Capitol Update: Kessinger: ‘Let’s face it, no one really knows what the court will say’

Rep. Jan Kessinger.

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. Cindy Holscher, Rep. Jan Kessinger and Sen. Pat Pettey are scheduled to send updates this week. Here’s Rep. Kessinger’s filing:

The 2018 (regular) legislative session is in the books and candidates are now on the campaign trail. 2018 was a session of great promise, fraught with landmines of bills designed to create “postcard votes,” that is laws that serve little to no purpose other than to force a legislator to take a position on a controversial underlying issue of a bill.

That said, I can say that the 2018 legislature got a lot of good things accomplished:

  • 2019 budget passed. Since the Brownback tax experiment, the state had been using the borrow and spend method of budgeting, coupled with severe cuts to transportation, inadequate funding of schools, grossly underpaid corrections officers (leading to prison uprisings), little to no raises for state employees, and skipping payments into the Kansas Public Employees Retirement Fund (KPERs).

    With the new budget just passed, we are able to offer a K-12 Education Plan with a solid formula that puts us on track to once again fund schools to a constitutional level. (See more below). We restored some Medicaid cuts, restored 62.5 percent of cuts to higher education and are able to make a $56 million KPERs payment the next two years to restore money that had been borrowed in previous years.

    We kept money in Transportation to allow work to begin on 23 T-Works projects; put money into the state water plan fund to preserve our water resources; and restored funding for state hospitals.

    …and we appropriated money to provide raises for state employees (2.5 – 5 percent), uniformed staff at prisons (5 percent) and raises for judicial clerks (5 percent) and judges (2 percent). All of these state employee positions have been left behind in prior budgets.

  • Education Funding: The legislature added $522 million of new funding over a five year period in response to a court order to increase funding. The Supreme Court will rule on the adequacy of the plan this summer. Many on one side view the money as inadequate and say we will be called into special session to increase funding. On the other side, there is a view that the funding is excessive and the courts should not be appropriating funds. The funding bill we passed is a compromise that barely generated enough votes to pass the House and the Senate. If money had been cut from the proposal, votes on the left would have fallen off. If more money had been added, votes from the right would have fallen off. This was the best education funding bill that would pass both the House and Senate. Many say that the Supreme Court will strike it down as inadequate. Those same legislators supported a bill last session that was less than what this years total education spending is with the new plan. Let’s face it, no one really knows what the court will say. It’s easy to sit back and say the courts will strike it down, then gloat when the court does just that…or to be silent when the court says it is okay. I supported a bill that was able to get the votes to pass. Now, we await word from the courts.
  • Telemedicine: In the closing days, the legislature passed a bill to give Kansans, especially in rural Kansas, access to telemedicine. The bill would provide much-needed specialty care and significantly cut Medicaid costs. The poison pill in the bill is a stipulation that no abortion prescription or service can be provided by telemedicine. If this is found to be unconstitutional, the who bill is tossed out, hurting tens of thousands of people who need telemedicine services.
  • Taxes: At the last minute, a tax bill was brought up to pass along tax savings to Kansans that many call a “windfall”. The fiscal note was reported to be somewhere between $30 and $80 million, that’s a big difference, which demonstrates how poorly vetted the bill was. If the legislature had passed the bill, it would have signaled a return to irresponsible fiscal management by the legislature and undone much of the progress we have made the past two years.

I support responsible tax reform that is well-thought-out. This bill was not. In January, we should carefully analyze the “windfall” and look for ways to be fiscally responsible to the entire tax base.

We did remove a sales tax on car rebates. It seems odd to pay tax on the price of a car that does not reflect the price you paid…so we did fix that.

As I said at the top, we accomplished much and have the fiscal ship of the state turned in the right direction. Education is seeing large increases in funding. State employees are getting raises. KPERs is being funded. Transportation infrastructure is being funded once again. I prefer to focus on the positives and there are a lot of things that were accomplished. Looking ahead to 2019, we know the work is not yet done.