LEGISLATIVE ACHIEVEMENTS – 2018 Session
Issues in which KPI played a key role and/or laid the groundwork in prior years
Issues in which KPI played a key role and/or laid the groundwork in prior years
KPI was the leading voice in protecting Kansas’ only school choice program. We helped get the program signed into law and, in 2017, expanded but serious efforts were made to eliminate the program in 2018. Several attempts in committee and through the larger K-12 funding debate were made to eliminate the one program that helps needy students and provides accountability to low-performing schools.
KPI was part of a coalition that fought off another push to expand Medicaid; our research proved that expansion would cost Kansans over $13 billion in the first 10 years without necessarily improving outcomes. During the 2017 session, a gubernatorial veto was nearly overridden. However, in the 2018 session legislation to expand Medicaid, as part of ObamaCare, failed to make it through either legislative chamber.
A serious effort was made in 2018 to undermine voter input on local property tax hikes; see below for the backstory. Local government wanted to go back to the days of hiding behind “flat” mill rates while property valuations skyrocketed. Local governments were defeated in their work to disregard voter input in the name of governmental inefficiency.
KPI testified with groups as diverse as the ACLU and The Federalist Society to see more transparency brought to asset forfeiture in Kansas. Asset forfeiture is where property is taken from citizens, not necessary after a crime was committed, and where citizens have very little recourse to reclaim their property. The bill in question provides much-needed transparency to law enforcement’s use of this practice. It is but the first step in a larger effort to protect the property of citizens.
KPI and other groups shined light on an effort to provide tax incentives for specific types of investment in rural Kansas. Our rural communities need real economic development. They do not need tax carve outs of little benefit that simply raise taxes on the rest of the state, even other rural taxpayers. Another piece of legislation was advanced through the House that would have created a database of economic development programs in the state. We’ll work again next year, discussing economic development abuse with legislators in both parties, to see this policy made law.
KPI played a supporting role in loosening restrictions on people seeking to provide basic dental cleanings, expanding multi-state licensing for nurses, and making it easier for people to become cosmetologists. Some of these efforts were successful while others were not. But, KPI continues to play a role in making it easier for customers to be served and individuals to find a job without undue barriers to entry.
A coalition has been working for years to bring about reform in electric utility rates. KPI joined this coalition this year and a resolution focusing on the artificially high electric rates was passed by the Senate.
Changes to federal tax law in 2017 allowed for 529 college-savings plans to be used for K-12 expenses. KPI worked directly with the State Treasurer to provide support and guidance to bring this change to Kansas 529 plans as well.
House leadership worked directly with KPI to include language in a spending bill providing for spending hikes to be cut if the Court demanded more money for K-12 education. It took a full-court press from the opposition to get this provision removed from the appropriations bill. However, the effort highlighted the budgetary impact of continued Supreme Court meddling in K-12 finance. It was part of a larger effort to bring other constituencies into the fight for a constitutional amendment on K-12 funding.
A concerted effort to remove judicial interference in education funding decisions was undertaken for the first time in over a decade. KPI played a key role in seeing a constitutional amendment through the House Judiciary Committee, albeit this is a small step. This bill would have returned the “power of the purse” to elected legislators instead of unelected judges.
Issues in which KPI played a leading or supporting role
Passed in 2016, this law will require the state to function as a single enterprise in which priorities can be weighed, effectiveness measured, and calls for new spending considered against other priorities. The bill also included the creation of a budget stabilization plan.
Much of the legislature’s work happens in committee hearings that are now viewable online. Prior to the passage of this law, only those in the capitol itself were able to truly understand the goings-on in committee. This is a huge transparency win.
The dysfunctional 1992 school funding formula was eliminated and a temporary two-year block grant system was put in place. The legislature failed to take advantage of this opportunity as the new formula implemented for the 2018 school year is remarkably similar to the old formula, whereby schools are not held to account for student outcomes and taxpayers’ money is not efficiently spent.
State schools must publish a prospectus for degreed programs, including the average number of years and total cost required to complete and the earning potential upon completion.
Historic income tax cuts that could have ultimately led to the elimination of the state income tax. KPI paved the way by showing that Kansas was headed for budgetary disaster without tax reform and then showed legislators that spending control is the key to tax reform. The 2016 election sent new legislators to Topeka who approved the largest tax increase in state history and undid all of the positive economic benefits of allowing citizens to keep more of their hard-earned money, but our original effort still produced $2.8 billion in income tax savings through fiscal year 2016.
