Columnists

Rep. Stan Frownfelter
Rep. Stan Frownfelter

Legislative update from State Rep. Stan Frownfelter, D – 37th Dist.

Swearing in

The 2015 session of the Kansas Legislature began on Monday, Jan. 12, with the swearing in of 125 members of the Kansas House of Representatives. I was sworn in for my 9th session serving District 37. The calendar will remain full over the next few weeks as bills are introduced and committees begin their work. Complete daily calendars are available at www.kslegislature.org. I am working to keep constituents more informed via stan.frownfelter@house .ks.gov.

Brownback delivers inaugural address

Gov. Brownback was sworn in for his second term as Kansas governor on Monday, Jan. 12. In his inaugural address, he finally recognized that the state is facing severe economic problems. I was surprised, however, that he blamed the states’ problems on a “crisis of the family” rather than taking responsibilities for the results of his disastrous economic experiment. He went on to suggest that strengthening our “faith” and “morals” could resolve the self-created fiscal crisis. Rather than blaming Kansas families, I believe we should be working towards solutions that address the issues that affect them the most, such as funding education, creating jobs, and generating a fair tax plan.

Kansas fiscal crisis
For several months now, we have known that Kansas is facing a real fiscal crisis. The non-partisan Consensus Revenue Estimating Group warned the state is facing a budget deficit of nearly $280 million for the 2015 fiscal year. The crisis is a direct result of Brownback’s irresponsible tax experiment which provided tax cuts to the wealthiest Kansans. The shortfall is projected to exceed $648 million during the 2016 fiscal year when additional tax cuts are set to take effect, further shifting the tax burden on to low and middle income families. Last month Gov. Brownback suggested that the state fill the looming budget gap for 2015 by shifting current funds from state agencies to balance the budget. The Governor’s proposal includes:
• Cutting a $40 million scheduled investment to KPERS (Kansas State Employee Retirement System)
• Raiding $96 million from the State Highway Fund, and
• Cutting state agencies budgets to cover the deficit.

In the coming days Gov. Brownback will release his proposed budget for the 2016 and 2017 fiscal year and committee hearings will begin shortly after.

Education
The state of Kansas was founded on a belief that everyone should have access to a quality public education, and our founders ensured we honor that tradition by placing a provision in Kansas’s Constitution requiring a suitable education for all Kansas children. Unfortunately, over the past several years Gov. Brownback and the Kansas Legislature failed to adequately fund K-12 education as schools have closed, test scores have dropped, and teachers have been laid off.

The failure to invest in public education threatens Kansas’ future, as current funding for public education remains equivalent to 1992 levels. As a result, in classrooms across the state schools are continuously asked to do more with less, fewer teachers serve more students, and parents are charged additional fees for their child’s education. The cost of public education is shifting to local taxpayers as school board members are forced to make the difficult decision to raise property taxes.

On Dec. 30 a three-judge panel affirmed that the State of Kansas was not meeting its Constitutional obligation to adequately fund public education. The legislature will now have to address the court ruling during this session. I assure you that I will continue to be a strong and vocal advocate for public schools in the Kansas Legislature.

State of the state
On Thursday, Jan. 15, Gov. Brownback delivered his fifth State of the State Address. The speech was met with great anticipation as the state is facing a budget deficit over $1 billion in the next five years. In fact, this fiscal crisis is worse than what we endured during the Great Recession.

Gov. Brownback has blamed a lot of people for the state’s economic troubles, but nonpartisan economists and budget analysts agree: the Brownback economic experiment is 100 percent to blame.

I didn’t come to Topeka to play politics. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter who made the mess. After years of lagging job growth and cuts to our public schools, all that matters now is that the mess is cleaned up. I want to be part of the solution, but only if Gov. Brownback offers real solutions. That means we must honor our moral obligation– and court order– to restore funding to our schools, protect the investments we know strengthen our economy, and re-establish a responsible, competitive tax code where everyone pays their fair share.

