Capitol Update: Rep. Lusk asks Republican leadership, ‘Where is your plan to address the many challenges before the state?’

Rep. Nancy Lusk of Overland Park says legislative leaders need to show they have the desire to address the state’s many problems.

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. Nancy Lusk, Rep. Cindy Neighbor and Sen. Dinah Sykes are scheduled to send updates this week. Here’s Rep. Lusk’s filing:

A lot has been broken in the state of Kansas in the past decade. First came the Great Recession in 2008, and then the fallout from the Brownback tax policy. Even though we repealed the failed tax policy in 2017, years of financial crisis, historic debt, and devastating cuts have taken their toll. Whether you are talking about the damaged foster care system, the emergency declaration for the El Dorado state prisons due to critical staffing shortages, or our crumbling highways, there is much to repair.

Which is why it is disappointing to find no sense of urgency with Republican leadership in the legislature to remedy the disrepair.

To her credit, Governor Laura Kelly set out to fix things. In her commonsense budget proposal, the governor didn’t try to solve everything at once, but she did adopt a triage approach to tackling our most urgent priorities and taking the first steps to lasting recovery. Her proposal included the following provisions:

  • Recession Preparedness. Leave a 9.5 percent ending balance – the largest in 20 years.
  • Better bond rating = better interest rates. State finances need to stabilize.
  • Add the last piece needed to resolve the K-12 school finance lawsuit – have funding in the future cover inflation and end the litigation
  • Add 55 new positions to address child welfare needs, including the foster care crisis
  • Increase state employee base pay. State workers went a decade without a pay raise during the Brownback years and we still need to catch them up.
  • Fill vacant positions at state prisons; end the riots
  • Significantly reduce the transfer of KS Dept. of Transportation funds to restore needed maintenance, resume delayed highway projects, & close the “Bank of KDOT” by 2023. Over $3 billion has been diverted since FY 2014. Many neglected highways now have to be replaced instead of repaired, costing three to five times more.
  • Address chronic problems with the KanCare Clearinghouse. Many of the failings of KanCare are related to people being shut out of services due to the bottle-necked system.
  • Restore the $8.9M cut made to Higher Ed in 2017. It is only about one tenth the amount needed to fully bring the funding level back to what it was in 2008 plus inflation, but it is a start.
  • Provide money for expanding Medicaid. By not expanding, since 2014 Kansans have forfeited over $3 billion in federal taxes that we have paid.
  • “Re-amortize” or refinance the KPERS fund. State employer contribution obligations are scheduled to skyrocket with balloon payments next year and continue to increase over time, straining the Kansas budget. It is a common practice of pension systems, and the proposal will not impact benefits of any current or future retiree. Her proposal would not have impacted benefits of any current or future retiree. In fact, the Executive Director of the KPERS fund has stated publicly that benefits would not have been affected in any way.
  • No new taxes

Republican leadership has forcibly rejected the idea of the KPERS fund re-amortization in the governor’s budget even though her plan was structured for the purpose of achieving long term stability. And even though they had no problem implementing re-amortization actions themselves in past years to fill budget gaps and to prop up the Brownback tax policy.

They have no apparent plans to fix anything. Instead they have taken the direction of a return to the budget shortfalls of the Brownback years and this week’s passage of SB22 is the prime exhibit.

SB 22 is a tax deduction/cut bill that will cost Kansans a minimum of $207 million in the first year alone and $493 million over the next three years. While it included a token one cent sales tax cut on food, the bill primarily benefited multinational companies that shelter or earn substantial income overseas in low-tax areas, and companies making more than $25 million annually that want the ability to deduct unlimited interest expenses.

We’ve only just begun to stabilize our economy after the failed Brownback tax plan and now is not the time to go backwards. While they may succeed in their efforts to use up state revenue surpluses and box in the governor, those efforts will also box in the state, preventing the recovery needed from the Republican leadership years of underfunding and mismanagement.

We need to ask Republican leadership where is their plan to address the many challenges before the state.

Do they want to stop the transfer of funding from highways, or do they assume the neglect of needed projects and maintenance can continue indefinitely?

What is their plan to resolve problems with the foster care system and the state prisons and other state agency problems?

Do they want to fully fund K-12 education or not?

Do they care about higher education?

How will they pay for the upcoming balloon payments for KPERS?

I fear that Republican leadership is so set on denying the governor any success that they will block any possible fixes for the state. Let’s hope that my fear is wrong. Kansas needs bipartisan healing, not partisan games.