School Finance Plan Passes Over the Weekend
Shortly before midnight on Saturday, the Senate passed the House’s $525 million, five-year K-12 funding proposal. Earlier in the week, the Senate had passed its own package which spent approximately $275 million on schools. As time was running out on the 2018 regular session and lawmakers face a court deadline to pass a school finance plan by April 30, the maneuvering to get the plan passed was intense. The bill will now go to Governor Jeff Colyer, who was indicated he is pleased with the $525 million plan and believes the state can pay for it without raising taxes. Republicans have expressed concerns about whether there will be money left for highways and other important state agencies, while Democrats foresee the Supreme Court possibly rejecting the plan as providing too little funding for schools; a ruling which would require the legislature to reconvene for a special session this summer.
Meanwhile, the House Judiciary Committee sent to the full House a long-discussed constitutional amendment which would give the legislature sole authority to decide how much money should be spent on schools. The courts would, in theory, no longer have any say in whether schools are adequately funded and decades of school finance litigation would come to an end. The Judiciary Committee tweaked the language of the original amendment apparently to clarify that the courts could still judge whether schools are being funded fairly, just not whether the overall amount of money going to schools was enough. The constitutional amendment will need 84 votes to pass the House and 27 to pass the Senate. Observers predict a very tight vote once lawmakers return in late-April for the veto session. If it passes both chambers by two-thirds majorities, the measure could go on a statewide ballot in either August or November, or the legislature could call a special election.
Senate Tax Cut Bill
Also on Saturday, the Senate passed a roughly $135 million income tax cut after more than five hours of debate. The bill will allow Kansas income taxpayers to itemize their state returns even if they take the federal standard deduction. It also includes increases in the standard deduction for Kansas filers, allowing for 100% deduction of mortgage interest, property taxes, charitable contributions and medical expenditures.
Broadband Task Force expected to pass
The Broadband Expansion Planning Task Force has passed both the House and the Senate. Because the House and Senate bills are different a conference committee has been named to try to work out the differences, but it is anticipated that the committee will come to agreement relatively easily and send the bill to Governor Colyer for his signature.
Transportation Task Force in conference
The bill establishing the Joint Legislative Transportation Task Force is also in a conference committee but that committee is still working to reach a compromise. The conference committee disagrees over whether the Task Force should have subcommittees and what organizations should be included on the Task Force. This Transportation Task Force is seen as a precursor to the state’s next 10-year transportation program.
March Revenues up $43.4 million
In March, the state took in $43.4 million more than expected for the month. Kansas is now $313.7 million ahead of estimates for the fiscal year which started in July. The increase in revenues is said to be linked to last year’s state income tax increase, as well as federal tax policy changes. Individual income tax collections were up $56.7 million in March, while sale taxes were $10.5 million below estimates. This is encouraging news but lawmakers will not know what it really means to the state’s budget until the Consensus Revenue Estimating Group meets on April 20 to adjust their reckoning of how much the legislature will have to spend next fiscal year.
Short Veto Session Set
Following a long and hectic final week of the regular session, the legislature passed a resolution which set the veto session to start April 26 and final adjournment on May 4. Some have commented that, should the governor veto anything passed during those 6 working days, the legislature will have practically no opportunity to deliberate and override him. There will, at least, be no time to spare.