Capitol Update: ‘None of the major issues have been adequately addressed and we are probably in for a long and contentious veto session’

Rep. Jerry Stogsdill.
Rep. Jerry Stogsdill.

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. Rep. Jerry Stogsdill submits this week’s update:

On Apr. 7, the Legislature completed its “regular” session and adjourned until May 1, when we return for the “veto” session. In theory, the “regular” session should be the time when the Legislature addresses all the major issues and passes all the resulting legislation on to the Governor for him to sign or veto. The “veto” session is, in theory, a time to address the Governor’s concerns and come up with a compromise or to override his vetoes and keep legislation the same as submitted. Unfortunately, thanks to our ultra-conservative Governor and the ultra-conservative leadership in the House and Senate, none of the major issues have been adequately addressed and we are probably in for a long and contentious “veto” session.

Issues still on the table include an adequate and equitable school finance formula that will pass muster with the Kansas Supreme Court, a balanced budget, and a tax plan that is comprehensive, fair and includes all segments of the economy. The issues of Medicaid expansion, guns on campus and due process for teachers are also being pursued even though the Governor and the Republican conservatives have fought against these issues from day one.

Here is where we are on some critical issues:

School Finance: We should have an initial school finance bill to work with when we return on May 1. I have seen a preliminary proposal and, in my opinion, this is strictly a starting point which will require considerable discussion before a bill is finalized that will pass both the House and Senate and the scrutiny of the Kansas Supreme Court. One part I am adamantly opposed to is a section addressing “scholarships,” which is conservative doublespeak for school vouchers. My position is and will remain that public tax dollars need to be directed totally toward the funding of our public schools.

Balance Budget and Fair Tax Plan: These issues go hand in hand as a fair, balanced and inclusive tax plan must be designed that will provide the funding necessary to allow us to address the basic needs of the state and to bring us back to a balanced and sustainable budget. Right now we are hundreds of millions of dollars in the hole because of the Governor’s 2012 tax plan which has been a dismal failure. The Governor’s plan which was enthusiastically supported by his conservative loyalists in the Legislature has created a financial disaster for Kansas. It has caused our state’s financial rating to have been downgraded four times, has been a drain on our public schools and universities, has caused damage to our basic infrastructure by the Governor’s raiding of KDOT funds to cover budget shortfalls, has put the KPERS system at risk by withholding the states payments into the system and has created no significant economic development even though the Governor said his plan would be an economic development powerhouse.

There are plans in the works to address these problems, but, it will take a substantial number of Republican moderates to work together with the Democrats in order to craft a new budget and tax plan that will have the support necessary to override any veto attempt by the Governor.

Healthcare: The Governor and his loyalists in the Legislature have cost the state billions of dollars in federal healthcare assistance by not expanding Medicaid in Kansas. At present, millions of Kansas tax dollars are being sent to Washington and then on to states that HAVE expanded Medicaid. The majority of the House and Senate has had the wisdom to see the benefits of passing Medicaid expansion. The House and Senate passed the Medicaid expansion bill and sent the bill to the Governor for his signature. The Governor had stated previously that he would leave this decision up to the Legislature. The Legislature acted and the Governor immediately broke his promise and vetoed the bill. Twenty-four of 40 Senators and 81 of 125 Representatives voted to override the Governor’s veto which was three votes short in the House and three votes short in the Senate necessary to override the veto. It was a sad day in the Legislature when small minorities in the House and Senate voted conservative politics instead of voting for the health needs of over 150,000 Kansans. This issue is not dead and those of us who are in favor of Medicaid expansion will be working hard to get enough conservatives to change their votes and pass this critical and lifesaving piece of Legislation.

What now: Along with the previously mentioned issues we will also be dealing with guns on campus and due process to protect the rights and jobs of our public school teachers. On ALL of these issues we are going to need the help and voices of our constituents to accomplish our goals of balancing the state’s budget, creating a fair, balanced and inclusive tax code, making sure our public schools, colleges and universities are fully funded and able to provide top notch educational opportunities for our children, keeping guns off our campuses and making sure that every Kansan has access to quality healthcare at a reasonable price.

In order to accomplish what needs to be done in Topeka we need you to stay informed and to get involved. Write, call, or e-mail the Governor and his legislative loyalists and let them know you want a Kansas that is solvent, that supports education, that taxes its citizens fairly, that encourages economic growth, that is concerned about health care for ALL Kansans and that puts the needs of the people of Kansas over loyalty to a failed conservative political agenda.

I am cautiously optimistic that there is a real desire for change in Topeka and that the Republican moderates, who were voted into office based on their “moderate” views and promises, will work with the Democrats to see that sweeping and positive change can occur in Kansas.

As always, I encourage suggestions and questions from my constituents on how we can work together to achieve the changes we need to see in Kansas. I am always available by e-mail at Jerry.Stogsdill@house.ks.gov, or at jws4414@aol.com. I am also available by phone at my office in Topeka at 785-296-7692 or on my cell phone at 913-579-9208. If you are in Topeka and would like to discuss something in person I would be happy to set up an appointment or feel free to drop by my office which is on the fourth floor at 452-South.

Thank you for your continued support as, together, we make Kansas a better place to live, learn, play and work.