Capitol Update: ‘Education is one of the only places left to cut’

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

Barbara Bollier
Barbara Bollier

The legislature is currently in the middle of its “Spring Break”, having wrapped up the “regular” session on April 2. We will resume work in Topeka on April 29 with what is traditionally known as “Veto Session.” The original intent of veto session is to give the legislature the opportunity to override the Governor’s veto on a bill or bills; however, the Governor has not vetoed any bills this year. This year, in addition to the two-year budget bill for 2016 and 2017, we will have to pass some sort of tax plan to make up the $300 million to $500 million that we are short in revenues to cover the expenses of our budget.

So what could happen before we gavel out of the 2015 Session? The only legislation that we are required to pass each year by statute is a budget bill. Currently, the only budget bill having passed a chamber is Sen Sub for HB 2135. It is a Senate budget that has been placed into a House Bill shell (numbered bill). By putting it in a House Bill, the rules dictate that the House already “passed” the bill, even though the Senate completely changed its contents. By using this “gut and go” process, the House can only vote “Yes” or “No” on the bill, and only members of the Conference Committee are able to amend the bill in any fashion. As a result, only six members of the legislature have any real say on the budget. Through yet another rules maneuver called “Agree to Disagree,” the minority party (Democrat) members of the Conference Committee no longer have voting power.

It is important to note that we must ultimately balance the budget. As mentioned in the first paragraph, we are millions of dollars short in predicted revenues. Some of the new taxes that might be considered, along with the estimated amount of money that each will net, are listed below (in millions):

Taxes to be increased Revenue ’16 Revenue ’17
Cigarettes $2.29 per pack $71.91 $65.77
Liquor to 12% $27.05 $27.88
Tax Amnesty Program $73.2 $108.5

Of course there are many other taxes and combinations of taxes that might be put together to meet our proposed budgetary needs OR the budget could be slashed to make revenues meet needs. With over 50 percent of our State General Fund budget going to education, education is one of the only places left to cut. And hanging over the decision about education spending is the Gannon lawsuit which may require us to put millions more into our education budget. Bottom line, this year is likely to bring tax increases. The heavy lifting is definitely ahead of us this session!