The Legislature has adjourned! My sincere thanks to so many of you for the encouragement, feedback, and support you gave me throughout the Session.
This newsletter has a recap of key decisions that emerged from this year's Session – some good, some bad and some a little ugly. Over the past several months, the Legislature held healthy debates on a number of pressing issues that face our state, including taxes, the budget and the future of our local schools. I encourage you to contact me if you have any questions or if you'd like more information on a particular bill.
I appreciate the opportunity to represent you in Topeka. Working together, we can continue to make sure our voice is heard in Topeka. If you are interested, I post information on my Facebook page nearly every day to facilitate access to information about the Kansas Legislature; I would welcome you as a friend on Facebook. Do not hesitate to call or email me anytime that I may be of service to you and/or your family. Even though the Legislature is in recess, I continue to need your input as I begin to prepare for next year's Session.
The Legislature passed a comprehensive tax plan this Session that will increase revenues to the state by $777 million. My vote on the tax plan back in 2010 included a promise that the sales tax would sunset back to 5.7% this year, and I kept that promise Though the plan includes some promising components, such as additional income tax cuts and restoration of the food sales tax rebate program for low-income families, there were alternative plans on the table that offered a more balanced approach for Kansas and our local taxpayers.
After hearing from many of you, I voted against the final tax plan for several reasons. First, it permanently increases the state sales tax to 6.15%. This plan also cuts key tax deductions for homeowners and families at a time when I believe we should be encouraging homeownership and community growth. Additionally, while I support income tax reductions, the tax plan includes TABOR (so-called Taxpayer Bill of Rights) which limits state growth to 2%. When growth exceeds 2%, income tax rates will be further cut, regardless of increases in required services like Medicaid, corrections and public safety, and K-12 schools and universities. Bottom line: we need appropriate revenue to support realistic services in Kansas, particularly support for our schools, safety provided by the Department of Corrections, and care for our most vulnerable citizens.
Below, I have included estimates by the Legislative Research Department for the next five years of the tax plan.
The Legislature narrowly approved a $14.5 billion budget for 2014. I voted against this budget plan. Though some key priorities, like our K-12 schools, were held harmless, I was disappointed that other priorities – like higher education and public safety sustained significant cuts, including:
$66 million cut from our state's colleges and universities, which stands to increase tuition rates and fees for our students;
$8.6 million cut in one year alone from the Department of Corrections, resulting in fewer parole officers, cuts to correctional facilities, and reduced investments in programs to fight juvenile delinquency;
$9.5 million swept from early childhood programs, which jeopardizes the availability and reach of proven programs like Parents As Teachers and Early Head Start.
The budget also lumped services for Kansans with intellectual and developmental disabilities in with the state's new KanCare healthcare system. With pilot programs just getting off the ground in March, I believe this decision was made without giving the Legislature, providers, and parents adequate time to evaluate the effects of this change on some of our most vulnerable neighbors. This lack of due diligence was another reason I could not support the budget.
During the past session attempts were made to change the process for selecting both Appellate and Supreme Court judges in Kansas. HB 2019 amends the process for appointing judges to the Kansas Court of Appeals, allowing the governor to appoint a person to fill any vacancy. The governor has 60 days to appoint someone to fill a vacancy on the appellate court. If an appointment isn't made in that time, the chief justice to the Supreme Court will then appoint someone. The Kansas Senate must confirm any appointment that is made. I voted NO.
A constitutional change is required to make the same method for selection of Supreme Court Justices. Although such a bill was written, it was never brought before the House of Representatives for a vote this session, most likely because there were not enough votes to pass it. Next year could be a different story.
One piece of legislation passed this session will require municipal buildings (libraries, courts of law) to allow guns unless all people are checked for weapons before entering. A second bill passed establishes that federal gun laws will not be enforced in the state of Kansas, and any federal agent who tries to enforce federal gun laws in Kansas will be arrested and face jail time and a fine. I voted NO on both of these new laws.
As always, I will be available by e-mail, cell phone, or in person to any of you who would like to meet with me during the legislative "off-session" through December. It is an honor to serve as your Representative.