions are voluntary and the bill was a thinly disguised attempt to weaken the political influence of public employee unions.
Topeka — A gay rights advocate said Thursday a compromise has been reached on a bill that could result in the quarantine of people with AIDS or HIV.
House Bill 2183 would remove a current provision that exempts those with HIV or AIDS from possible quarantine.
Kansas Department of Health and Environment officials said they wanted to remove the exemption because HIV and AIDS are infectious.
During a hearing on the bill, Paul Marx, an associate chief counsel with KDHE, said there would be no medical reason to isolate or quarantine a person infected with HIV or suffering from AIDS. But Marx added, "I can't say that would never happen, if the virus were to mutate." He added, however, "That is hugely speculative."
Tom Witt, executive director of the Kansas Equality Coalition, said he wanted the HIV/AIDS quarantine exemption restored.
During a House-Senate conference committee meeting, it was agreed to include the phrase "medically necessary and reasonable" when dealing with a quarantine issue.
"Since even KDHE publicly concedes there is never a `medically necessary' reason to quarantine someone with HIV, local health officials will not be able to get away with using the new law to justify harassment of people living with HIV/AIDS," Witt said.
Witt added of the compromise, "This is not perfect — no compromise ever is. We would rather see the specific HIV exemption preserved in law. However, given the extremely conservative tilt of our current state government, this is the closest we are going to get to ensuring people are treated fairly."
HB 2183 clarifies procedures on testing a patient for communicable diseases when a health care worker has been exposed to that patient's blood or bodily fluids.
Topeka — The House and Senate budget conference committee today started negotiations and the House stood by its proposal to cut higher education funding by 4 percent.
The reduction would mean a nearly $10 million cut to Kansas University.
The Senate has proposed a 2 percent cut.
While the Senate plan has a smaller cut, it also reduces the state's student financial assistance programs by $437,832. The House plan doesn't cut those programs.
The House and Senate also differ on proposals to fund a medical education building at KU Medical Center.
The House agrees with Gov. Sam Brownback's plan to provide $3 million in the next fiscal year to jump start construction of the building. The Senate plan would allow KU to use funds for the project that are generally allocated to take care of deferred maintenance and repairs on university buildings and facilities.
Appropriations chairman alleges that head of Kansas Turnpike offered $25 million to kill merger proposal
Topeka — House Appropriations Committee Chairman Marc Rhoades, R-Newton, said the head of the Kansas Turnpike Authority offered Gov. Sam Brownback $25 million to back off his proposal to merge the KTA with the Kansas Department of Transportation.
KTA President and Chief Exeuctive Officer Michael Johnston denied the allegation.
Rhoades made his comment Monday during committee discussion of a proposal to take $30 million in "savings" from KTA and KDOT to support general state operations.
State Rep. Nile Dillmore, D-Wichita, said no one from the Brownback administration has explained how those savings would occur. The savings, he said, "seems to be a number plucked straight from the air."
Rhoades responded, "Maybe it would come from the $25 million that the director offered the governor."
Asked to respond to Rhoades' comment, the KTA's Johnston said, "There is no truth to it."
He said of revenue collected from tolls on the 236-mile turnpike, "This money doesn't belong to me, and I can't spend it without board approval."
Johnston said a House member called him recently and asked him whether he offered $25 million to kill the merger proposal. "I gave him the same answer I am giving you," Johnston said. He declined to identify the House member.
As far as the proposed savings that Brownback has said would be realized if KTA were brought under KDOT, Johnston said he has no idea what the governor is talking about. "I was never consulted about anything," he said.
Also on Monday, the House gave final approval to a bill that says the KTA and KDOT should work together to minimize duplication of effort in maintaining the turnpike and state highway system.
Topeka — A bill was introduced Thursday that would abolish the death penalty in Kansas.
State Rep. Steven Becker, R-Buhler, said the bill would replace capital punishment with a sentence of life without parole.
The measure would also establish a fund for anticipated savings from eliminating the death penalty, and use those savings to assist families of homicide victims.
The last time the Kansas Legislature debated repeal of the death penalty was in 2010 when the Senate voted 20-20 to abolish capital punishment. That was one vote less than the 21-vote majority needed to advance the measure.
Kansas reinstated the death penalty in 1994, but no executions have been carried out since then.
Supporters of abolishing the death penalty say it requires extra funding to litigate death penalty cases, which robs dollars from other budget needs.
Becker's bill was introduced before the House Federal and State Affairs Committee.
Advocates for undocumented immigrants on Wednesday urged the Legislature to reject a bill that would establish an Arizona-like "proof of citizenship" law.