I will certainly approach any proposal the governor offers with an open mind, but the process must begin with him. I look forward to hearing more specifics from Gov. Brownback about his plan to fix his economic experiment in his budget on Friday.

Rep. Pam Curtis
Rep. Pam Curtis

Legislative update from State Rep. Pam Curtis, D-32nd Dist.
Jan. 24, 2015

No matter how old you are, it is never easy when you lose a parent. My dad, Richard Horton, passed away on Jan. 13. He was a strong, independent and wise man with a great sense of humor, and he lived life on his own terms to the very end. On behalf of my family, thank you for your expressions of sympathy and comfort and for keeping us in your thoughts and prayers at this time. He will be truly missed by those that loved him.
As your state representative, one of my top priorities is ensuring that I remain accountable and accessible to the people I serve. In order to do this, I attend community meetings and events, and I meet with our neighborhood and business leaders throughout the year. While the Legislature is in session, I do my best to stay in touch and keep you informed by email, and I spend countless hours every week helping my constituents solve problems.
The 2015 legislative session is just getting underway, and I am looking forward to serving on the following committees: Children and Seniors, Local Government, Vision 2020 and Judiciary. This year I am very pleased to have an intern, Kelly Cordingley from the University of Kansas, and an assistant, Pam Parker, working with me during session.
It remains an incredible honor to represent our community in the Kansas House of Representatives. If I can be of service to you or anyone you know, call my office at 785-296-7371, or email me at pam.curtis@house.ks.gov.
Pam Curtis
State representative, District 32

In this edition:

• Budget cuts
• Taxes
• KPERS
• KDOT
• Education funding
• Judicial selection
• Changes to Kansas elections

Budget-cuts
Acknowledging that the current budget trajectory is unsustainable and that difficult decisions need to be made, Gov. Brownback released his budget proposals for fiscal years 2016 and 2017.
To help fill the $1 billion budget shortfall over the next five years, Brownback proposed:
• Raising taxes to generate $211 million in income for the state,
• Reducing scheduled investments to KPERS (Kansas State Employee Retirement System) totaling $132 million,
• Raiding $300 million from the State Highway Fund,
• Making additional cuts to state agencies budgets, and
• Holding investments in education flat.
Gov. Brownback’s proposal serves as starting point for the legislature to debate and draft a final budget.

Taxes
In his State of the State address last week, Gov. Brownback made it clear that he would continue his failed experiment no matter what the cost, and his budget proposal reflects that. The governor has proposed a four-part tax plan that raises $211 million in revenue by:
1. Freezing income tax rates rather than allowing scheduled tax cuts to go into effect in 2016, 2017, and 2018.
2. Increasing consumption taxes on cigarettes by an additional 15% (or $1.50 a pack) and on liquor by an additional 4 percent.
3. Instituting a tax amnesty program that encourages delinquent taxpayers to pay by removing penalties and fees for tax accrued prior to Dec. 31, 2013.
4. Accelerating the gradual reduction of income tax deductions to 50 percent in 2015.
All four sources of revenue are a one-time only means to an end, and are not stable sources of revenue. Brownback’s proposal fills the self-created budget hole, but does not address the systemic problems that have created the shortfall.

KPERS
The Kansas Public Employee Retirement System trust fund is scheduled to mature in 2033 if the state continues to make its planned investments. Gov. Brownback’s proposal includes changes to the current system to help cover the projected $1 billion budget deficit. The proposal suggests that the state:
1) Reduce the state’s statutory contribution rate for the 2015, 2016, and 2017 fiscal years and,
2) Issue $1.5 billion is pension obligation bonds.
Reductions to the state’s contribution would force the fund’s maturity date into 2043, and would cost the state an additional $3.7 billion in interest. To put that number into perspective, that is half of the state’s annual budget.
Issuing bonds to cover such a large debt is also concerning, as it is the equivalent of using one credit card to pay off another. So while this proposal will push back payments and free up some cash to help cover the budget deficit in the short term, eventually the debt will have to be paid plus interest. With thousands of Kansas seniors already relying on our pension fund and an entire generation of Baby Boomers on the verge of entering the system, it is critical that the Legislature ensure the retirement security of public servants.

