Capitol Update: Gallagher says legislature ‘must make this right before more children are caught in an education system that doesn’t live up to constitution’

Rep. Linda Gallagher. Photo credit office of Linda Gallagher.

Each legislative session, we provide the Shawnee Mission area’s elected officials with the chance to share their thoughts about what’s happening in the state capitol. Rep. Jerry Stogsdill, Rep. Linda Gallagher and Sen. Jim Denning were scheduled to send updates this week. (Sen. Denning has not replied to any of our invitations to participate in Capitol Update). Here’s Rep. Gallagher’s filing:

It was a harrowing final week of the Regular Session in Topeka. In my four sessions in the Legislature, I’ve never seen anything like it – a sentiment shared by some who have seen more than 20 sessions! As of early morning on Sunday, April 8, the Legislature is adjourned until April 26, when we begin the Veto Session.

One reason the path to adjournment was a wild ride was that the Senate leadership refused to bring the school funding bill up for debate until the waning hours of the session. Another was that they forced the House to agree to an abbreviated Veto Session without the usual 20-day break before the Sine Die closing day. The Veto Session is now scheduled to run April 26-May 3, and Sine Die is May 4. This gives more power to the governor with the Legislature having no opportunity to override a veto of anything it passes during the Veto Session.

School Funding Bill

In the end, though, we did what we had to do – pass a school funding bill. The bill addresses the equity issues cited by the Supreme Court in its ruling last fall and includes several good policy provisions. It includes $522 million in new funding over five years. Combined with the funding in last year’s plan, schools would see more than $800 million in new funding over six years (including the current school year), if accepted by the court.

For many legislators, this is a huge number to stomach, but we didn’t get here overnight, and many of us were not here when this path began. We must make this right before more children are caught in an education system that doesn’t live up to our constitution – let alone our expectations.

Unfortunately, as often happens when things are done fast and late at night, an error was found in the bill this week. This is an $80 million error that strips millions from many schools, and Shawnee Mission is hit particularly hard. We expect to work on a “trailer bill” to fix this error when we return to Topeka for the Veto Session.

I voted yes on both the House’s school funding plan, HB 2445, and the final version, Sub SB 423, which included some provisions from the Senate’s plan. Sub SB 423 passed both the House and Senate with just the minimum required number of votes. That demonstrates what a delicate balance the support for that measure was. I truly wish we could appropriate more money for K-12 education than the $522 million in this plan. But the reality is that adding more money would have caused some legislators to drop off, believing that the plan was too expensive. Conversely, if the bill had called for less money, other legislators, including me, would have voted against it.

The funding amount in Sub SB 423 was both the floor and the ceiling of what realistically could be passed. Some legislators voted against it because they want higher funding levels. But there is no way to pay for that out of existing funds. And there is little interest in a tax increase, after last year’s tax reform bill.

Time will tell whether this funding will be enough to pass constitutional muster with the Kansas Supreme Court, but I and others believe it is a solid plan that was crafted in a good-faith effort. As many superintendents and educators across the state have noted, it is not practical to make a one-time investment of a large amount of money. We are taking a phased approach over the next five years, to allow school districts to establish goals and reassess needs throughout the investment process.

The Attorney General’s office is preparing a defense of the new school funding bill, which is due to the court by April 30. Meanwhile, Gov. Jeff Colyer will sign the bill April 17 in a ceremony at Apache Elementary School, an Innovative School in Overland Park in my legislative district.

Constitutional Amendment

During the last week before adjournment, the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on and passed HCR 5029, a constitutional amendment to declare the power to appropriate funding for education is exclusively a legislative power and not subject to judicial review. This is aimed at stopping the “endless cycle of litigation” over Kansas school funding, according to the amendment’s proponents. The way to achieve that is to fund education adequately. And we need the oversight of the courts to ensure that is done.

Removing the judicial branch from being able to rule whether school funding appropriated by the Legislature is adequate upsets the balance of power among the three branches of state government. We need the courts to be a backstop for potential ill-intentioned actions by the Legislature. We need the checks and balances provided for by our system of government.

A constitutional amendment would require 84 of 125 votes in the House and 27 of 40 votes in the Senate to pass. The reality is, the votes just aren’t there – they aren’t anywhere close. This effort has waned substantially since it started. I’m not sure whether this will come up for a vote during the Veto Session, but if it does, I will be a solid no.

Veto Session Issues

The Legislature has its work cut out for it when it returns for the Veto Session. Besides fixing the error in the school funding bill, we must pass an omnibus budget bill that will fund various state agencies. The April 20 report of the Consensus Revenue Estimating Group will assess where the state’s revenues stand after the April 17 income tax filing deadline. This report will guide the Legislature in setting spending levels. As of April 2, revenues for the fiscal year were $313.7 million above the November Consensus Revenue Estimate. It is hoped that trend will continue for April.

The Senate passed a tax cut bill after more than five hours of debate as the regular legislative session neared its end. This was a filibuster tactic intended to avoid debating the school funding bill. Sub HB 2223 would make several modifications to individual and corporate income tax provisions – cutting income taxes through changes in deductions in response to an expected boost in revenues from the new federal tax plan. This bill is estimated to cost $135 million in lost tax revenue the first year and nearly $500 million over five years – coincidentally, close to the amount of funding in the new school finance plan. This would create budget uncertainty while Kansas works to recover from years of failed tax policy. We’ve only begun to recover from the 2012 tax cuts, and only because we were able to pass a tax reform package just a year ago.

There were several bills still in conference committees when the Legislature adjourned, and they may or may not advance during the Veto Session. Among these are:

  • HB 2042 –would require the state to recognize all valid concealed carry licenses and permits issued by other states to non-Kansas residents and would lower the age required to obtain a concealed carry permit to 18. I oppose that provision.
  • HB 2571 – would lead to greater transparency in law enforcement by requiring departments to share body camera footage more quickly.
  • HB 2028 – would establish a statutory framework for regulating and reimbursing telemedicine consistent with in-person care.
  • HB 2756 – would create the Kansas Main Street Parity Act. It would require retailers without a physical presence in the state to collect sales taxes on certain Internet transactions. This bill has not been brought up for debate in the House yet, but we may see it during the Veto Session.