About 50 people with Wichita-based Sunflower Community Action assembled in the Statehouse to protest Senate Bill 140 and House Bill 2192.
SB 140 would authorize law enforcement to determine an individual's immigration status if reasonable suspicion exists that the person is here illegally. The measure has been referred to the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee, but no hearing has been held.
HB 2192 would repeal in-state tuition for some undocumented, college-eligible immigrant students. No hearing has been set on this bill either, but supporters of the current law note that the repeal could easily be amended into any bill dealing with the budget or education.
Several young people spoke at the rally about how they were brought to Kansas as infants by their parents who were seeking a better life for their families. They said they consider Kansas their home and that the proposed bills would provide a hardship for many hard-working families.
Topeka — In Kansas, Gov. Sam Brownback and his conservative Republican colleagues in the Legislature seem to be following the no-way, no-how lead of Texas Gov. Rick Perry on whether to expand Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act.
But this story link text in the San Antonio Express-News shows that not all is as it appears in Texas.
While Perry, whom Brownback backed for the Republican nomination for president, is taking a tough-guy stand against Medicaid expansion, key legislators in the Lone Star State are working behind the scenes for a "Texas solution."
And there may be more acceptance in conservative Republican circles for a proposal by Arkansas that has apparently gotten the green light form Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, a former Kansas governor. This bloglink text reports that Sebelius has said OK to the plan to use Medicaid dollars to buy private insurance.
So far, Brownback says he is undecided on whether to opt in to expanding Medicaid in Kansas, although whenever asked he says he worries about the costs and notes the state's budget problems — problems caused by income tax cuts he signed into law last year.
And conservative Republicans in the Legislature are pushing a resolution opposing the expansion of Medicaid. Hospitals and health care groups oppose the resolution. In addition, a statewide poll conducted on behalf of the Kansas Hospital Association found that 60 percent of Kansans support expanding Medicaid.
Under the Affordable Care Act, the federal government would pay the entire cost of the expansion for three years, and then that share would fall down to 90 percent after that.
Currently, Medicaid provides health care coverage to about 380,000 Kansans. The largest portion of them, about 230,000, are children. The rest are mostly lower-income, pregnant women, people with disabilities and elderly people. The $2.8 billion program is funded with federal and state dollars.
Medicaid in Kansas doesn’t cover low-income adults who don’t have children. And a nondisabled adult with children is eligible only if his or her income is below 32 percent of the poverty level, which is approximately $5,000 per year. That is about the most difficult eligibility level in the country.
But starting in 2014, the ACA creates an eligibility level of 138 percent of the federal poverty level, which is $15,415 per year for an individual and $26,344 per year for a family of three.
Estimates are that expansion would cover upwards of 150,000 more Kansans.
The effort by Gov. Sam Brownback and several other Republican governors to eliminate personal state income taxes is based on an economic theory that is "extremely flawed," a new report by a non-partisan research group says.
Brownback has depended on the claims of supply-side economist Arthur Laffer that states without personal income taxes are outperforming those with state income taxes. Last year, Brownback hired Laffer for $75,000 to help draw up the governor's tax proposal.
But the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy says income tax cuts don't appear to actually stoke state economies.
"In reality, states that levy personal income taxes, including the states with the highest top rates, have seen more economic growth per capita and less decline in their median income level over the last 10 years than the nine states that do not tax income," the ITEP report states. "Unemployment rates have been nearly identical across states with and without income taxes."
Laffer's claims are based on growth in Gross State Product, which is related to population trends, and he asserts that tax policy is behind the migration of people into low-tax states.
But ITEP says population growth in states isn't determined by tax policy. The report says the growth is more attributable to low housing prices, warm weather and high birth rates in those states.
The ITEP study looks at median family income, which shows that while income has declined in most states over the past decade, the declines have been smaller in states with income taxes. Five of the nine states without income taxes are doing worse than average in median income growth.
And ITEP says that Laffer's theory fails to take into account that some states don't choose to levy an income tax because they have an unusual economic resource, such as oil, coal or tourism.
The Kansas House on Friday approved a bill that will require public schools to have a "Celebrate Freedom Week" every year in mid-September.
Supporters said it would help students learn more about the early history of the United States and founding documents, such as the Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights.
"I think it's time we got involved in celebrating patriotism," said state Rep. John Bradford, R-Lansing, who said he felt that children were not getting enough instruction on U.S. history.
But opponents of House Bill 2280 said schools were already teaching American history and that mandating a specific period for the instruction could mess up teachers' class schedules.
"How ironic that we have a bill with freedom in the name that is one more mandate on local government," said state Rep. Don Hineman, R-Dighton.
