As the Legislature quickly approaches first adjournment, we have been extremely busy both on the House floor and in committee. This week the House debated a number of bills that were both controversial and politically charged. Meanwhile, there has been no debate on the floor to address the challenging and systemic issues facing our state. I was temporarily encouraged by hearings in committee this week that would have increased funding for our schools and reduce the sales tax on food, but neither received a vote. The Kansas House is scheduled to adjourn next Friday. We will come back in late April for Veto Session.
Bill to Increase Funding for Schools Rejected
This week the House Appropriations Committee held a hearing on a bill to increase funding for education by $38 million. You may remember from an earlier newsletter, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled the block grant formula passed last year as unconstitutional. The bill, HB 2731, would have reinstituted a portion of the old school finance formula that ensured equal funding among all school districts.
Unfortunately, the chairman of the committee did not bring the bill for a vote and thus, there will be no floor debate on the issue. There is a bill in the Senate, but it does not allocate any new money and will likely not meet constitutional requirements. Lawmakers have until June 30th to fix the problem or our schools risk being shut down.
I know how important quality public education is to you and our community at large, and I will continue to fight to restore funding for our school district. Our children’s futures depend upon it.
Effort to Reduce Sales Tax on Food Failed
The House Tax Committee held hearings this week on a bill to reverse a portion of Gov. Brownback’s 2012 tax plan. The bill, HB 2444, would have reinstated the income tax on certain businesses (LLCs, S-Corps) and reduced the sales tax on food from the current rate of 6.5% to 2.6%.
Currently, 330,000 businesses in Kansas don’t pay any income tax, up from 190,000 when the bill went into effect. As a result, Kansas has lost hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue over the last three years.
To make up for the lost revenue, the legislature passed the largest tax increase in state history last year, raising the sales tax to 6.5%. The increase in the sales tax means Kansans pay more on all their purchases and more on food than in any other state in the nation.
Our state in broke and the Kansas economy is lagging behind others in the region. I’m ready to get our state back on solid financial footing, but the chairman of the tax committee did not call a vote on this bill either.
Major Juvenile Justice Reform Passed House
A bill reforming the Kansas juvenile justice system passed the House this week. Kansas currently has the sixth highest incarceration rate of juveniles in the nation, and this bill seeks to reduce that number by moving away from the practice of incarcerating kids towards evidence based practice that use more community-based services.
SB 367 is the result of an extensive workgroup process that lasted several months and is the first major overhaul of the juvenile justice system in more than 20 years. It is the hope that this will decrease juvenile recidivism, protect public safety, and reduce spending on practices that are ineffective thus saving taxpayer dollars.
Job Report Points to Troubled Kansas Economy
A labor market report released this week indicates Kansas lost 1,900 jobs in February and the state has lost 5,400 jobs in the last year. As the economies in other states continue to grow, this is troubling news for the state of Kansas and evidence that Gov. Brownback’s policies aren’t working.
It’s time for change. I will continue to focus on policies that move our state forward by investing in research and innovation, bringing new businesses to the state to generate high-paying jobs, and creating responsible and sustainable tax policies.
Prevailing Wage Amendment
This week I offered an amendment on the House Floor to allow local units of government the option to incorporate a prevailing wage requirement on public projects.
In 2013, despite overwhelming opposition from local units of government, the Legislature imposed an unnecessary and unwelcome intrusion in local affairs and violated the spirit of Home Rule for cities, which had been a guarantee in the Kansas Constitution for more than 50 years. This amendment would have simply undone that action and allow local units of government to decide what is best for their communities.
Prevailing wage is set by the Department of Labor and is the hourly wage, usual benefits and overtime, paid in the largest city in each county to the majority of workers, laborers and mechanics. In 1891 Kansas was the first state to pass a “prevailing wage” for its own public works projects with many other states following and still remain.
Prevailing-wage laws do not have a major impact on government contracting costs. They do however support a highly skilled and safe construction workforce that delivers construction projects more cost efficiently and improves the overall economic health of communities.
While I am disappointed my amendment did not pass I do appreciate the support of 42 other members of the Kansas House of Representatives that voted in favor of my amendment.
One of the best ways we can help our State’s local communities be successful is by allowing local government officials the ability to adopt policies that fit the nature of their local community and that are supported by their citizens.
State Library of Kansas Resources
It is Learning Express is an easy to use, online resource that can improve many basic skills: reading, writing, and math. It also offers help in test preparation: GED, college entrance, and graduate school. See the High School Equivalency Center for GED practice tests (click on Prepare for the GED Test, then select the desired subject). Also, check out the College Preparation Center (college entrance exams, practice tests, interactive tutorials) and the College Center (skills review, preparation help for graduate school admission exams). Easy registration and self-supplied password is necessary to use this resource and helps you to resume your work. http://kslib.info/LearningExpress