A Few Items Left

Road sign indicating the finish line is just aheadToday marks the beginning of the last week of the Kansas Legislative Session. There are still three major topics to finish up: fixing the school finance bill "error," turning back the Senate's irresponsible tax cut bill, and passing the state's budget for the next fiscal year. Here's where we are on all of these topics.

Fixing the Funding "Error"

If you remember, three weeks ago at the end of the regular session, the Legislature passed a bill to fund public schools. But it was soon discovered that the bill had an accounting error that reduced funding by $80 million. The error was introduced because of a complex scheme to inflate the amount the state is purportedly putting towards public schools. We pushed out an action alert last week pointing this out, and you responded. Over the weekend, the Kansas House passed Sub for SB 61, a bill that not only fixes the money error, but also removes the artificial inflation of state contributions, returning us to where we always should have been: having an honest dialog with Kansans about school funding.

Several amendments were attempted, including one raising the amount of the bill. The current $525 million is thought by many to be too low, and they believe it will run afoul of the Kansas Supreme Court. But attempts to increase the amount were rejected.

In the end, Sub for SB 61 was sent to the Kansas Senate, which voted this afternoon to send it on to the Governor.

Another Irresponsible Tax Cut

The Kansas Senate, refusing to work on important matters like school funding, instead spent their time at the end of the regular session crafting a tax cut, Senate Sub for HB 2228, just one year after Kansans voted for and got tax reform to fund our ailing state services. Clearly an election-year gambit, this bill would turn down $500 million coming to Kansas from the Federal tax cut bill. This money could be used to create good construction jobs for neglected roads and bridges, it could make overdue pension payments, it could fund public schools for every child, it could help lower our record-high sales tax on food that hurts the lowest income Kansans, and it could shore up our fraying safety net. Instead, the Kansas Senate voted to gift this money to the wealthiest Kansas taxpayers.

Kansas is still in the hole dug by the Brownback tax cuts, and instead of throwing a rope to the Kansans inside, they are tossing in more shovels.

The Kansas House passed a bill called HB 2228 119-0, but it had to do with land banks. The Senate took that bill, gutted it, and inserted their own bill as described above, now called Senate Sub for HB 2228. The House, when presented with this new bill, rejected it, and now the two chambers are set to meet in conference committee to work out the differences. To be clear, the Kansas House voted to pass a bill that clarifies the law around land granting rights. And now three Representatives are being asked to negotiate on an irresponsible tax bill the House has not had a chance to discuss.

The Budget Bill

Without a budget bill, the state cannot function. It is a required bill of every Legislative Session, and often the final bill of the year, once the costs of all the previously passed bills are known. This year, of course, the school funding plan is still up in the air, and subject to the Court's ruling. The Kansas House passed their version last week, and just this morning, the Senate passed it with a few amendments, which will trigger a conference committee to work out their differences. The bill had one controversial element, a poison pill that would have shut down state government if the Supreme Court found the school funding plan unconstitutional. But more moderate heads in the House prevailed and that provision was taken out before it was sent to the Senate.

A Special Session?

If the Kansas Supreme Court decides that the amount of money in the school finance bill is not enough to pass Constitutional muster, then there will need to be a special session of the Legislature before July 1 to fund schools the right way, or they will be unable to operate come July 1. A quick refresher, that means more than a million kids who depend on summer lunches provided by schools will not get that. It means millions of kids in summer care programs through schools will need to stay home, putting pressure on lower income families where every adult works.

Also of note, while a special session is ongoing, sitting legislators are barred from campaigning. That means any House members with contested primaries will be anxious to be done with the business at hand.

The Court has extended their deadline for lawyers to present briefs on the school finance bill from April 30 (today) to May 14.

What can you do?

Now is a great time to begin or continue a conversation with your elected representatives in Topeka. Let them know you're paying attention. Find who represents you with our tool: ksleglookup.org

Thank you for all that you do. Change begins with you.

It starts here. Do more than vote.

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