State Rep. Ward Cassidy, R-St. Francis, said he liked the idea of a "Celebrate Freedom Week," but opposed mandating schools to have it. "I don't think every time we come up with a great idea we should force schools to do that great idea," he said.
The measure was approved 95-25 and now goes to the Senate for consideration.
In addition to studying the "original intent, meaning and importance" of the nation's early documents, the bill says, "The religious references in the writings of the founding fathers shall not be censored when presented as part of such instruction."
Topeka — In all the furor over various tax proposals in the Legislature, one that has caught the attention of some legislators is reducing the state sales tax on groceries.
People who buy their groceries in Kansas are paying the second-highest state sales tax in the nation on groceries.
According to the nonpartisan Tax Foundation, 45 states charge a state sales tax. Of those, 31 exempt groceries from the state sales tax.
Of the other 14 states, seven charge a portion of the state sales tax on groceries, and seven, including Kansas, apply the entire state sales tax on groceries. Of those seven, only Mississippi has a higher state sales tax: 7 percent. The state sales tax in Kansas is now 6.3 percent.
If the Kansas sales tax decreases to 5.7 percent, as current law states, Kansans will pay the third highest state tax on groceries behind Mississippi and Idaho, with a 6 percent tax.
Kansas senators Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran were on opposite sides Monday on the farm bill that was approved 66-27 in the U.S. Senate.
Moran voted for the bill, while Roberts voted against it.
In statements, the two Republicans gave their reasons.
“The Farm Bill passed in the Senate meets the two benchmarks most important to Kansas farmers and ranchers: strong, stable crop insurance and disaster programs to provide livestock producers with confidence when faced with Mother Nature’s uncertainty," Moran said.
But Roberts said, “In this budget environment and at a time when we are looking to make smart cuts to farm programs, I cannot justify a subsidy program that can pay producers more than the cost of production and essentially becomes nothing more than an income transfer program, not a risk-management tool."
The bill, which will cost nearly $1 trillion over 10 years, finances crop insurance and food assistance for low-income families.
The Senate bill would cut $4.1 billion from food stamps over 10 years. The measure now goes to the House, where it faces an uncertain future. A House version would cut food stamps by $20 million.
Roberts was the ranking Republican member on the Agriculture Committee during the last Congress and supported last year's Senate-approved bill.
Roll Call reports that this year, changes made in the bill to win the support of the new ranking member, Thad Cochran, R-Miss., and other Southerners caused Roberts to oppose the new version.link text
Earlier this year, Cochran asserted seniority privilege on the Agriculture Committee after having been dropped as the top Republican on another committee. This pushed aside Roberts as the top Republican on the committee, although he is still a member.
House GOP leader says state employee furloughs possible unless budget approved; measure putting brakes on Common Core in the mix
Topeka — Republican leaders in the House told their rank-and-file members that they needed to approve a state budget Saturday or state employees would face furloughs.
But some GOP House members said they felt like they were being given a take-it or leave-it option, and others said they would vote against the budget unless they get a chance to vote for a bill putting the brakes on Common Core education standards.
The dispute arose on the 99th day of the legislative session, which was supposed to end at 90 days and Republican leaders had earlier said would be finished in 80 days.
"We have a Republican House, Senate and governor and we need to get our work done," said House Majority Leader Jene Vickrey, R-Louisburg. "If we have bad results because of delays in our process … it has effects and those can affect all of us in the next year," Vickrey said.
Vickrey said the Legislature is facing constitutional deadlines to appropriate funds for the next fiscal year. "The governor can't spend money not passed by the Legislature," he said.
Some state payments for July 1 and beyond are written as early as June 10, he said. To get an approved appropriations bill prepared for Gov. Sam Brownback to sign into law takes at least 7 days, he said. Vickrey said furloughs of state employees, and non-payment of insurance for some state employees was "right around the corner." He said the House would take up the proposed budget later Saturday.
But Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce, R-Hutchinson, said he didn't think any state employees were in any imminent danger of being furloughed, but he said the Legislature needs to approve a budget.
State Rep. Pete DeGraaf, R-Mulvane, said he was a "No" vote on the budget until the House gets a chance to consider a bill that would suspend work on Common Core and proposed science standards for schools. Tea party groups say Common Core standards represent a federal intrusion on schools, but supporters of Common Core say the standards will improve education and note that they were developed by states.
On the issue of adopting a budget, state Rep. Ed Bideau, R-Chanute, said legislators have known for weeks about approaching deadlines and that the overtime session is playing havoc with school districts trying to prepare for the next year. "It smacks a little bit of a cramdown," to be told the budget must be approved now, he said.