KDOT
Gov. Brownback has proposed raiding more that $300 million from the State Highway Fund to help cover the projected shortfalls over the next three years.
FY 2015 $608 million
FY 2016 $636 million
FY 2016 $718 million
Total $1.96 billion
The ten-year transportation plan is one of the biggest jobs creators in our state. Should we continue to rely on transportation funds to cover the state’s budget shortfall, projects will be not just be delayed, but canceled. Additionally, the safety of our roads and transportation infrastructure and our state’s economic recovery and growth will be put at risk.

Education funding
Citing the complexity of the current formula and the growing cost of education, Gov. Brownback proposed throwing out the current school finance formula and replacing the formula with block grant funding to school districts until a new formula could be written.
His proposal would in essence freeze the amount of money being invested in K-12 education, despite a court order last month finding the state to be inadequately funding public education by at least $500 million. We will know more about how the block grant funding will work and the impact on individual school districts when a bill is introduced in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, I will continue to fight to properly fund our schools so our students receive the high-quality education they need and deserve.

Judicial selection
In 1958, the Kansas electorate amended the Constitution so that it reflected the state’s views that the process of appointing justices should be fair, ethical, and free of political games. In his State of the State address, Gov. Brownback called for a change in the way we select state Supreme Court justices. Currently, a nine-person commission nominates three qualified candidates, and the governor chooses from those candidates. Three concurrent resolutions have been introduced in the House to change the nominating process.
• The first bill establishes partisan judicial elections, which would take place during the general election immediately following the vacancy of a seat.
• The second bill grants the governor the power to appoint a judge subject to confirmation by the Senate.
• The third bill restructures the nominating committee; the speaker of the House, the president of the Senate, and the governor would each appoint three people for a total of nine, and the governor would select a chair. Currently the committee is made up of four non-attorneys appointed by the Governor, four attorneys selected by attorneys in each of the state’s four Congressional Districts, and a chair of the commission who is an attorney elected by attorneys in a statewide vote.
Allowing the governor or legislators to appoint justices compromises the non-partisan nature of the court, which plays a critical role in the system of checks and balances.

Changes to Kansas elections
Last week, Secretary of State Kris Kobach proposed three initiatives that would drastically change elections in Kansas.
• His first proposal would reinstitute straight party voting, an outdated measure which would allow voters to check a single box to cast a vote for every member of a political party on the ballot.
• Kobach’s second proposal would grant him the ability to prosecute voter fraud in Kansas. The measure failed in 2013 before the House of Representatives because the prosecuting authority lies with the respective county and district attorneys.
• Kobach also sought to make death the only allowable circumstance a candidate could remove their name from a ballot.

Gov. Brownback is also championing an initiative that would change Kansas elections by moving local and municipal elections to November to coincide with the general election. Local governments have almost unanimously come out opposed to this issue out of fear the move would politicize currently non-partisan offices.

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Sen. Pat Pettey
Sen. Pat Pettey

Legislative update from Sen. Pat Pettey, D-6th Dist.

Jan. 20, 2015
In this issue:

• 2015 session convenes
• New committee assignment
• Governor delivers Inaugural Address
• Governor delivers State of the State Message
• Democrats respond
• Budget outlined
• Kansas ranks Among the “Terrible Ten” for regressive taxes
• President Obama’s visit

2015 session convenes

The 2015 legislative session is underway. Legislators ceremoniously convened Monday, Jan. 12, and awaited the annual State of the State address on Thursday, Jan. 15. Committees continue to meet this week to review proposed legislation.

Legislators will have full plates this year, as we debate a number of important issues including education funding and the budget deficits created by the governor’s reckless economic experiment.

I welcome your input on any of these issues. Please feel free to visit or contact me at 785-296-7375, if you should have any questions. Or stop by my legislative office, located in room 125-E of the Topeka Statehouse.

