Capitol Update: The issues this campaign season

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With the 2016 legislative session done and the special session wrapped as well, Rep. Barbara Bollier filed this update on some of the items currently being debated on the campaign trail:

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Rep. Barbara Bollier. Photo courtesy Angela Bond.

Now that we are out of session for the year, I wanted to take the opportunity to clear up some confusing issues that I see being discussed on the campaign circuit. (Note: I do not have a primary opponent.)

First, let’s look at the private school scholarship (voucher) program. Ten million dollars can be taken from our state general fund to allow corporations to give money to scholarship granting organizations. Of the money given by corporations, 70 percent is eliminated from their tax assessment; it is not a deduction but a reduction. Those donations are assigned to private schools including religious institutions. The money is used for tuition granted to approved students who qualify because of their income level. Some schools have hired recruiters to find kids that they want to attract to their schools. As of now, nearly 260 kids have been identified for next year and are on the list for consideration to participate in this program. Private schools have no requirements for accountability of their expenses or assessments of student outcomes; they also are not required to take all students in their schools, unlike our public institutions. This $10 million tax break could be used for Base State Aid per Pupil if the legislature so desired.

Next, how are Supreme Court justices selected in Kansas? State Supreme Court justices are picked by a nine-member nominating commission; four of those commissioners are non-lawyers appointed by the governor. The other five, including the chair, are elected by lawyers. Judges are charged with interpreting the law to the best of their ability, often using case law to support their conclusion. Our country put together three branches of government as a check and balance measure. The Kansas nominating commission was instigated over 50 years ago when the selection process was manipulated and politicized by a sitting governor. The people were rightfully outraged and the current system was voted into place. Currently, there is a political move to unseat all of our Supreme Court Justices and return to governor appointments, which I personally do not support.

Finally, a clarification is needed about our state budget and revenue. Under the current tax plan, we continue to have significantly less revenue than is called for by the budget that was signed by Governor Brownback. This year alone we have been forced to cut multiple programs multiple times by very significant amounts. We also have borrowed money by using bonding authority against both the KPERS retirement system and the Department of Transportation, and are using whatever one-time money that can be scraped together to fill the budget hole. The most talked-about change to our revenue woes, the LLC tax giveaway fix, does not solve the problem. Just under 70 percent of the money lost by our income tax cuts came from the 330,000 businesses that now pay no income tax. Adding that money by itself will still leave us with huge deficit issues in the years to come. Economic instability and budgets based on borrowing do not equal fiscal responsibility.

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