This week marked the opening of the 2014 Kansas legislative session, Governor Brownback’s State of the State Address [read here] and House Minority Leader Paul Davis’s official response to the address [watch here].
In this Update
- insights on State of the State
- short-list of issues we will be watching this session
- legislative committee activity
Look to the Mainstream Coalition for Legislative Updates every two weeks, regularFacebook and Twitter posts, timely action alerts, political forum and events notifications, as well as delivery of testimony in Topeka during critical committee hearings. Together, we can amplify the voice of reason and reroute the roadmap for all Kansans.
State of the State – Informative Quotes
Consider these reflections on telling quotes from the State of the State Address and the minority party response that illuminate distinctly different visions for Kansas. Informative summaries and analyses can also be found at the Kansas Health Institute [SOS, Budget Overview].
Governor, Sam Brownback
“Our dependence is not on Big Government but on a Big God that loves us and lives within us.”
- Does this mean Kansans are to rely on the random charity of volunteers, rather than invest in reliable, prevention oriented safety nets of state, county, local government with transparent accountability systems?
In the same moment, the governor said, “Too many decisions are made by unaccountable, opaque institutions. Elected officials are sometimes complicit in this transference of power, because it removes them from accountability.”
- While this comment was directed at the Kansas Supreme Court and the pending school finance ruling, does this mean that accountability and reliability are expected only in relation to finances but unnecessary when it comes to determining the impact on children in poverty, individuals with disabilities on waiting lists, college students, unemployed and underemployed Kansans looking for meaningful work, juveniles in the correctional system?
“On the number one item in the state budget – education – the Constitution empowers the Legislature---the people's representatives---to fund our schools.”
- Yes, the Kansas Constitution squarely places the responsibility to “make suitable provision for finance of the educational interests of the state” in the hands of our legislators [read here]. Our Constitution also provides for a system of checks and balances, to protect the people when one branch of government fails to meet their constitutional obligation. These checks and balances, for example, gave Kansas parents recourse when the Kansas legislature made a choice to not restore funding of K-12 public education at the statutory level they set at $4,492 [read here]. The other two branches of government could be approached to step in and hold the legislature accountable for ignoring their own laws, in this case, the Kansas Supreme Court.
“For the first time, we can ensure that every Kansas child has access to all-day kindergarten and we should do it now.”
- Does this mean the governor will take an active role in making funding provisions for all-day kindergarten happen? Can Governor Brownback get support from his own legislative leaders to move this $240 million bill out of committee and onto the floor for a vote? Will any of his legislative leaders in the House and Senate step forward – Senate President, Susan Wagle? Speaker of the House, Ray Merrick? House Education Committee Chair, Kasha Kelly? Senate Education Committee Chair, Steve Abrams?
House Minority Response, House Minority Leader, Paul Davis
Representative Davis challenged the narrative painted by Governor Brownback and invited Kansans to join him in rerouting the state’s roadmap. After three years into the governor’s self-declared ‘real-live experiment’, Representative Davis noted that a simple fact check tells a very different story about the impact of the governor’s choices on Kansans.
“The numbers just never seem to add up.”
- Job Creation - Kansas holds 16,000 fewer jobs than there were three years ago
- Tax Cuts - the governor’s elimination of income taxes, in reality has just shifted the tax burden onto working families and triggered significant increases in property taxes - up in 86 of our 105 counties - and a permanent increase in sales taxes
- K-12 Public Education – the governor chose not to restore the base state aid per pupil from pre-1992 funding levels to the $4,492 statutory level, causing significant increases in class sizes, layoffs for thousands of teachers, increased property taxes and a drop in state test scores for the first time in over a decade; while funding for the pension fund was increased, these dollars do not increase the capacity of the classroom nor student outcomes
- Higher Education – Kansas colleges are more expensive than ever, following a 25% state funding cut to higher education since 2008 [read more here], shifting more and more tuition costs on to students and parents
- Poverty – one of the governor’s roadmap goals is to reduce childhood poverty, but instead rates have increased dramatically to 23% in 2013 [read more here]
House Minority Leader Davis redefines leadership and the role of Kansas government. [The choice ahead] “is far more complicated than political talking points about “big government” vs. “small government.” This is about smart government. It’s about finding the balance between high quality schools, low taxes, and a climate that will truly create jobs and help small businesses thrive. If we embrace a moderate, commonsense approach – where we work together to find real solutions – we can achieve that balance.”
On the Radar−Short List of Issues
Invite others to join the Mainstream conversation and stay in the loop on a number of potential game-changing issues this legislative session. Among the list of anticipated bills, we will pay particularly close attention to a handful of the more troubling policy initiatives at odds with the moderate values and mission of the Mainstream Coalition:
- proposed constitutional changes to the selection and authority of Kansas supreme court justices
- extreme responses from some elected officials to the pending Kansas Supreme Court ruling on school finance
- continued efforts to privatize K-12 public education
- proposed constitutional changes to the financing of K-12 public education, elimination of the state board of education and selection of the commissioner of education
- ongoing impact of the governor’s tax policy and elimination to 50% of the state general fund
On the Radar−Legislators First Week in Topeka
The House and Senate Education Committees began their joint meetings, scheduled through the end of January. The agenda, to date, has been light, including a review of the summer interim education committee, presentation for the teacher of the year, and presentations by the Kansas Department of Education. The proposed all-day kindergarten agenda of the governor has not yet been assigned to a committee yet, nor championed by a committee chair.
House Committee on Federal and State Affairs
A bill to restrict marriage rights and to provide cover to religious entities and businesses in discriminating, if the said discrimination stems from sincerly held religious beliefs, will be heard next week. We will be following this bill as it unfolds. HB2453, Protecting Religious Freedom regarding Marriage, Hearing, Thurs, Jan 23, 2014, 9:00 am, room 346-S
For a quick list of active bills in the Kansas House or Senate [start here].
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