In an effort to keep our readers better informed about the state government actions that impact our communities, we are featuring regular update columns from northeast Johnson County’s elected officials in the legislature: Rep. Barbara Bollier, Rep. Stephanie Clayton, Rep. Melissa Rooker and Sen. Kay Wolf. Check back on Mondays to find out what’s been happening the past week in Topeka. Rep. Rooker submits this week’s update:
It’s March, and this weather is madness! Legislative activity in Topeka shows signs of madness as well. This past week was the final week of regular committee meetings and the pace was relentless. For members of the Education Committee, we began meeting most mornings at 7 a.m., broke to attend our 9 a.m. meetings with other committees, held session on the House floor at 11 a.m., reconvened for education over lunch, twice had afternoon sessions back on the floor of the House, and met again for Education meetings at 5 p.m. The topics of discussion in Education included private charter schools, private school vouchers (oops, I should call them corporate tax credit scholarships) and repeal of the Common Core Standards Initiative. Charters and repeal of CCS were voted down in committee.The voucher bill will be debated on the House floor this afternoon. My hope is that we can find the votes to defeat this bill as well. It would allow the creation of scholarship granting organizations (no limit on how many) to receive corporate donations (no limit on how much money) to grant scholarships of $8,000 per student that can be used at the school of their choice, with no accountability standards required. Home schools, private schools, parochial schools would all be options. Why is this a problem? A dollar for dollar tax credit would be provided by the state to the corporations donating the money. Current law allows them to take a tax deduction; this law would turn it into a tax credit that can be carried over until it is exhausted. Up to $10 million worth of credits would be granted each year, with the tax liability for the state compounding over time as corporations carry over their unused credits. This injects state money into the equation and diverts it from the state general fund into private schools that have no requirements to abide by — language in the bill releases them from all state regulations. After working through the budgeting process and seeing the many ways $10 million would help various state agencies and worthwhile programs, I cannot support this legislation.
The budget bill and tax plan were debated in the House last week. I voted no on both bills. The tax plan calls for more cuts in income tax rates, threatens transportation funding, and fails to fully pay for itself. The budget plan is even worse, cutting 4 percent from higher education, freezing state salaries for the eighth straight year, cutting early childhood programs, and sweeping ending balances from funds all around the state without regard to why they exist in the first place. Kansans expect and deserve low-cost government that uses their tax dollars wisely. But as we cut costs, we must remember that we also deserve efficient government that effectively carries out core functions. Freezing salaries and cutting essential positions has the effect over the long run of demoralizing state workers and degrading the very governmental services the public depends upon. The Senate plans are very different, so the work to find a path forward will commence in conference committees this week.
We will spend this week in session in the House debating bills all day. Conference committees are being formed to negotiate compromise between Senate and House bills, and we will break for Easter weekend before finishing the regular session next week.