NEJC Capitol Update: ‘Challenges that we have not faced in many years’

To keep our readers better informed about the state government actions that impact our communities, we will be featuring regular update columns each Monday from northeast Johnson County’s elected officials: Rep. Barbara Bollier, Rep. Stephanie Clayton, Rep. Jarrod Ousley, Rep. Melissa Rooker and Sen. Kay Wolf. Sen. Wolf submits this week’s update:

Legislators returned to Topeka January 12th to begin the 2015 session. The day began with committee meetings followed by the Governor’s Inaugural, the Senate Session and ending with the State of the State address. The Session will kick into high gear next week as legislators continue to review the Governor’s Budget and hold hearings on proposed legislation.

Sen. Kay Wolf
Sen. Kay Wolf

An overview of Governor Brownback’s bullet points within his State of the State address were:

  • Promised to continue the march toward zero income taxes
  • Will once again deliver a two year budget
  • State constitutional amendment to require the state to pay its debt prior to anything else
  • Create a new school finance formula
  • Expansion of rural opportunity zones to urban areas
  • Judicial selection either by direct public vote or Governor appointment. This change would require a constitutional amendment
  • Moving of local elections to the fall

Interestingly, the Governor barely touched on the financial crisis Kansas is currently facing choosing rather to speak about other initiatives. The Governor’s Budget was instead presented to a joint committee of House Appropriations and Senate Ways and Means the next morning. I was not surprised by the generality of his State of the State. However, I was disappointed given the vastness of the viewing audience that he did not take the opportunity to definitively state “Kansas has a financial problem, and this is my recommendation on how to correct it.” The Consensus Revenue Department has projected a $279 million deficit ending June 2015 and another $436 million in FY2016.

An overview of the Governor’s Budget Proposal were:

  • K-12 Schools – recommends sunsetting the existing formula on July 1st and replacing it with block grant funding until a new school finance formula can be developed. They would receive the same level of funding as this year. However, school districts would be responsible for any increase in KPERS pension
  • KDOT Transfers in the amount of approximately $350m for FY 2015, 2016 and 2017.
  • 4 percent reduction for selected State Agencies
  • Early Childhood – transfers $15 million from the Children’s Initiative Fund
  • Income Taxes – Recommends freezing the income tax rate where they currently are, except for a reduction in 2016 for the lowest tax bracket from 2.75% to 2.66%.
  • Early elimination of mortgage interest deduction and property tax deductions
  • Increasing taxes on cigarettes by an estimated $80.8 million (79 cents per pack) and an estimated $27.1 million on liquor (tax increase from 8 percent to 12 percent.)
  • Medicaid changes in the drug formulary, i.e. mental health.

FY 2015 will be a critical year for the welfare of Kansans going forward. As it is our constitutional obligation to balance the budget it will be done. However, it will come with challenges that we have not faced in many years. Although, I was not supportive of either of the tax plans passed, I will do my best to analyze all and each budget proposal. As always, I welcome your ideas and comments.