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Stan FrownfelterRep. Stan Frownfelter
Newsletter from Rep. Stan Frownfelter, D-37th Dist.
Week 4: Feb. 4-8
In this issue:
○ From the Statehouse
○ Understanding the school finance formula
○ Background on the school finance litigation Gannon v. state of Kansas
○ HB2095 - House Committee considers possible term limits for Ethics Commission members
○ HB2110 - House Tax Committee considers governor’s tax proposal
○ HB2112 - Bill would allow candidates to transfer of funds from one campaign to another
○ HB2130 - Residency requirement for petition circulators
○ House observes Native American Legislative Day at the Capitol
○ HB2162 - Committee discusses explainers for ballot questions
○ Constituents in the Capitol
○ Keep in touch
From The Statehouse: Week 4
In week 4 the Legislature began consideration of the governor’s tax proposal while the House Committee on Appropriations and the Senate Committee on Ways and Means continued their review of state agency budgets in preparation for the development of the FY 2014 state budget.
Wednesday also marked Native American Legislative Day at the Capitol and afternoon committees were briefly interrupted by a fire alarm.
Complete daily calendars are available at www.kslegislature.org along with other useful information. I am also working to keep constituents more informed via Facebook and Twitter, so be sure to follow me at www.facebook.com/username and www.twitter.com/username.
I am privileged and honored to be your voice in the Kansas Capitol. If I can ever be of assistance to you, please feel free to contact me at home or in Topeka.
Understanding the school finance formula
The House Appropriations Committee heard testimony this week from the Legislative Research Department on one of the least understood areas of state government–-the school finance formula. Because school funding is under attack by the Brownback administration, it is important than ever that all Kansans understand the how the state finances K-12 education.
The state education funding formula starts with the idea that each school district should have a certain amount of money for each full-time student provided through a mixture of state and local funds. This number is called the Base State Aid Per Pupil or (BSAPP). For the 2012-2013 school year the BSAPP is set at $3,838. (Although a Kansas court recently ruled that this number must be increased to $4,492.)
The amount of money school districts are entitled to is increased beyond the BSAPP according to several factors which indicate additional district needs. Districts are entitled to additional funds if they have socioeconomically disadvantaged students, non-English speaking students, gifted students, at-risk students, and vocational students. Schools are additionally entitled to more education funds if they have really large or really small enrollment or if they have extended transportation needs. The educational needs of disabled students are also addressed through additional funding. There are also other factors considered.
The amount of money each district is entitled to is then first funded by local property taxes. If these property taxes are insufficient to fund a district’s needs under the formula (and they almost always are) the state general fund provides the rest.
For example, Blue Valley USD 229 has an enrollment of 20,898 students. This number is increased by the district’s additional needs to an equivalent of around 29,000 students. This requires a district funding amount of (approximately) $111 million between state and local sources. The USD 229 district is able to contribute $45 million from local property taxes. This means the state funds $66 million from the general fund to meet the educational funds within USD 229.
As another example, Galena USD 499 has an enrollment of 793 students. But Galena has additional factors which indicate that is has a need for funding equivalent to as if it had 1,333 students. This means that between state and local funds, the district should receive $4.8 million. Because the district has a very low level of assessed value, local property taxes make up only $217,000 and the state general fund provides the additional $4,6 million.
This description is drastically oversimplified, but this is the general outline of how state education funding works. The House Democratic Caucus is committed to fully funding the education of all Kansas children.
Background on the School Finance Litigation - Gannon v. State of Kansas.
On Jan. 11, 2013, the district court of Shawnee County issued its ruling in the case of Gannon v. State. The plaintiffs in Gannon were four Kansas unified school districts and a collection of students attending schools in those districts. The plaintiffs filed suit against the state alleging a violation of Article 6 § 6(b) of the Kansas Constitution which reads, “The legislature shall make suitable provision for the finance of the educational interests of the state.” Plaintiffs’ allegations primarily focused on the underfunding of the public education system. Citing Montoy v. State, a prior decision about school financing from the Kansas Supreme Court, the district court decided that the State (specifically the Legislature) must consider the actual costs of providing a suitable education to Kansas students when determining the amount of state funding to be appropriated to schools. Further, the phrase “suitable provision for finance” requires providing a level of funding that provides for ongoing improvement in public education.
