Thursday, February 7, 2013

Tax Hearing, Next Week's Bills in Committee

Tough Response to Governor’s Tax Bill

The Governor’s tax plan, HB 2110, drew questions ranging from skeptical to hostile in the House Taxation Committee Wednesday afternoon.  The bill would maintain the state sales tax at the current level and remove two large income tax deductions to avoid deep spending cuts next year, and then implement further income tax rate cuts over the next five years.

Several committee members criticized it as a massive tax increase, despite Secretary of Revenue Nick Jordan’s assessment that all taxpayers will receive a net reduction in taxes due to the $800 million income tax cut passed last session.  The hearing continues this afternoon, with KASB appearing as a proponent of the additional revenue to avoid further cuts in education funding.

Without additional revenue, the Legislative Research Department estimates the state will have to spend over $500 million in cash balances and cut about $250 million in state general fund spending to avoid a deficit next year, Fiscal Year 2014, with further reductions likely in FY 2015.  The Kansas Policy Institute, appearing as neutral on the bill, supported a one-time cut of about 8% in state spending to balance the state budget.

Bill Hearings Next Week

At-Risk Funding.  The Senate Education Committee holds a hearing next Thursday on SB 103, which would shift calculating the at-risk weighting districts receive from students eligible for free meals to students scoring below proficient on state reading and math tests in grades four and above.  Students in grades K-3 would continue to use the free lunch method.  Estimates last year indicated this method would reduce at-risk funding by over $100 million.  The deepest cuts would come in districts with the highest number of free lunch students.  The Legislature could either use that savings to increase base state aid or other education funding; or reduce spending on education.

KASB policies support the current system.  The proposed change would reduce funding for at-risk programs that have helped move significantly more students to proficiency.  Removing that support could cause more students to score below proficient, which would increase the need for funding.  Also, the State Board of Education is expected to change its assessment program, so the state does not know how many students will be scoring
non-proficient in the future.

Suitable Funding.  The Senate Judiciary Committee holds hearings on SCR 1608, a proposed constitutional amendment, with proponents and neutral on Wednesday and opponents Thursday. The measure would add the following sentence to the education article: “The financing of the educational interests of the state is exclusively a legislative power under article 2 of the constitution of the state of Kansas and as such shall be established solely by the legislature.”  The proposal is in response to court cases ordering the Legislature to spend more money on education.

KASB opposes amending the provisions of the constitution requiring the Legislature to make suitable provision for financing the educational interests of the state.

Non-resident Transportation.  The House Education Budget Committee holds a hearing Wednesday on HB 2215, which would reverse last year’s change in law allowing districts to enter others district to transport students in certain cases.  The threshold for transporting non-residents was dropped to 2.5 miles from home to school, effective in the current school year.  The bill would restore it to 10 miles.

KASB supports the bill, under policies that support the 10 mile threshold.

Budget Hearings.  The House Education Budget Committee and the Senate Ways and Means Subcommittee on Education hold hearings Wednesday and Thursday on the Department of Education budget, which includes school district aid programs.

KASB supports the funding recommendations of the Governor, plus additional specific funding for finance equity, covering increased educational costs and targeted programs for improving teaching and learning.

Teacher Equal Access.  The House Education Committee holds a hearing Monday on HB 2221, which would require that boards provide equal access to employee mailboxes and orientation programs for all “professional employees organizations,” i.e. teachers’ association; and not use the name of any professional organization in naming a day or break in the school calendar.  KASB staff is reviewing the bill.

More to Come.  Several committees have scheduled meeting next week without announced agendas, so the number of hearings is expect to grow.  Next Friday, Feb. 15, is the final day for non-exempt committees to introduce bills.  Two weeks after that, March 1, is the final day for non-exempt bills to be considered by the house of origin – essentially, the half-way point of the session.

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