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