2015 Legislative Update – Issue 3
This Legislative Update covers:
- Gov. Brownback's Budget & Tax Woes
- School Finance
- Sin Taxes
- Judicial Selection
- Republican Bill Bans Professors from Voicing Opinions
Budget & Tax Woes
A study released this week by the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy identifies Kansas’ tax policy as the ninth most unfair in the country. The study cited Governor Brownback’s tax plan, which authorized tax exemptions for businesses and the wealthiest Kansans, as the reason why. The governor’s tax policy has created state revenue shortfalls and a budget deficit of over $1 billion over the next five years. Rather than looking for long-term solutions to address the problem, the governor wants to use single sources of revenue, like school district contingency budgets and the Kansas Highway Fund, to bridge the revenue gap.
After cutting $28 million from local school district budgets, the Governor is now suggesting that school districts use their cash reserve funds to make ends meet this fiscal year. These funds, however, are not flexible and local districts have already allocated the money to cover future expenses like virtual and bilingual education programs, summer school, and textbooks. The one-time use of these funds is not sustainable and does not address the real problem.
This week the House Transportation Committee voted to approve the governor’s request to sweep $724 million from the State Highway Fund in 2016 and 2017 to help fill projected budget deficits. The fund, which is a proven job creator, was established in 2010 to spur economic growth and development while improving Kansas roads. The move to sweep part of the fund will cost our state jobs and will defer scheduled maintenance on vital infrastructure like roads and bridges that Kansans use every day.
In an attempt to offset the significant cost of his failed tax plan, Governor Brownback is proposing to raise consumption taxes to generate more revenue for the state. On Wednesday, the House Taxation Committee heard the governor’s proposal which would:
- Increase the tax on cigarettes from 79 cents to $2.29 a pack; and
- Raise the tax on alcohol from 8 percent to 12 percent
Several proposals are circulating in the capitol to change the way Supreme Court justices are selected. The current process is merit-based and nonpartisan; a nine member commission forwards three nominees to the governor for selection. Seeking to change the process, the House Judiciary Committee recently passed two proposals:
- Appointment by governor, with Senate Confirmation, and Direct election of justices by voters in a partisan election.
- An independent, non-partisan judiciary is essential to the state’s system of checks and balances and electing judges in a partisan fashion, or allowing the governor to appoint justices skews that balance and threatens the principle of democracy in our state.
Bills Bans Professors from Voicing Opinions
The House Education Committee heard testimony this week on a bill that would prohibit employees of state universities and community colleges from using their official titles in newspaper opinion columns if they are about a person who currently holds any elected public office. Opponents of the bill claim it infringes on public education employees’ freedom of speech, and that the measure is unwarranted.
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