Capitol Update: What the school finance debate means for SMSD funding

In an effort to keep our readers better informed about the state government actions that impact our communities, we will again be featuring regular update columns during the 2014 session from northeast Johnson County’s elected officials: Rep. Barbara Bollier, Rep. Stephanie Clayton, Rep. Emily Perry, Rep. Melissa Rooker and Sen. Kay Wolf. Sen. Wolf submits this week’s update:

Sen. Kay Wolf
Sen. Kay Wolf

It was a short, but productive week for the Legislature. The Senate spent two days on the floor debating and voting on nearly 70 bills. The Legislature was in recess on Thursday and Friday to allow time for conference committees to meet and negotiate differences. We will return to Topeka on Monday for what is expected to be a full week of voting on the Senate floor before the Legislature adjourns for the April break. Two important topics of interest are:

School Finance
The Senate continued discussions on the issue of school finance. Senate leadership also released its proposal for addressing the court’s concerns regarding equity and adequacy in school funding. Their initial plan includes $78 million in new funding, changes to certain weightings in the finance formula, and authorizing an increase to the local option budget (LOB) from 31 percent to 33 percent. This could generate approximately $2.8 million dollars for the SMSD if enacted. Under the current formula if we allocate only the $129 million as the court instructed, the SMSD would not receive any additional dollars. Johnson County legislators have lobbied for additional LOB authority for years with little success. I am hopeful this option will be a part of the final plan approved by the legislature and believe if our delegation sticks together it will be. Otherwise, Johnson County will be paying a great deal and receiving minuscule dollars if anything in return. The current Senate proposal also fully funds current law of not more than 8 mills (equalize formula) costing approximately $25.2 million and fully funds current law for supplemental general fund costing approximately $103.9 million with adjustment in some weightings. We will continue to work on a proposal that both the House and Senate can come to an agreement on. Senate Leadership has said a solution needs to be approved by Friday, April 4.

Protecting Job Growth in the Energy Sector
The Senate voted this week to repeal the state’s Renewable Energy Standards (RPS). The standards were part of a compromise reached by the 2010 Legislature that would allow for construction of a coal-fired power plant in Western Kansas while also encouraging exploration in renewable energy sources like wind, solar and hydro power. The standards call for Kansas’s utilities to diversify their power sources, generating 20 percent of power from renewable sources by 2020. The bill, Substitute for HB 2430, passed the Senate 25-15, but was later struck down in the House. I voted no. This is really about protecting job growth in the state’s energy sector. The majorities of Kansas’s utilities have already met the 20 percent standard and have invested in the future of renewable energy. Kansas is currently positioned as a leader in the wind industry. Repealing the RPS would send the wrong message, stifling job growth and capital investments in our state. The fact that Kansas is close to meeting the 20 percent standard six years ahead of the law (FY 2020) makes one question why there is even a need for repeal. We need to continue to offer a stable predictable policy to attract continued development.

Many other worthwhile and notable bills were passed last week. During the session these are reviewed in my weekly newsletter. If you would like to receive the electronic version of my newsletter, please email or call 785-296-7390. As always, thank you for allowing me to represent Senate District 7. I value your thoughts, ideas and questions. Please do not hesitate to contact my office.