GOP tax plans would increase taxes on low-wage Kansans, decrease taxes for high-income Kansans, report says
Topeka — Taxes will increase for low-wage Kansans and decrease for those with higher incomes under plans being considered by Republican state legislators, according to a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.
The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy looked at the various proposals before the Legislature that essentially increase the state sales tax while ratcheting down the income tax and reducing deductions.
Currently, the state sales tax of 6.3 percent is scheduled to decrease to 5.7 percent on July 1. But Gov. Sam Brownback wants to keep the rate at 6.3 percent, saying that will stabilize the state budget and help buy down income tax rates.
A Senate GOP plan to keep the rate at 6.25 percent, while lowering income tax rates, would result in a tax increase for 60 percent of Kansans, making $60,000 per year or less, the ITEP analysis shows. Of that group, the largest percentage increase would be for those making $20,000 per year or less.
But those making more than $60,000 per year would realize a tax cut under the proposals. ITEP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan group. Its stated mission is to provide information on tax policies, tax fairness, government budgets and sound economic policy.
Topeka —Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach has taken his fight for voter photo ID to Alaska.
In the process, Kobach, a Republican who has become a national figure on immigration restrictions and voter ID, has thrust himself into a state legislative battle and a U.S. Senate race there.
Here's a link to a story about Kobach's efforts inlink text Alaska that starts with a question: "Why has Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach taken such an active interest in Alaska's elections?
Topeka — The Tea-party affiliated FreedomWorks is urging Kansas legislators to reject Common Core reading and math standards.
"Help us protect Kansan students from Common Core," Whitney Neal, director of grassroots for FreedomWorks, said in a note to the group's members. "Let’s fight to keep parents, teachers, and local communities in charge of education – not Washington bureaucrats."
Kansas formally adopted Common Core standards in 2010, saying they would help prepare students for college and careers. Numerous school districts throughout the state, including Lawrence, have spent the past two years getting teachers ready to implement them.
Common Core standards have been adopted by most states, and started as a project of the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers.
But FreedomWorks says Common Core will take away the rights of states to compose their own education requirements.
In Kansas, the Legislature is fighting over budget and tax issues. Senate Republican leaders want to insert a provision in the budget that would prohibit the expenditure of state funds to implement Common Core standards.
TOPEKA — Gov. Sam Brownback's administration expects tax revenue gains for the month of May, according to an email inadvertently sent Friday to the Lawrence Journal-World.
The email, from Chad Bettes, who is a high-ranking official in the Kansas Department of Revenue, to Sherriene Jones-Sontag, spokeswoman for Gov. Sam Brownback, even includes a prepared comment from Kansas Secretary of Revenue Nick Jordan. The actual revenue numbers were to be filled in later Friday.
Earlier Friday, Jordan urged House Republicans to break an impasse during the current overtime legislative session and approve measures that increase the sales tax but lower income tax rates. He said lowering income taxes would stimulate the economy. While higher sales taxes hit the poor hardest, he said the state spends $3.5 billion a year on safety-net programs for low-income Kansans.
Here is the email from Bettes to Jones-Sontag. The subject heading said, "Please advise of changes and/or approval":
Planning to send the numbers out between 4 and 4:30 p.m. -- State Tax Receipts Total $XX.X Million in May TOPEKA – May tax receipts exceeded estimates by $XX million, or XX percent, buoyed by one-time revenue attributed to taxpayers who accelerated income in advance of federal tax increases enacted earlier this year. Individual income receipts were $XX million more than anticipated, or XX percent, for the month. The increase over the estimate was due in part to balance due payments for 2012 income taxes, which were processed in late April and early May following the annual tax filing deadline. “It is important to be cautious when looking at these numbers because federal tax hikes proposed at the end of last year and passed in January likely influenced taxpayer behavior as people worked to ensure that income would be taxed at 2012 rates,” said Revenue Secretary Nick Jordan. “We have reaped the benefit of that at the state level in April and May, and now we expect things to return to more normal levels.”
Topeka — As the Kansas Legislature remained deadlocked over taxes and spending, Gov. Sam Brownback is speaking today at a $40-a-ticket luncheon in Chicago before the Illinois Policy Institute.
The event has been titled "There's no place like home. A conversation with Kansas Governor Sam Brownback."
The information about the event says that Brownback "has proven to be an innovative reformer seeking to expand liberty in the Sunflower State." It says Brownback enacted the largest income tax cut in Kansas history and is seeking more cuts.
The Illinois Policy Institute describes itself as a non-partisan organization dedicated to supporting free market principles and liberty-based public policy initiatives. Here is a link to information about the event.link text