Capitol Update: ‘The number one draw to Johnson County is our public education system, so we must fund it properly’

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Sen. Barbara Bollier

Each legislative session, we provide northeast Johnson County’s elected officials with the chance to share their thoughts about what’s happening in the state capitol. Sen. Barbara Bollier submits this week’s update:

Five weeks have passed in Topeka since we gaveled in, and the honeymoon is over. The Senate hit a bit of a snag this past week and you deserve a play by play.

Senate leadership has been actively putting together both a rescission bill (which would make cuts to balance the current $340 million deficit) and a tax bill (intended to stabilize revenues for future years). Leadership did ask for some input early in the process, and ultimately, we were given four plans as options to choose from. None of the options included a three-tiered income tax plan, something that I believe is needed if we are to achieve a true structural fix that doesn’t continue to put funding for our schools and other core services at risk year after year. The plan also included a 5 percent cut to K-12 education, which we were told was the only way to have a balanced budget in 2018 and 2019. Many of us insisted that a structural tax fix needed to be on the table in partnership with a rescission bill so that the solution could come from a combination of both spending cuts and stabilized taxes.

On Tuesday, we were told all committee meetings would be canceled for Thursday so that  we could work on the Senate floor that day to debate and pass this plan, with leadership indicating they had the 21 votes needed to pass it. On Wednesday, the Republicans went to caucus to discuss a tax bill (SB 147), a rescission bill (SB 27)  and a borrowing bill taking some money from the Pooled Money Investment Board (PMIB) account (SB 115). During caucus, some Senators mentioned amendments that they planned to bring forward, including decreasing the cuts to K-12 to three percent. At that time, it was pointed out that under Senate rules, those amendments were not possible. This is when the plan began to fall apart and votes “fell off” to support the plan. It also became apparent that with the inclusion of the nine Democrats, there were enough votes to pass a tax bill built on three brackets of personal income tax and a repeal of the LLC business exemption.

Thursday morning, we gaveled in and went back to caucus, where we were told that there were not enough votes to pass the proposed bills so we would not be debating them on the floor. Senate leadership indicated that until a budget and tax plan with 21 Republican votes and the Governor’s “blessing” could be formulated, other bills would not be debated on the floor this session.

In an unexpected turn of events, leadership now plans to run another tax bill through tax committee and on to General Orders this week. The bill would restore the three brackets of income tax with no increase to the lower bracket. Kansas had a three bracket tax system in place prior to passage of the Brownback tax plan in 2012, which eliminated the top bracket and implemented an exemption for businesses organized as LLCs. This new tax plan includes using all the PMIB money, with no cuts to K-12. Between now and Thursday anything can happen, so stay tuned!

As we move forward on a structural fix to our budget woes, know that I am thinking carefully about the best way to keep our economy moving forward while making sure our state can effectively fund core services like education and mental health. Henry Ford’s economic theory from over 100 years ago still holds true today: businesses thrive when people buy what is produced. And, the number one draw to Johnson County is our public education system, so we must fund it properly.

It is a privilege to serve as your Senator. I am available by e-mail at Barbara.bollier@senate.ks.gov or my office phone is 785-296-7390.