Multiple proposals have been put forward in recent years to reward unions, both public and private sector, for their defense of governmental and special interests at the expense of taxpayers. Tenure for public school teachers was made a prerogative of local districts rather than state mandated several years ago, with KPI’s help, and efforts to repeal this important change were beat. The idea of paying a prevailing wage, thereby helping cost-inflated union projects and costing taxpayers more money, was introduced and defeated this year. An attempt to effectively eliminate Right to Work was also defeated.
With some exceptions (including but not limited to the value of new construction and spending on public safety) cities and counties cannot increase property taxes by more than inflation without voter approval. Another property tax bill allows tax appeals to be taken to District Court after a full opinion has been rendered by the Board of Tax Appeals. Appeals to the District Court are considered de novo trials with evidentiary hearings during which issues of law and fact will be determined anew. The bill also includes improvements in the valuation of oil and gas leases and there are multiple improvements to the appraisal and appeals process to become more taxpayer-friendly.
A tax credit scholarship program for low income and special needs students is the state’s first real school choice program. Our extensive research showing that student achievement is much lower than media and the education establishment reports convinced legislators that this program is necessary. During the 2017 session, we lead the fight to expand the program to more eligible donors as a way to provide more educational opportunities to students.
The number of mandatory subjects of bargaining was reduced from 31 to a maximum of 8; each party may select up to 3 subjects in addition to pay and time worked.
Many legislators credit our work in this area with influencing the 2014 State Supreme Court on school funding (Gannon v. State of Kansas). KPI discovered that previous court rulings were based on deliberately-skewed research designed to inflate required funding. The Court invalidated the ‘actual cost’ method of measuring adequate funding and adopted outcome criteria (the Rose standards) in its place. The Court also agreed with our position that all funding sources should count. This work paved the way for the elimination of the dysfunctional school funding formula in 2015.
School districts are now required to post a one-page budget summary (designed by KPI) on the home page of their web sites and distribute it at every local school board meeting.
Last year KPI discovered that $570 million in state-mandated property tax was being recorded as Local aid instead of State aid. Beginning this year, that money must be sent to the state for distribution so it is properly recorded as State aid.
Prior to this 2013 law, most school districts would only permit a union to have access to teachers. Since passage, the non-union Association of American Educators has seen membership surge and several small school districts have de-certified from their union.
People with degrees or professional certification in science, technology, engineering, and vocational fields will no longer be required to have an education degree to teach in high school.
KPI wrote the legislation to create a study commission that spent 6 months in 2014 exploring a variety of efficiency opportunities, including the consolidation of non-classroom functions across district lines. KPI president Dave Trabert was appointed to the Commission and co-authored the Minority Report, which highlighted many important findings, including:
KPI discovered that school districts were diverting education dollars to build large cash reserves, while claiming to be underfunded. Legislation was passed to remove restrictions on the use of carryover cash reserves in 2011. Legislators are considering making partial use of excess funds mandatory.
School districts must annually provide a detailed report of the unencumbered cash balance in every fund to local school board members.
Multiple studies showing the true nature of the unfunded liabilities in the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System (KPERS) led to 2013 reform that puts new and unvested employees into a hybrid cash balance plan instead of the defined benefit plan. KPI continues to be the driving force for ending the defined benefit plan for all employees and putting everyone into a defined contribution / 401(k) plan.
Our work on school choice led to legislation that allows entire districts to operate essentially as charter schools, being exempt from many state regulations and some collective bargaining restrictions. Up to 28 districts may participate without restriction and another 28 districts with low student achievement may apply for innovative district status.
Our recommendation to the Governor’s Efficiency Task Force for collective bargaining reform led to 2013 legislation prohibiting the deduction of union dues from government employee paychecks for the purpose of political activity. Our statewide public opinion poll also showed overwhelming support for the concept, including among union members.
The fear of losing a lifetime property tax exemption for the renewable energy industry prompted negotiation to eliminate the mandate in exchange for keeping a 10-year tax exemption.
Our efforts on property tax reform also were instrumental in many changes to the appeals process that created a more taxpayer-friendly environment. COTA was changed to a Board of Tax Appeals, taxpayers will receive information needed to file appeals on a timelier basis, valuations on victorious appeals must remain in place for two years and the Board may no longer make arbitrary decisions on who may represent taxpayers on their behalf.
Our work on school funding drove legislation requiring school districts to use a standard accounting and reporting system and annually post spending information on their web sites.