Posts tagged with Legislature

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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The fight over sales tax has consumed Kansas politics for three years

It's amazing how much of the political fighting in Kansas is wrapped up in one penny that most Kansans pay every day without a fuss. Of course, the penny adds up to approximately $300 million a year, and is key to state budget and tax policy.

The one-cent increase in the state sales tax approved in 2010 is scheduled to decrease July 1.

The one-cent increase in the state sales tax approved in 2010 is scheduled to decrease July 1. by Scott Rothschild

During the Great Recession, Kansas saw historic drops in tax revenue that resulted in cuts to higher education, Medicaid and public schools.

In 2010, to avoid even deeper cuts, a slim majority of Democrats and moderate Republicans in the Legislature approved a temporary one-cent sales tax increase to shore up the state budget.

Under the plan, the state sales tax went from 5.3 cents per dollar to 6.3 cents per dollar, and on July 1, 2013, the sales tax rate would then decrease to 5.7 cents per dollar with 0.4 cents going to transportation.

The Kansas Chamber of Commerce had vehemently opposed the tax increase, and after the Legislature approved it the chamber worked hard during the campaign season to defeat those who voted for it.

When the smoke cleared after the November 2010 elections, conservative Republican Sam Brownback was elected governor by a large margin and the moderate coalition in the House was crushed.

As the 2011 legislative session started, many conservative Republicans said they wanted to repeal the increased sales tax. But Brownback didn't; the state budget was still struggling and he needed the revenue.

And the Kansas Chamber of Commerce adopted a new strategy, arguing against repeal by saying the revenue from the increase should be used to offset the loss of revenue from what it wanted: elimination of the state corporate income tax.

In 2012, Brownback called for making the increased sales tax permanent to help pay for income tax cuts. He later signed into law cuts in income tax rates, elimination of income taxes for the owners of nearly 200,000 businesses, and removal of tax credits for the poor. But nothing was done on the sales tax issue.

In 2013, the Legislature is still arguing about the temporary sales tax increase, which is scheduled to decrease in a little over two months.

Again, Brownback wants to make the 6.3 percent rate permanent, saying it is necessary to balance the budget and avoid cuts to higher education. Democrats want to protect funding for education, but say Brownback really wants to keep the sales tax higher to cover deficits created by his income tax cuts and to help pay for more income tax cuts in the future to benefit the wealthy. Meanwhile, conservatives in the House also said they want the sales tax to decrease and that the budget can be cut more. Conservatives in the Senate have gone along with Brownback's plan on the sales tax issue, saying it is key to start drawing down the income tax. In fact, many of those Senate conservatives who voted against the temporary sales increase, recently voted to make it permanent.

So, the penny has come full circle. It started as a temporary Band-Aid approved by a moderate coalition to avoid drastic budget cuts.

Now, it is being pushed by a conservative governor, who wants to make it permanent to be used for either propping up the budget that was undercut by large income tax cuts, or to pay for future income tax cuts, or both.

When the Legislature returns, the fight over one penny will be front and center again.

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KU outlines significant cuts if Legislature cuts higher education funding

Topeka — Kansas University's National Cancer Institute designation would be at significant risk if budget cuts proposed by House Republican leaders were enacted into law, officials said Wednesday.

The leaders of state higher education institutions briefed the Kansas Board of Regents on the proposed cuts and said they stood with Gov. Sam Brownback who is calling for a continuation of the current level of funding for higher education.

The House has proposed a 4 percent cut to higher education, plus a salary cap, while the Senate has recommended a 2 percent cut. The 4 percent cut and salary cap would total more than $20 million at KU, Gray-Little said.

"If we get the level of cuts that have been proposed in the House it will have a negative effect on our ability to provide the kind of workforce that the state needs," KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little said.

Kansas State University President Kirk Schultz called the proposed budget cuts "momentum killers."

But House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, has said the argument that such cuts would hurt "has no merit."

Last year, KU's Cancer Center won NCI designation after several years of effort. The designation will open up more research and clinical trials, but officials said renewal of the designation will be difficult to achieve under the proposed cuts. The salary cap would hinder the center's ability to hire and retain top cancer researchers, KU said.

KU released a list of cuts that would have to be enacted if the House budget gained approval. Those include:

— Reducing by 36 the number of medical students KU admits each year. Three-quarters of the reduction would be in Wichita. The School of Medicine-Salina would close.

— Cutting by 50 the number of nursing students admitted and by 30 the available medical resident positions.

— Elimination of 38 faculty positions on the Lawrence campus. KU said the school would become a "farm team" for universities in other states.

— Risk of losing membership in the prestigious Association of American Universities.

Other regents universities presented similar scenarios of losing faculty, shutting down courses, more crowded classes and losing ground to other states.

"Some of the proposed cuts will set us back a decade in funding," said Regents spokeswoman Mary Jane Stankiewicz.

Several board members said they didn't understand why higher education was being targeted for the bulk of proposed cuts.

Regent Robba Moran said states that are investing in higher education are the ones attracting large corporations. "(University) rankings do matter and rankings don't come with inexpensive faculty," she said.

Regent Fred Logan Jr. said neither the House nor Senate budget proposals are pro-growth, but he added he was confident Brownback will be able to get the Legislature to adopt his budget plan.

Brownback plans to tour next week to rally support for his higher education budget. The Legislature returns for the wrap up session on May 8.

In focusing on higher education, Brownback is also pushing for making the 6.3 percent state sales tax rate permanent. Under current law, the sales tax is supposed to decrease to 5.7 percent on July 1.

