Posts tagged with Legislature

Bill filed requiring release of names of those applying for position on the Kansas Court of Appeals

Topeka — Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, has pre-filed legislation that would require the governor to make public the names of people who apply for an appointment to the Kansas Court of Appeals.

Last year, Gov. Sam Brownback, a Republican, and his conservative allies pushed through a change in the way Court of Appeals judges were selected.

Now those judges are selected by the governor subject to confirmation by the Senate.

Prior to the change, the governor selected an appeals court judge from a list of nominees provided by a nominating commission.

Brownback selected his chief counsel, Caleb Stegall, as the first nominee under the new law.

The new selection process became more controversial when Brownback refused to divulge the names of those applying for the vacancy on the state's second highest court. Under the former system, the nominating commission released the names of those applying, its final recommendation and had even opened up to the public its interview process.

Brownback declined to make the applicants' names public, saying it would hurt the chances of getting qualified individuals to apply.

Under Senate Bill 252, the governor would be required to make each applicant's name and city of residence available to the public once the application process is over. The 2014 legislative session starts Monday.

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Brownback tells regents that cuts to higher education were part of trades at end of session

In a question-and-answer period on Wednesday with the Kansas Board or Regents, Republican Gov. Sam Brownback provided some insight into the end of the 2013 legislation session in June in which Republican legislative leaders demanded cuts to the universities and Brownback accepted those cuts.

Brownback said at the end of a legislative session, "Often you're crowding everything into a chute, and we're going to get this done tonight — this is going to happen tonight, and then things happen and it doesn't always come out exactly the way your wanted it to come out. And things get traded here and there to get something on through the final process."

Brownback said perhaps the perception from legislative leaders was that higher education could handle the cuts. "You have a lot places you get money from, and maybe you can handle this, whereas other places don't have the options," he said.

On the final day of the session, Republican leaders mustered enough votes within their caucuses to pass a state budget that cut universities 3 percent over two years and to push through a tax package that increased the state sales tax while reducing deductions and racheting down income tax rates.

Brownback has made phasing out the state income tax one of his major goals.

Brownback has praised GOP legislative leaders, but has vowed to fight for restoration of the cuts when the 2014 session starts in January.

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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.

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Inadvertently sent Kansas Department of Revenue email shows expectation of revenue gain in May

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.”

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NAMI report says Medicaid expansion would help thousands of Kansans living with mental illness

Topeka — More than 21,000 uninsured Kansans with mental illness would receive needed treatment, and lives would be saved if Gov. Sam Brownback and the Kansas Legislature expanded Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act, a new report says.

So far, Brownback, a vocal opponent of the ACA, and his Republican colleagues in the Legislature are going in the opposite direction.

Brownback has declined to sign on to Medicaid expansion, and a pending House resolution says the Legislature isn't interested in expansion.

But the National Alliance on Mental Illness urged legislators to increase the number of people eligible for Medicaid, saying that would strengthen the mental health care system.

Nationwide, the expansion would provide treatment to 2.7 million uninsured people living with mental illness, the NAMI report said. NAMI, the nation's largest grassroots mental health organization, said that currently fewer than half of Americans with mental illness receive treatment.

"In Kansas, 21,293 currently uninsured adults who live with mental illness would become eligible under Medicaid expansion," said Rick Cagan, executive director for NAMI Kansas. "This represents 13.2 percent of the overall uninsured population in the state. That would be a big step forward. It will help save lives,” said Cagan.

The report says that Medicaid expansion would be a good deal for the states because the federal government will pay 100 percent of the cost through 2016 and taper to no less than 90 percent of the cost by 2020. Kansas would get $5.27 billion in federal funding over 10 years, and save $149 million in uncompensated care, NAMI said. "When mental illness isn’t treated, costs get shifted to emergency rooms and the criminal justice system,” said Cagan. “Families break up. Taxpayers end up paying avoidable costs," he said.

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 one of the toughest eligibility standards 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 upwards of 150,000 more Kansans would be covered under the expansion.

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Senate, House dealing on tax and budget issues as wrap-up session continues

Topeka — Senate Republicans on Wednesday proposed a 6.25 percent state sales tax rate and a 5.7 percent rate on food.

Legislators, lobbyists, media fill House-Senate tax conference committee meeting.

Legislators, lobbyists, media fill House-Senate tax conference committee meeting. by Scott Rothschild

A side-by-side of tax proposal offers between House and Senate.

A side-by-side of tax proposal offers between House and Senate. by Scott Rothschild

House Republican leaders said they would come back later this afternoon to tell the Senate what they thought of the plan.

The current state sales tax is 6.3 percent, but is scheduled to fall to 5.7 percent on July 1.

Republicans say they need to keep the sales tax higher to shore up state coffers — depleted by last year's income tax cuts — and to buy down more income tax reductions over the next six years. Democrats say the income tax cuts benefit the wealthy and will reduce revenue needed for essential state services.

Under the latest Senate proposal, itemized deductions would be eliminated over six years, except for charitable contributions. The standard deduction would also be cut to $5,000 from $9,000 for head of household, and to $6,500 from $9,000 for married filing jointly.

By 2018, income tax rates would be cut to 3.5 percent from 4.9 percent on the top rate, and to 2.5 percent from 3 percent on the bottom rate.

Agreement on tax changes is essential to getting movement on a state budget. Legislators are in the 89th day of the session. Earlier, GOP leaders said they wanted to finish the session in 80 days.


Leaders plan talks as legislative session grinds on

Topeka — The legislative wrap-up session entered its second week and the major items have yet to be wrapped up.

Gov. Sam Brownback, Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, and House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, planned to meet Monday to discuss taxes, but for rest of the Legislature there's not much to do.

