These are some of the issues in which KPI’s team has played a key role or laid the groundwork.
2017 Legislative Session –
- School Choice – KPI was the leading voice in expanding educational opportunity to low income Kansas students by expanding a bill originally passed in 2014. All Kansas taxpayers with a state income tax liability will now be able to donate to a scholarship fund for low income students who also attend failing schools. These scholarship funds will allow children to attend a private school that better meets their needs. Previously, only large corporations were able to contribute. With students on waiting lists to take advantage of the existing program this expansion will allow more students the opportunity to achieve their educational dreams and provide a great tax advantage for contributors.1. School Choice – KPI was the leading voice in expanding educational opportunity to low income Kansas students by expanding a bill originally passed in 2014. All Kansas taxpayers with a state income tax liability will now be able to donate to a scholarship fund for low income students who also attend failing schools. These scholarship funds will allow children to attend a private school that better meets their needs. Previously, only large corporations were able to contribute. With students on waiting lists to take advantage of the existing program this expansion will allow more students the opportunity to achieve their educational dreams and provide a great tax advantage for contributors.
- Medicaid expansion prevented – 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. This research and our coalition efforts helped prevent Gov. Brownback’s veto from being overridden in the legislature. Thus, this aspect of ObamaCare has not yet come to Kansas.
- Voter Empowerment on Property Taxes – A serious effort was made in 2017 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.
- Union giveaways – Multiple proposals were put forward in 2017 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 back this year. 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.
- Civil Asset Forfeiture – KPI worked with groups such as the ACLU to reform laws that allow law enforcement to confiscate private property without a criminal conviction. The bill is being reviewed by the state’s Judicial Council before the upcoming session while we have expanded our coalition to include the Federalist Society and legislators from across the political spectrum.
- Taxes on Taxes – That is not a typo. A serious proposal was put forth to mandate a surcharge on income tax should state tax collections come in under projections. While this proposal should have been laughed down upon introduction it received a full hearing but failed to gain traction.
- Mandating Fringe Benefits for Private Employers – Cities and counties wanted the right to set minimum fringe benefits and paid leave requirements for private sector employers, which would make non-union companies less competitive when bidding on government projects and cost taxpayers more money. KPI and like-minded organizations prevented the proposal from getting out of committee.
Legislative Achievements, prior years in which KPI played a leading role
- Performance-based budgeting – 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.
- Live streaming of committee hearings – 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.
- Creation of a new school funding formula – 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.
- Universities required to publish degree prospectus – 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.
- Income tax cuts – 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.
- Property tax reform – 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.
- School Choice – 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.
- Collective bargaining reform for school districts – 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.
- Student outcomes are more important than the amount of money spent –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 Spending Transparency – 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.
- State Education Aid Transparency – 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.
- Equal access for non-union teacher organizations – 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.
- Alternative licensing for teachers – 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.
- K-12 Efficiency and Student Performance Commission – 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:
- School districts don’t know how to define or measure performance against the Rose standards, which the Supreme Court now says is the litmus test for funding adequacy; if schools cannot measure Rose, they have no legal basis for claiming to lack funding to achieve the Rose standards.
- School districts acknowledged that they choose to operate inefficiently.
- School districts want collective bargaining reform to dramatically reduce the number of mandatory subjects of bargaining.
- School District Cash Reserves Now Accessible – 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.
- Mandatory reporting of cash reserves to local school boards – School districts must annually provide a detailed report of the unencumbered cash balance in every fund to local school board members.
- Public Pension Reform – 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.
Issues in which Kansas Policy Institute played a supporting role include
- Innovative School Districts – 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.
- Paycheck protection for union employees – 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.
- Renewable Energy Mandate made voluntary – 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.
- Court of Tax Appeals (COTA) – 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.
- Uniform School Accounting System – 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.