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. Rooker submits this week’s update:
Tuesday marks Day 97 of the 2015 legislative session and there is little sign of progress with regard to the budget gap that needs addressing. To recap, our current state budget proposal calls for roughly $6.4 billion in spending for each of fiscal years 2016 and 2017, while revenue projections are roughly $5.7 billion each for FY 2016 and 2017. Some of the shortfall is being made up through transfers out of the Department of Transportation and other one-time fund sweeps, leaving approximately $400 million for the legislature to account for through revenue increases or budget cuts.
Some argue that this situation is a complete surprise, that revenue estimates done by “university economists” were misleading and that nobody could have predicted the negative effect of the 2012 tax cuts on the Kansas economy. I encourage you to take a look at the revenue projection provided by the Legislative Research Department on May 10, 2012 – 12 days before the tax cut plan was signed into law – and available to the legislature, the governor and the Department of Revenue over 1,000 days ago:
The budget run included here from June 15, 2012 projects the same outcome in more detail:
To date, the House has held one debate on tax proposals (Day 89) and no debate on a budget plan. We are being held hostage to special interests that are controlling the narrative and creating gridlock in the legislative process in a manner that feels a lot like what happens in Washington.
While we spin our wheels on budget and tax, there have been other bills passed in the Veto Session. On a positive note, I am pleased to report a compromise was reached with Uber that our Attorney General helped negotiate. The compromise will provide the consumer protections and public safety measures the state sought in a manner that Uber can support, and is likely to become the national model. Uber turned on their app and restored service once the governor signed the new bill into law on Friday.
I am disappointed to report that HB 2104 and SB 34 both passed on Thursday. HB 2104 moves local elections from spring to fall of odd numbered years starting in 2017. The local units of government affected by this change all weighed in against the move because of the disruption to their budget cycle and timing of new members taking office. I heard from all six Johnson County school districts, and representatives from all 8 cities I represent asking me to leave the election schedule alone. The final vote was 64-58. The argument given in favor of this move was a push to increase voter turnout, however there are proven better methods for doing so. SB 34 strengthens penalties for voter fraud and gives the Secretary of State the authority to prosecute election crimes. Kansas is the first state in the nation to give independent prosecutorial power to our Secretary of State. Currently, county district attorneys and our attorney general have the power to prosecute election crimes, and this expansion of power is nothing more than overreach. The bill passed 67-55.
We have been advised by leadership that once we return to Topeka, we can expect to stay until the budget and tax questions have been settled. I am willing to put my personal life on hold while we take care of business, but I seek real revenue reform that provides a fair, stable and reliable plan that does more than simply put a band aid over the wound. Nickel and diming the taxpayers, closing one loophole while creating others, raising taxes on the little guy while big corporations are allowed to game the system, sweeping funds intended for other things and borrowing at historic levels is not fiscally responsible governing.
As always, I encourage you to share your thoughts with me. Because our office assistants were laid off at the 90 day mark, the best way to reach me is by email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit my website: https://melissarooker.com I appreciate the opportunity to serve as your voice in Topeka.