Capitol Update: Funding schools, KPERS, other needs will dominate 2018 session, says Rep. Ousley


Each legislative session for the past few years, we’ve provided northeast Johnson County’s elected officials with a chance to update constituents on the issues they’re most interested in at the capitol.

With the expansion of our coverage area last year to include the entire Shawnee Mission School District footprint, we’ve also expanded the list of state representatives and senators we’ve asked to participate in these “Capitol Update” columns. For 2018, we’ll be featuring three legislators’ columns each Monday. We’ve broken the Shawnee Mission area delegation into the following three rotations:

Senate districts:

  • Barbara Bollier
  • John Skubal
  • Jim Denning
  • Dinah Sykes
  • Mary Pilcher Cook

House districts (western):

  • Jarrod Ousley
  • Tom Cox
  • Linda Gallagher
  • Cindy Neighbor
  • Randy Powell
  • Cindy Holscher

House districts (eastern):

  • Stephanie Clayton
  • Melissa Rooker
  • Jerry Stogsdill
  • Brett Parker
  • Nancy Lusk
  • Jan Kessinger

We’ll start today, the first day of the session with update columns from Reps. Ousley and Clayton and Sen. Bollier. Below is Rep. Ousley’s first dispatch:

The two dominant issues facing the legislature in the upcoming session include drafting a constitutional education finance formula, and ensuring there is enough revenue to meet our financial obligations, such as funding education, the Kansas Public Employee Retirement System, fully funding the Department of Children and Families, and catching up on past due infrastructure improvements.

Many of us voted against the last education finance formula, because it was clear that it was not enough to meet adequacy requirements under the constitution, and there was an inequitable distribution of additional at risk dollars provided to some districts, despite their low enrollment of at risk students. It also opened up the tax credit scholarship programs to individuals, which increased the ease of use of the program, diverting additional dollars away from public schools. The new formula must have adequate funding (it needs anywhere between $200 million to $400 million more to accomplish that), and must not exacerbate inequality. Several conservatives have raised the threat of altering the constitution to avoid the state’s responsibility to fund public education. Be aware that the make up of the legislature is such that the only way for the 47 Republican conservative representatives in the House to accomplish this is by swaying nonconservative members to vote with them.

The revenue generated by the repeal of the LLC tax exemption was more than anticipated. However, if our state coffers are still short, at least three discussions are occurring on generating necessary funds:(1) tobacco taxes; (2) taxes on services; or (3) a fourth income tax bracket. Tobacco taxes have the benefit of increasing health outcomes, but with access to the state line, residents of northeast Johnson County may drive to Missouri to purchase tobacco. Taxes on services burden small business owners and service providers in ways that are detrimental. For example, doctors provide the service of health care, but few would argue that parents should pay a service tax on taking a sick child to the pediatrician. I am opposed to the first two options to generate more revenue. Currently, the highest income tax bracket in Kansas is $60,000. The median family income in Kansas is $54,935. A forth income tax bracket on income over $100,000 a year, or over $125,000 a year, would generate needed revenue, but would not increase taxes on roughly 90% of Kansans. I would support this progressive approach

There are policy matters I will focus on that will increase safety for children in foster care and ensure election audit processes are in place prior to the 2018 election.

The ironically named HOPE Act restricted access to Temporary Assistance for Needed Families, and restricted access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs. These programs provided financial and food assistance to families in crises. As assistance was cut off, rates of abuse increased. Removing these restrictions will reduce the number of children in the foster care system, and help ease the burdens on the agency so they can focus on providing protections to children in physical danger. The Foster Care Task Force and my subcommittee will continue to meet to explore recommended policy updates.

Last year, I attempted to repeal the SAFE Act and to implement an Election Audit Act. The SAFE Act repeal did not make it through the House last session, and I look forward to assisting Rep. Parker in his efforts to do a more targeted repeal, to increase access to the voting booth. The Election Audit Act, which passed the House, was severely compromised in the Senate, when Secretary of State Kobach introduced amendments rendering the auditing provision toothless. The bill needs to be corrected, and I am hopeful to have it sent back to committee to have it reworked and improved so that the auditing provisions will actually accomplish successful audits.

Thank you for the opportunity to serve the 24th District.  My office in Topeka is 452-S and I can be reached at (785) 296-7366 at and