A lot of resolutions have been passed honoring folks, and on Friday state Rep. Phil Hermanson, R-Wichita, proposed to his girlfriend, Rhonda Riggs, on the House floor. She said yes.

But the major state business — passing a budget and the taxes to support it — have eluded legislators. Still, Brownback was optimistic.

In a two-minute exchange with reporters, he said, "It always takes a lot to finish a session up and that's where we are now."

He said talks with Wagle and Merrick have gone well. "We have excellent leadership, seasoned leadership," he said.

Brownback declined to talk about what was being discussed behind closed doors. And he wouldn't give a time period on when he expected the Legislature to finish.

Monday was the 80th day of the session, and leaders of the GOP-dominated Legislature didn't expect an agreement on tax cuts and a state budget until later in the week.

Brownback and Senate Republicans have agreed to cancel a sales tax decrease from 6.3 percent to 5.7 percent scheduled by law July 1. Brownback says revenue from the higher sales tax rate is needed to stabilize the budget and help enact income tax cuts.

House Republicans want to let the sales tax drop and enact less aggressive income tax reductions.

As far as the budget goes, Brownback has called for the same level of funding for higher education as last year, while the House has proposed a 4 percent cut, and the Senate, a 2 percent cut.

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Concerns of those who care for Kansans with developmental disabilities rise as session reconvenes

Topeka — As legislators return Wednesday for the wrap-up session, concerns are rising for those who care for Kansans with developmental disabilities.

Two issues are in play.

One is increased funding proposed by Gov. Sam Brownback to reduce the number of Kansans on waiting lists to get the support they need.

The second issue is whether the thousands of Kansans with developmental and intellectual disabilities should be brought under the new KanCare system to provide their long-term care services.

Parents of those with disabilities support Brownback's proposed $18.5 million funding increase, though many oppose providing long-term care for their children under the privatized KanCare system run by for-profit insurance companies.

But Brownback's administration is saying one would impact the other.

Angela de Rocha, spokeswoman for the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services, said the "continued opposition to including long-term services under KanCare for persons on the I/DD (intellectual and developmental disability) waiver jeopardizes the state's ability to address the waiting lists."

De Rocha points to a fiscal note of House Bill 2029, which would "carve out" long-term care services from KanCare.

That fiscal note, signed by Brownback's budget director Steve Anderson, says the carve-out would increase costs to the state by $9.2 million in the fiscal year starting July 1, and $16.8 million in the fiscal year after that.

As a result, de Rocha said, the ability of the House and Senate to adopt Brownback's increased funding plan "could be impacted by the carve-out."

Tom Laing, executive director of InterHab, which represents groups that provide services to people with developmental disabilities, had a different view of the fiscal note.

Laing said projected costs contained in the fiscal note incorrectly included several factors, including inflation. "We don't get paid higher costs due to inflation. That is a fictional variable that they've thrown in," he said.

InterHab says more than 1,100 Kansans will attend a rally on Wednesday outside the Statehouse calling on Brownback and the Legislature to carve out from KanCare long-term services for the developmentally disabled.

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Tax cuts will reduce state revenue more than Great Recession

Topeka — State tax revenue is expected to decline more over the next fiscal year than it decreased during the three years of the Great Recession, according to new state fiscal estimates.

New revenue figures show that the state will receive $5.454 billion in tax revenue for the fiscal year that starts July 1— a decrease of $745 million from the estimated $6.199 billion in revenue during the current fiscal year, which ends June 30.

During the recession, tax receipts fell to $5.191 billion in fiscal year 2010 from $5.809 billion in fiscal year 2007. That's a decline of $618 million over a three-year period.

The bulk of the $745 million reduction in receipts over the next fiscal year includes $450 million less in income tax and $270 million fewer dollars in state sales tax.

The revenue estimates are compiled by the Consensus Revenue Estimating Group, which includes the state Division of the Budget, Legislative Research Department and three consulting economists from state universities.

Last year, Gov. Sam Brownback signed into law cuts in income tax rates, including exemptions from state income taxes on non-wage income for 190,000 businesses, and eliminating tax credits for low-income Kansans.

In 2010, facing record revenue declines, the Legislature approved raising the state sales tax from to 6.3 percent from 5.3 percent, and then allowing that rate to fall back to 5.7 percent after three years.

Saying he wants to avoid cuts to higher education, Brownback is now pushing to make the 6.3 percent sales tax permanent. Democrats say the tax plan signed by Brownback has produced a fiscal crisis.

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Big revenue decrease projected for fiscal year starting July 1

Topeka — Last week's revenue projections by state fiscal officials showed little change in Kansas' revenue forecast. But budgetary storm clouds are right over the horizon.

The new numbers highlighted that next year state revenue will drop precipitously as the income tax cuts signed into law last year by Gov. Sam Brownback kick in.

The state will receive $6.2 billion in revenue during the current fiscal year that ends June 30. For the fiscal year 2014, which starts July 1, revenue drops to $5.45 billion, a 12 percent or $750 million decrease.

Brownback has stated that income tax cuts will boost the economy.

But House Democratic Leader Paul Davis of Lawrence said the revenue figures show the income tax cuts approved by Republicans aren't working.

"It shifts the tax burden almost entirely to the middle class and requires cuts to the public services that help the middle class thrive. The Brownback tax plan isn't working, and these negative projections are further evidence that it is not going to work in the future," Davis said.

The income tax cuts will reduce revenue to the state by $450 million in fiscal year 2014, which is a 15.8 percent decrease. The state sales tax, which is scheduled to fall from 6.3 percent to 5.7 percent on July 1, will produce $270 million less than the current year, which is a 12.3 percent decrease. Brownback has proposed keeping the sales tax rate at 6.3 percent.

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