State of the State 2.0

Last Wednesday afternoon, Gov. Jeff Colyer addressed a joint session of the legislature. His policies seem generally aligned with those of the Brownback administration. He announced nothing which would require amending the former governor’s proposed budget, which Colyer presumably helped draft. He pledged to work with lawmakers to keep schools open without raising taxes and to improve health care for Kansans. Colyer described his program entitled “My (Re)Employment Plan” designed to help fired or laid-off Kansans assess and improve their job skills and find a new job quickly. He repeated his commitment to upgrade transparency in government and followed-up later in the week with several executive orders in that regard. Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle appreciated the new governor’s address but observed that few details were provided as to how they should proceed to carry-out the new governor’s vision.


Notwithstanding his medical background and his commitment to a healthy Kansas, Colyer has not given any indication that his point of view on Medicaid Expansion differs materially from his predecessor’s, although some observers entertain hope that, should a Medicaid Expansion bill arrive at his desk, Colyer may not lift a pen to veto it.


Transparency Orders

Colyer signed four executive orders last week which he says will bring new transparency to the executive branch.  The orders:

  • Eliminate fees for the first 100 pages of documents requested under the Kansas Open Records Act
  • Require employees of the governor’s office to use only official e-mail accounts to conduct state business
  • Require all Cabinet agencies to develop and track performance metrics
  • Create a website where all open meeting notices of Executive Branch agencies will be posted


School Finance Study

On Feb. 23, several legislative committees will hear a report from the Texas A&M professor who was hired to review the state’s school finance methodology. The legislature will have to pass a formula this session which assures all Kansas public schoolchildren have access to high-quality education. The Supreme Court has not set a specific dollar amount for what would be adequate support for K-12 schools. The professor’s study hopes to find a dollar amount which can be used as a constitutionally defensible basis for the new school finance formula. The Feb. 23 presentation will give lawmakers a sense of what might be coming in the full report on Mar. 15.


Economic Development

Both the House and Senate Commerce committees are reviewing the state’s economic development incentive programs (HPIP, PEAK and STAR bonds).  Legislators have expressed frustration at the lack of readily available data to enable them to judge the efficacy of the programs.  Attention was drawn to the steadily diminishing Department of Commerce and the negative impact that has had on new business leads and the overall marketing of the state to potential employers. The Senate Commerce Committee appears to favor Senate Bill 334, which allows taxpayers to extend HPIP tax credits beyond the current 16-year limit but with a 25 percent reduction after that time.


Transportation task force passes Senate

Last Thursday, the Senate passed a bill setting-up a task force to begin developing Kansas’ next long-term transportation program. The 24-member task force would meet across the state to study Kansas’ present and future transportation needs and assets. It will also re-evaluate the last year of the state’s current highway plan, called T-Works, which has seen at least 23 significant projects delayed due to lack of funding by the legislature. The task force would be required to submit its report to the Legislature by Jan. 31 of 2019.


Understanding Federal Tax Changes

This week, a joint hearing of the House and Senate tax committees is scheduled to hear a presentation on the impact of federal tax reform. The federal changes could have a material effect on revenue collected by the state.  In fact, they already have as evidenced by the higher than expected inflow of revenues in January as taxpayers paid the state early in anticipation of the loss of deductibility of state and local taxes in 2018.


House Rejects Net Neutrality

Last week, the House was debating a relatively innocuous bill pertaining to state purchases of IT when a floor amendment was proposed to require all Internet service providers doing business with the state to observe so-called “net neutrality” – barring them from charging some Internet users more money for faster service. The Federal Communications Commission recently unwound Obama-era rules on net neutrality. Supporters of the amendment said it would show Kansas is strictly opposed to the new federal approach to net neutrality. The amendment failed by a vote of 78-43.