The 2015 legislative session recessed the first week in April and is nearly concluded, having moved Kansas further along the Governor’s Christian conservative roadmap with the support of limited-government ideologues.
The Kansas budget is a reality problem. Yet few are able to predict the answer to Kansas’ pending multi-million dollar question. How will the legislature and the governor close the gap between their $1.2 billion loss in state revenues (Wichita Eagle) and the investments needed to maintain roads and bridges (Kansas Center for Economic Growth), to provide quality public education and social services (Boston Globe), to ensure safety, as well as clean and reliable energy, and to promote development of a comprehensive fiber optic infrastructure?
We do know three things. One, the budget question must be answered by the end of the Veto Session, which begins Wednesday, April 29. Two, little agreement exists on how to resolve the self-inflicted problem that has brought Kansas to the brink of total privatization and ripped gaping holes in the state’s safety nets. Three, this current shell game is unsustainable.
The proposed options for closing the enormous gap are varied and range from a belief that no problem exists to a total reversal of the 2012 tax policy. The Governor has proposed a combination of increased consumption taxes (e.g., alcohol and tobacco), borrowing more money from state funds (e.g., thorough sweep of KDOT transportation), maxing out the credit card (e.g., $1 billion bond to meet unfunded obligations to the KPERS state pension fund), as well as cutting and freezing program funds over the next two years regardless of increased costs associated with inflation or level of need.
No working appropriations plan includes Medicaid expansion, in fact the governor just proposed reduced funding for Medicaid coverage (cjonline.com). Nor does any appropriations bill include the $550 million plus for restoration of pre-recession public education budget.
Ideologically Driven Policies Continue to Become Law. The reduction in budget following the 2012 income tax cuts, did not slow down the passage of legislation. To date, Governor Brownback has issued multiple executive orders, signed over 40 bills into law and vetoed one – the Uber transportation bill. Among those of concern include policies that are out right discriminatory, reckless, punitive and inequitable including an:
- Executive order to rescind a 2007 state law establishing protected class rights for state employees, specifically for sexual orientation and gender identify.
- Authorization to conceal and carry a firearm without a permit, training, or testing – even at your neighborhood playground, city pool, and grocery store (SB 45).
- Authorization to issue $1 billion in bonds for KPERS state pension fund, a debt equivalent to that of the tax revenue lost since the 2012 tax policy was enacted (SB 228).
- Restricting financial assistance to families in need, by prohibiting the use of funds on expenditures the state has no evidence of recipients ever using (e.g., cruises) and shortening the duration of support for those seeking to move from welfare-to-work (HB 2258).
- Across the board budget cuts to working and middle class Kansans in response to continued revenue shortfalls for FY 2015 and FY 2016, as well as delayed payment to K12 public schools of $20 million of capital outlay state aid to June and elimination of additional funding for Local Option Budget state aid equalization (HSub for SB 4).
- Repeal of the K12 school finance formula and the two-year establishment of Block Grants, freezing funding at FY2015 levels with no adjustment for inflation, enrollment or demographic changes in the student population and no restoration of pre-recession level budget (HSub for SB7).
- Further restrictions on women’s reproductive rights and essentially banning abortions across Kansas (SB 95).
The impact of this legislation, along with four years of accumulated policies have resulted in a:
- State budget shortfall of $800 million and growing.
- Stumbling Kansas job growth that has fallen behind regional and national growth rates. Regardless of low unemployment rates, promised new jobs have yet to materialize.
- Tumbling population growth, that has left Kansas at the lowest percentage of the national population (<1%) than since 1861.
- Thousands of Kansan’s left without access to health insurance due to restrictions on Medicaid expansion.
- Voter ID laws called for in the name of fraud prevention, where none existed, resulting in 22,500 eligible Kansas voters DENIED their right to vote in the 2015 general elections.
- Thousands of Kansas students deprived of the opportunity to achieve high education standards due to inadequate operational funds for public school classrooms.
- Kansas college students shut out of higher education due to declining state support for tuition.
Policy Watch List. A variety of policies are on the MainStream watch list, from which the legislative powers that be, will choose to bundle into the appropriations bills.
The most permanent and long-term ill effects would come from Kansans stand to lose the most from the proposed changes to local elections and to judicial selection. The conservative plan is to shift all local elections to the fall, make them partisan and combine that with a one-click straight ticket voting mechanism. The objective is to maintain control of the legislature and start in on municipalities. The other agenda is to pass a constitutional amendment putting selection of Supreme Court justices in the hands of the governor, thus gaining control of the judicial branch.
Both of these major pieces of legislation will likely serve as pawns in the negotiations for basic operational funding for our courts, our schools, social services and roads. We need you to contact all state legislators to voice your opposition. Urge your state legislators to vote NO on any changes to judicial selection or mandatory retirement age of our judges. And, local elections must remain non-partisan and under local control. Remind state legislators that we do not need them regulating municipal business. Urge them to invest in Kansas.
A multitude of other bad governance bills could be slipped into action during this Veto Session including an:
- Expanding the tax credit scholarship ‘voucher’ program to include all students, not specifically low income students.
- Limiting negotiations under the Professional Negotiations Act.
- Developing and establishing K-12 curriculum standards, while prohibiting use of Common Core standards.
- Eliminating in-state tuition for resident children of undocumented workers.
- Underfunded mandate requiring school districts to create the Efficient Operation of Schools Task Force and pay 50% of the audit.
- Carrying of concealed handguns by public employees while engaged in employment that may or may not apply to schools.
- Imposing earnings limits in 2016-17 for all KPERS retirees under age 62 employed by any KPERS employers.
- Reducing technical education incentives from $1,000 to $250.
- Creating the Kansas Education Standards Study Commission.
- Requiring higher education to allocate public tax payer dollars for religious and exclusionary student organizations without the authority to hold groups accountable for discriminatory or hateful behavior.
- Eliminating local control over curriculum and mandating an opt-in sex education policy that would prohibit instruction on human sexuality, unless written consent has been received from a student’s parent or legal guardian.