Daily calendars, committee and district information, and full text and summaries of bills are all available online at www.kslegislature.org. To hear legislative proceedings, just click on “Listen in Live.”

New committee assignment

Senate leadership created a new committee to help relieve the Judiciary committee’s workload. This committee is the Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee. I am serving on this committee as the ranking member. I am the only Democrat who serves on this seven-person committee. The committee meets daily at 9:30 a.m.

Governor delivers inaugural address

Gov. Brownback was sworn in for his second term on Monday and delivered his Inaugural address. While he finally recognized that the state is facing severe economic problems, he gave blame to a “crisis of the family” rather than taking responsibility for the results of his disastrous economic experiment.

There is a big difference between a “crisis of the family” and a “family in crisis.” The governor’s policies have created the latter. Gov. Brownback needs to recognize the impact his tax policy has had on average, hardworking Kansans.

Governor delivers state of the state message

On Thursday, Jan. 15, Gov. Sam Brownback delivered his fifth State of the State Address before a joint session of Senate and House members, cabinet secretaries and dozens of state dignitaries.

In his speech, Gov. Brownback outlined his 2015 legislative priorities, including:
• Overhauling the school finance formula
• Continuing on the “glide path to zero” income taxes
• Moving local elections to November
• Changes to the selection of Supreme Court justices

Unlike in his Inaugural address, the governor placed blame on the state’s self-imposed budget crisis on the “increases in K-12 spending since Fiscal Year 2014.” The reality is Brownback and his allies have cut statewide funding by nearly $442 million over the past three years.

From 2007 to 2009, the state lost $600 million due to the greatest economic downturn since the Great Depression. Last year, our state’s revenue dropped by $700 million and it is the direct result of Gov. Brownback’s disastrous “real live experiment.”

Democrats respond: The state of our state is bad

As is tradition, the minority party outlined its own legislative priorities during an official response to the State of the State. This year, the response was given by Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley.

The Kansas Legislature faces one of the most serious and significant situations the state has seen in a long time, if ever. Democrats remain committed to finding real solutions that embrace our shared Kansas values:

• Ensuring all Kansas children – regardless of where they live or how much money their parents make – receive the first class education they deserve.
• Creating good paying, quality jobs that allow Kansans to support their families. This means continuing to oppose raids of the highway funds. Studies have shown our current transportation plan will create 175,000 jobs. This is more certain that what might be created by the governor’s experiment.
• Easing the burden on low-income and middle-class families as well as those living on fixed incomes.
• Maintaining a solvent pension fund for Kansas public employees.
• Opposing further cuts to important state investments that have yet to recover from the Great Recession.

I also remain committed to being fiscally responsible and making sure everyone pays their fair share. I believe our state will prosper when we invest in the people of Kansas.

Budget revisions outlined

Gov. Brownback released his proposal for the FY 2016 and FY 2017 budget on Friday, Jan. 16. The proposal includes some very concerning components, including eliminating the school finance formula established in 1992 and replacing it with a block grant. However, very little information is provided as to how the grant would work. It is very likely, though, that would significantly increase the burden at the local level – property taxes.

I’ll do my best to keep you up-to-date in the coming weeks as legislators begin to work through specific budget issues. In the meantime, to access the Governor’s Budget Report in full, visit the Kansas Division of Budget’s website at http://budget.ks.gov.

Kansas ranks 9th for regressive taxes: report

A 2015 report released by the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy that evaluates fairness of state and local tax systems by measuring the taxes paid by different income groups ranked Kansas as the ninth in their list of “terrible ten” most regressive tax state. The report found that in Kansas the poorest 20 percent pay more than 11 percent of their income to taxes—three times what the top 1 percent of earners pay in taxes on their income.

President Obama’s visit

I am honored to have the opportunity to attend the speech that President Obama will be delivering at the University of Kansas on Thursday. I look forward to providing all of you with highlights of his speech in my next newsletter.

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