The district court ultimately ruled that the public education system in Kansas is currently underfunded in violation of the Kansas Constitution. While the formula the state uses is adequate, the specific amount of money the state currently provides to fund that formula is in violation of the constitution. The court enjoined the state from taking any further action that would lower the base state aid per pupil under $4,492.
The $4,492 figure comes from the passage of SB 531 in 2008 that increased the base state aid per pupil from $4,433 to $4,492. In 2011, the Legislature passed SB 111 to give school districts more flexibility in spending cash reserves that have statutory restrictions on how the money can be spent Part of the rationale behind removing these restrictions was to release unencumbered funds for school districts to use when general state aid was being reduced due to the recession. State funding has dipped below the $4,492 level ever since it was passed in 2008. The current base state aid per pupil for the 2012-2013 school year is $3,838. This reduction in state funding led to the filing of the Glannon lawsuit in 2010.
Notably in Gannon, the court determined that the state failed to provide any suitable justification for the decrease in funding. Evidence supporting the actual cost of education proved that current state funding is not adequate. Also, the court found that the economic recession was not a valid excuse due to the fact that the state voluntarily decreased its revenue by reducing income taxes during the 2012 legislative session.
The case will go up on appeal to the Kansas Court of Appeals. In both the Gannon and Montoy cases, Kansas courts have interpreted Article 6, § 6(b) to mean that the State must fund schools so that students may have a “suitable education.” A main issue of contention is what constitutes a “suitable education.”
HB 2095 - House Committee considers possible term limits for Ethics Commission members
The House Committee on Elections held hearings this week on legislation to impose term limits on members of the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission. HB 2095 would limit Ethics Commission members to no more than two two-year terms. The bill’s sponsor expressed concern that some commissioners have served for too long on the commission pointing to a former member who served on the commission nearly two decades.
While there are no official proponents or opponents of the bill in the Committee quite yet, there were questions and concerns raised by committee members. Representative Sawyer said that while it’s always good to have an influx of new ideas, experienced members are important because they can provide institutional knowledge and historical context. The committee asked for a report on what appointed commissions have term limits and what those term limits are.
The Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission is a nine member, bipartisan, citizen commission. Members serve a two year term with the Commission's Chairman appointed by the Governor. The Vice-Chairman is appointed by the membership. Commission appointments are made by the Governor, Attorney General, Secretary of State, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, President of the Senate, Minority Leader of the Senate, Speaker of the House of Representatives, and the Minority Leader in the House.
The Ethics Commission plays an important role in ensuring that state election laws and maintaining and providing public access to contribution records for candidates for public office. The commission reviews and investigates complaints filed regarding possible violations of state campaign finance laws by elected officials, candidates for office, and organizations who spend money to advocate for particular candidates or issues. The commission also issues advisory opinions to answer questions involving interpretation the state’s campaign finance laws.
HB 2110 - House Tax Committee considers Governor’s tax proposal
On Wednesday and Thursday, the House Committee on Taxation held a public hearing on the Governor’s tax proposal.
House Bill 2110 would lower the income tax rate from 3.0% to 1.9% for income under $15,000 ($30,000 for married filing jointly) by 2016 and from 4.9% to 3.5% for income over $15,000 ($30,000 for married filing jointly) by 2017. However, the income tax deduction for home mortgage interest and the income tax deduction for property taxes would be eliminated.
Additionally the bill would increase sales taxes by six tenths of a percent beginning July 1st.
This year’s proposal follows on the heels of income tax cuts signed into law by the Governor last year which primarily benefit the wealthiest Kansans and the largest businesses and are projected to leave our state with a $2.5 billion budget hole by 2018.
The Kansas Economic Progress Council offered testimony in opposition to the Governor’s tax proposal. According to the Council, 44% of business taxes come from state and local property taxes, 20% from sales taxes and only about 6.7% from individual income tax. The Council contends that if our goal is to encourage business investment and growth, the property and sales tax reductions are a more effective policy. In our region, Nebraska (which has higher income tax rates than Kansas) is the leader in new business growth.
I am concerned that this proposal will actually increase the overall tax burden on low to middle income working families to pay for income tax cuts for the wealthy and large corporations. Making workers pay more so their bosses can pay less is a bad direction for state tax policy.
The elimination of the property tax deduction coupled with the Governor’s decision to suspend state payments into a fund used by counties and cities to reduce local property taxes will result in a higher property tax burden for Kansas families, seniors on fixed incomes and farmers and ranchers.
