The 2018 Kansas Legislative Session commenced on Monday, January 8. Opening day was brief with each Chamber gaveling in at 2:00 p.m., for mostly formulaic procedure. The Legislature has the same makeup as last year with few changes. Kansas continues to represent three parties – conservative Republicans, moderate Republicans and Democrats – with no clear majority.
Attention quickly turned to Governor Sam Brownback’s annual State of the State address, which he delivered on Tuesday evening. The question on everyone’s mind was how long will Governor Brownback be in office? After being nominated by President Trump to serve as U.S. Ambassador for International Religious Freedom for a second time in January, his nomination is still pending action by the U.S. Senate for confirmation. Without a clear timeline for his departure, there appears to be a blended Lieutenant Governor Jeff Colyer/Brownback administration adding to the confusion.
Focusing on his recommended $600 million in state aid to schools over the next five years, the Governor left the nitty-gritty to Budget Director Shawn Sullivan to present to the budget committees on Wednesday. The pace slowed down after that, with mostly bill introductions and informational hearings for the remainder of the week.
Legislature’s Response to School Finance Litigation
There’s no doubt that K-12 funding is the elephant in the Statehouse. After the Kansas Supreme Court deemed last year’s school finance plan unconstitutional, the Legislature is left to respond in one of several ways. Each option seeming worse than the other, this will be the overarching theme by which all other business is considered. While the Governor is proposing an additional $600 million for schools over the next five years, he is not suggesting how to finance this increased spending in his budget. In a response to the Governor’s State of the State address, leadership did not hold back their aversion and lack of appetite for such a proposal.
A Special Committee on School Finance met during the interim to dissect the Court’s Gannon vs. Kansas decision and consider their choices of either raising taxes or cutting spending to comply with the ruling. Some folks are also pushing for a constitutional amendment to “suitable” financing for K-12 public education in Article 6. While an April 30, 2018 deadline for a new school finance formula was given, attorneys have advised the Legislature to have their work completed by March 1, 2018 to allow time for review, response and potential revisions should they miss the mark. Again.
Governor Presents Budget Report
Kansas is in the second year of its biennial budget for fiscal years 2018 and 2019. Budget Director Shawn Sullivan presented the Governor’s budget report to the House Appropriations and Senate Ways and Means committees on Wednesday morning. The report highlighted funding proposals or enhancements for K-12 education, aviation, public safety, transportation, higher education and state government reform. A full report can be found at http://budget.ks.gov/gbr.htm.
Both committees have officially introduced the Governor’s budget bills and are expected to start working them in the next few weeks. Lawmakers are scratching their heads on how to balance the budget, since the Governor did not offer suggestions for financing the additional $600 million to schools. It’s all about the math; and when the math doesn’t add up, it makes for a difficult legislative session to get any other fiscal priorities accomplished.
Campaign Finance Update
The deadline for campaign finance reports for statewide offices was midnight on January 11. With an unusually full slate of candidates running for Kansas Governor this November, association staff thought it valuable to give an update received by the Secretary of State’s office as of Thursday:
• Wink Hartman, (Wichita businessman): $1.8 million raised, $1.5 million on hand
• Ken Selzer, (Insurance Commissioner): $713,000 raised, $668,000 on hand
• Jeff Colyer, (Lieutenant Governor): $632,000 raised, $548,000 on hand
• Mark Hutton, (Former State Representative): $581,000 raised, $393,000 on hand
• Jim Barnett, (Former State Senator): $564,000 raised, $514,000 on hand
• Kris Kobach, (Secretary of State): $355,000 raised, $261,000 on hand
• Ed O’Malley, (Former State Representative): $218,000 raised, $158,000 on hand
• Josh Svaty, (Former Secretary of Agriculture): $192,545 raised, $66,760 on hand
• Laura Kelly, (State Senator): $155,000 raised/on hand
• Jim Ward, (House Minority Leader): $90,534 raised, $58,833 on hand
• Carl Brewer, (Former Wichita Mayor): $45,470 raised, $14,627 on hand
• Greg Orman, (Olathe entrepreneur): $440,700 raised/on hand
Small Business Expensing
A bill is expected to be introduced this week in the Senate Tax committee that would restore a provision for small businesses to expense their capital investments in full rather than using a depreciation schedule. When last year’s tax bill passed – imposing income taxes back on small businesses – statute was not updated reinstating expensing. This is more of a clean-up bill, as small businesses only lost their ability to expense after the 2012 tax cuts went into effect, removing their state tax liability all together. There is expected to be a small fiscal note attached, but the Senate Tax Chair has not shown opposition to the bill to this point.
New KDHE Secretary Announced
The Brownback administration appointed Jeff Anderson as the new Acting Secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment on Friday. He has worked in various segments of the health care industry for over 30 years. Anderson officially assumes his post on Tuesday, taking over for Interim Secretary Darin Dernovish. Former Secretary Susan Mosier stepped down last November.
Other bills on our radar this week:
HCR 5004 – Last year, the House Federal and State Affairs committee held a hearing on a proposed constitutional amendment granting counties constitutional home rule authority. Currently, their home rule authority is statutory. As of last Thursday, the bill was scheduled to be worked on Tuesday. However, the Chairman pulled it from the calendar on Friday due to lack of support for the bill.
SB 263 – A bill was introduced in the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources committee last week, which would create a program to research the use of industrial hemp. A hearing is scheduled on Wednesday.
HB 2452 – A bill that would limit the duration of certain conservation easements was introduced last week in the House Water and Environment committee. A hearing is scheduled for Thursday.