Democrats have been critical of Brownback's sales tax plan. “Kansans should not be fooled," said Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka. "The sales tax increase will not protect higher education. The governor is using a smoke-and-mirrors strategy to hide the real reason behind the budget cuts – his irresponsible income tax cuts.”

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Brownback wants interim study on higher education

Topeka — Gov. Sam Brownback on Tuesday said he wants the Legislature to conduct an in-depth study of public higher education in Kansas.

Brownback's comments came as he lobbies fellow Republicans to keep higher education funding at current levels and reject proposed cuts. The GOP-dominated Legislature has proposed a 4 percent budget cut in the House and 2 percent in the Senate.

Brownback said he would like legislative leaders to initiate a study on higher education after the current legislative session is over.

"What I hope we do is a big interim study on higher ed funding," Brownback said.

He said the cause of rising tuition, how funds are allocated and administrative costs are "all legitimate questions." But, he said, resolving those issues is difficult in an 80-day legislative session.

Brownback will start a tour next week of various higher education institutions to push for his budget plan. He said universities, community colleges and technical schools need stable funding after having been cut during the recession.

He said the way to provide stable funding would be making the 6.3 percent state sales tax permanent. Under current law, it will decrease to 5.7 percent on July 1.

Democrats say Brownback plans to use revenue from the higher sales tax to further reduce income tax rates. When asked about that, Brownback said of the Democrats, "If they've got another place to come up with the resources, I'd love to see it. I would hope that they would vote for it too."

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Animal rights advocates call for end of carbon monoxide in euthanizing animals

Animal rights advocates from across Kansas converged Monday on the Statehouse in support of legislation to protect pets, including the elimination of carbon monoxide chambers used to euthanize animals.

"Legislators are recognizing that animal welfare is a high priority issue that enjoys bipartisan support from Kansas voters," said Midge Grinstead, Kansas director of the Humane Society of the United States. Grinstead is the former director of the local humane society.

Humane Lobby Day participants were meeting with state legislators, urging passage of Senate Bill 57, called the Kansas Pet Animal Act.

The bill would establish annual inspections of licensed pet breeding facilities, shelters, research facilities and other licensees, and end the use of carbon monoxide chambers that are currently used to euthanize animals in certain shelters. The Humane Society says that a direct lethal injection is the most humane method of euthanasia available. Nineteen states have banned carbon monoxide chambers.

Kansas ranks 33rd in The Humane Society of the United States' 2012 rankings of animal protection laws.

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Bill to be heard restricting union activities in political campaigns

A bill that would prevent unions from using funds collected by payroll deduction in political activities will be considered today.

The Kansas National Education Association calls House Bill 2023 "the first official salvo in a possible war on teachers."

A hearing on the measure is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. before the House Commerce, Labor and Economic Development Committee. The hearing will be held in room 346-South in the Statehouse.

The KNEA says that the bill would prevent the association from spending money on elections for school bonds, school board, the Legislature, governor or to urge association members to vote for pro-public education candidates.

Here is a link to the bill

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Sale tax issue front and center as Legislature convenes today

Topeka — As legislators gather today for the start of the 2013 session, one of the main budget issues is whether to make permanent the 6.3 percent state sales tax, which under current law is set to fall to 5.7 percent on July 1.

Gov. Sam Brownback, a Republican, has talked about the possibility of extending the 6.3 percent levy as the state grapples with budget shortfalls caused by income tax cuts he signed into law.

But if he wants to do that, he may not get any help from Democrats.

In the depths of the "Great Recession," a coalition of Democrats and moderate Republicans in 2010 approved increasing the state sales tax from 5.3 percent to 6.3 percent to avoid deeper budget cuts .

Under the law, the increased rate holds for three years and then falls to 5.7 percent, with four-tenths of one cent going toward paying for transportation projects. Many of those moderate Republicans and Democrats who voted for the temporary sales tax increase were defeated at the polls.

Since Republicans hold significant majorities in the Legislature — 92-33 in the House and 32-8 in the Senate — it is possible to make the temporary sales tax permanent without Democratic votes. But that would require the votes of some Republicans who have pledged to oppose tax increases.

"There isn't any amount of political spin that the governor or those legislators who adamantly opposed the sales tax increase can put on this. If they want to extend the tax increase, it is a tax increase pure and simple," said Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka.

Asked if Democrats might face the dilemma of cutting programs they support or voting to extend the tax, Hensley said, "Sam Brownback wants to extend the sales tax to pay for his income tax cut. Let there be no misunderstanding about this at all."

Even last year, Brownback had proposed that the state keep the 6.3 percent rate to offset income tax cuts.

He has argued that cutting income taxes does more to stimulate the economy than lowering the sales tax.

Keeping the sales tax at 6.3 percent would raise approximately $250 million for the fiscal year that starts July 1. The gap between current state spending and projected revenue for the next fiscal year is already weighing in at $700 million.

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Pre-filed bill would retain third-graders with reading problems

A state legislator has pre-filed a bill that would retain students in third grade if they score less than proficient on state reading tests.

The measure by Rep. Steve Huebert, R-Valley Center, will be considered by legislators when the 2013 session starts Monday.

House Bill 2004 includes exceptions for mandatory retention.

These include students with limited English proficiency who have had fewer than two years of English language instruction and special education students for whom state tests are not appropriate or who have received two years of intensive remedial help and were previously held back one to two years.

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