This is our latest Legislative Update, keeping up with the recent changes in budget plans (spoiler: they have none yet) and last minute policy.
Five Kansas school districts were victorious this week in the first ever competition for emergency state education aid (Topeka Capital-Journal). Under the new Block Grant school funding system, districts with un-met needs must compete with one another for a finite pot of money. The winners divided up an additional $478,000 for their districts. Competition judges included Governor Brownback and the eight other partisan appointees of the State Finance Council. Winners were Louisburg, Concordia, Skyline, Waconda and Lebo-Waverly districts. Three districts who applied were rejected.A couple other things have happened as Kansas legislators move into their second week of the wrap-up session (officially known as the veto session). The state's civil service employees will likely be stripped of due process rights (HB 2391). New hires by the state will be unclassified workers and movement of current employees to higher positions can require giving up civil service job protections. Higher education may be slapped with a high stakes, unfunded reporting mandate (SB 193). Kansas RPS mandate that require utility companies to get 20% of their power from renewable sources is on its way to becoming voluntary, under threat of an excise tax (HB 2373). And, Uber ceased operating in Kansas following the legislative overrode of the Governor’s Uber bill veto (SB 117). Drivers are now required to submit more stringent background checks and proof of comprehensive collision insurance.
Nonetheless, the one mandatory task of the 2015 legislative session – the budget – has yet to have a comprehensive plan on the table. The one partial plan in the works, Governor Brownback’s plan, was tabled on Tuesday by Senator Pilcher-Cook with less than 5 minutes of discussion. The 2016 fiscal year budget hole is still empty by at least $420M and Kansas leadership has yet to produce a plan that can be wrapped.
Senator Les Donovan, Committee Chair on Assessment and Tax, said “I don’t know what they [fellow committee members] want. I wish I knew,” Donovan said after the meeting. “I agree I don’t think everybody’s on board with how dire our time schedule is. It is getting very critical that we get something moving, that we get something done. And we’re not trying to raise $10,000, you know, for a bake sale. We’re trying to get the budget for the state of Kansas” (Wichita Eagle).
Even if an appropriations bill is passed that patches together consumption taxes and other regressive measures to fill the projected budget sinkholes, Kansas' current level of investment in infrastructure and human resources is insufficient to sustain a quality of life to which Kansans are accustomed. All Kansas children will not be prepared for college and career, only some. Affordable health care and higher education will not be accessible to all, only some. Protection against discrimination will not be provided to all, only some. Are you, your friends and family among the some? What about the other Kansans?
What can you do?
- Be informed and ready for action. Sign up to stand up!
- Encourage friends and family to be informed. Pledge to do more than vote!
- Join MainStream Coalition this Thursday, May 7 at 7 pm for a robust discussion on the Kansas budget:
• At Colonial Church in Prairie Village, or
• Live streaming online (and on demand afterwards).