In the House committee, members both Democrat and Republican expressed serious concerns with this tax bill. This come a day after the Senate Tax Committee suspended hearings on the same proposal (Senate Bill 78 in the Senate) apparently due to a lack of support for the bill among a majority of Senate committee members.
Bill would allow candidates to transfer of funds from one campaign to another
Legislation considered this week in House Committee would allow a candidate to transfer of campaign funds from a previous campaign to another candidacy. Currently contributions made in support of an individual House or Senate candidate cannot be later transferred to an account affiliated with that individual’s candidacy for another state, county or municipal office. HB 2112 would allow for funds in a legislative or other campaign account to be used for a run at another state office.
Proponents included multiple former members of the Kansas House that later ran for the Kansas Senate. Seeking to link contributions to individuals rather than candidates, proponents argued that the current prohibition on transferability is cumbersome for both the candidate and prospective donors, and that allowing transferability would simplify the process.
The interpretation that has been applied to the current law is that a contributor’s support for a candidate in one office cannot be implied as support for a run for another office. For example someone may contribute and support a candidate for the Kansas House, but it cannot be assumed that the contributor would support the same candidate in a run for State Senate so accordingly contributions for one office are not allowed to be used to run for another.
This legislation has been considered several times in recent years, without gaining much support in the legislature. It will be interesting to see if it will have more support now with a large number of new members in both the House and Senate.
HB 2130 - Residency requirement for petition circulators considered
The House Elections Committee on Wednesday considered legislation to amend state law regarding qualifications for people circulating official petitions.
Currently, state statute requires that petition circulators must be “a resident of the state of Kansas” and have all the “qualifications of an elector in Kansas”. HB 2130 would eliminate the residency requirement for petition circulator and allow people who are not eligible voters also to circulate petitions. Essentially this would allow for people from out of state to circulate petitions and would also allow for instance students not of voting age to do so as well.
Former Attorney General Steve Six and former Secretary of State Chris Biggs won an order against the enforcement of the current statute, and further, the statute was found unconstitutional in District Court. The current Secretary of State and Attorney General testified in support of HB 2130.
House observes Native American Legislative Day at the Capitol
On Wednesday, the House adopted a resolution, HR 6008, recognizing February 6, 2013 as Native American Legislative Day at the Capitol. Representatives Ponka-We Victors and Mario Goico, both of Wichita offered the resolution and spoke to the many contributions Native Americans have made to our state.
Tribal leaders and councils from the Prairie Band Potawatomi, Kickapoo, Sac and Fox and Iowa Nations of Kansas and Nebraska were recognized on the House floor. The House recognized Native American veterans for their service in the United States armed services.
HB 2162 - Committee discusses explainers for ballot questions
The House Committee on Elections heard testimony on HB 2162, a bill that would allow for a county election officer to request ballot language statements when a ballot question needs clarification. When an election is brought about by a petition the county election officer can request the county, district attorney or county counselor to prepare explanations of the ballot question subject to the approval of the Secretary of State. In all other elections, the county election officer could request a ballot language statement from the Secretary of State, subject to the approval of the Attorney General. The ballot language statement must fairly and accurately explain what a vote for and against the question represents. Ballot language statements would not be placed on ballots but posted in polling places and mailed to advance voters. The bill indemnifies specified authors and reviewers of the ballot language statement of any cause of action as a result of its preparation.
Proponents reported several occasions in which voter confusion lead to numerous phone calls to elections offices requesting explanations of confusing questions. They claimed this bill would help curb voter confusion and deterrence resulting from confusing ballot questions.
The League of Kansas Municipalities testified as a neutral to the bill, recommending amending the bill so the author of the ballot language statements is the designated attorney of the municipality holding the election. They stated that confusing ballot questions are rare and the local governments have the capacity to create the explanatory statements.
I always enjoy seeing people from back home visiting the Capitol during the session to share their views on issues and to learn about the legislature and the history of our Capitol building. If you are going to be in the Capitol this session, I hope you will drop by my office.
Keep in Touch
It is a special honor to serve as your state representative. I value and need your input on the various issues facing state government. Please feel free to contact me with your comments and questions. My office address is Room 561 W, 300 SW 10th, Topeka, KS 66612. You can reach me at (785) 296-7648 or 296-7668 or call the legislative hotline at 1-800-432-3924 to leave a message for me. Additionally, you can e-mail me at email@example.com. You can also follow the legislative session online at www.kslegislature.org.