from Rep. Stan Frownfelter, D-37th Dist.
Committees: Utilities and Telecom, Commerce, Labor and Economic Development, Ranking Minority, Insurance, Financial Institutions, Ranking Minority
Week 1: Jan. 14-18, 2013
In this newsletter:
o From the Statehouse
o Gov. Brownback delivers 2013 State of the State Address
o Governor proposes sales tax hike, eliminating home mortgage deduction
o Court ruling on school finance precedes start of session
o Proposals afoot to politicize Kansas judiciary
o Gov. Brownback outlines proposals to address reading proficiencies
o Brownback proposes mental health initiatives
o Keep in touch
From the Statehouse: Week 1
On Monday, Jan. 14, the Kansas Legislature convened for the 2013 legislative session. It was a busy week as legislators got into the swing of things under the dome. The start of this session was particularly hectic this year, as 57 new members of the Kansas House were sworn into office. It is not often that the freshmen class encompasses over one-third of the chamber. We were sworn in on Monday, Gov. Brownback delivered his annual State of the State address on Tuesday, his administration revealed his budget recommendation on Wednesday, and committees jumped right into hearings on Thursday and Friday.
The calendar will remain full over the next few weeks as bills are introduced and committees begin their work. This year I will serve on four committees. 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 and www.twitter.com/.
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.
Brownback delivers State of the State address
The 2013 legislative session will be marked by three major issues: a budget deficit created by tax breaks for the wealthy and big corporations, a court order to restore funding to Kansas public schools and a fundamental debate over checks and balances in Kansas.
I provided a breakdown of these key debates below, but the most troubling part of the Brownback agenda seems to be the extent to which it brings Washington-style politics to Kansas. We need Kansas based solutions to our Kansas problems, which means restoring funding for Kansas schools, lower property taxes, and a renewed focus on proposals to create good paying jobs for Kansas families. Those weren’t the priorities that the governor outlined in his State of the State. Instead, Gov. Brownback proposed even more tax breaks for the wealthy and big corporations, no new funding for schools, and a judicial selection process that would politicize the court system.
I’m closely reviewing the governor’s proposals in the committee process, hearing from proponents and opponents of these important issues. I ran for public office because I want to be part of the solution to the problems facing our state and I will work to find compromise as much as possible. However, my main priority is to strengthen the middle class and renew the American dream. It would be hard to justify support for any proposal that moves Kansas in the opposite direction.
Governor proposes sales tax hike, eliminating home mortgage deduction
As you may have read in the news, Gov. Brownback pushed through tax cuts for the wealthy and big corporations in 2012 that cost $750 million a year. Kansas started the fiscal year with a $500 million surplus, but we are now on a collision course with a projected $267 million deficit because the tax plan allows the state’s 191,000 business owners to avoid paying income tax (which accounts for half of our state revenue). Also under Brownback's plan, the bottom income tax rate drops from 3 percent to 1.9 percent and the top rate would fall from 4.9 percent to 3.5 percent.
In an effort to fill the budget gap, Gov. Brownback this week announced a proposal to increase state sales tax. Kansas has the 12th highest sales tax rate in the nation and it is widely accepted that the sales tax hurts the poor and the middle class significantly more than it hurts the wealthy. Gov. Brownback is attempting to portray a sales tax increase as a means of protecting public schools, but that is far from the truth. This budget crisis was self-inflicted. It’s one thing to support a temporary tax hike to save public schools and core services from a seventh round of budget cuts (which is what happened in 2010). It’s quite another to pass a permanent sales tax hike as a means of funding a tax plan that makes the workers pay taxes but lets the bosses go tax free.
In addition to a sales tax hike, Gov. Brownback proposed eliminating the home mortgage deduction. Kansas homeowners receive an average of almost $400 by deducting the interest they pay lenders on their home loans. It seems irresponsible to eliminate a tax deduction that helps Kansas families achieve the American dream.
When it’s all said and done, Gov. Brownback’s tax plan won’t be much of a tax cut at all. It will simply shift the tax burden from our wealthiest citizens to those with the least means to pay. Instead of passing more tax breaks that primarily benefit the wealthy while eliminating tax deductions that hurt the middle class, the Legislature should refocus its effort on lowering Kansas property taxes, which have doubled since 1997.
Court ruling on school funding precedes legislative session
The Friday before the session began, a three-judge panel ruled that the Legislature violated the Kansas Constitution by cutting public school funding over the past several years. The court ordered a $440 million increase in funding. The court also agreed that Gov. Brownback’s tax cuts for the wealthy and big corporations directly conflict with our constitutional obligation to fund public schools.
Instead of complying with the court’s order and focusing his efforts on ensuring that our children receive a quality education, Gov. Brownback’s budget recommends no increase to school funding in the next fiscal year. He did, however, recommend further income tax cuts.
Gov. Brownback also encouraged the Legislature this week to assert itself over the courts. Proposals to amend the state constitution in a way that allows the Legislature to sidestep its obligation to fund public schools were quickly introduced and will debated in the coming weeks. Proposals eliminate the word “suitable” from the constitutional requirement that the Legislature provide a “suitable education” to Kansas kids.
Why would the Legislature pursue anything less than providing a suitable education for our children? Instead of treating the Kansas Constitution like a political piñata because some disagreed with a court ruling, the Legislature should refocus its efforts to fully restore the funding cuts that have been made to schools in recent years. Many pro-school legislators have been advocating for this for over a year, the court agreed, and now it’s time to act.
Proposals afoot to politicize Kansas judiciary
Another Washington D.C., based proposal that the governor has made part of his legislative agenda is the issue of judicial selection. The governor has called for either the election of Kansas Supreme Court justices, or giving the governor the power to pick justices with Senate confirmation.
The current non-partisan system that Gov. Brownback seeks to replace has its roots in a Constitutional Amendment approved by voters in the late 1950s. It replaced a Washington D.C., modeled system that led to excessive partisan corruption. Now, the governor and the Kansas Bar Association appoint members to a nine member judicial nominating committee. This committee selects three nominees and then the governor selects the judge out of the committee's nominees.
Gov. Brownback cannot identify any significant problem with the current system. In the wake of the recent school finance ruling, it appears that he merely dislikes the fact that the court is independent of him and refuses to rubber stamp his agenda.
If the governor’s efforts to drastically change the judicial selection process are successful, it will give him unprecedented control over all three branches of government, allowing the governor to install judges who are political supporters rather than impartial interpreters of the Kansas Constitution.
This is a very important issue to watch. This plan would wipe out the last remaining check and balance in Kansas government. Even those who strongly support the Brownback Agenda cannot deny that this concentrated level of power is not what our founders had in mind. The consequences of this would likely last for generations.
Hearings on this issue have already begun. I should have more to report next week.
Gov. Brownback outlines proposals to address reading proficiency
In his State of the State address, Gov. Brownback proposed a change to state education policy to hold back any third graders who fail to demonstrate reading proficiency on statewide reading assessments. Just over sixteen percent of fourth graders fail to meet this standard. Legislation has already been introduced in the House to make this change.
While ensuring that our children are able to demonstrate reading proficiency is a worthwhile goal, I am concerned that this is not the right approach.
Holding back third-graders who are not meeting reading standards will have the short term effect of increasing fourth grade reading proficiency scores since those struggling most with reading will not be advancing to the fourth grade (a component of Gov. Brownback’s “Roadmap for Kansas). However, this step alone does little to help those third graders who are struggling to read.
We need to be looking at meaningful measure to work with those students who are struggling to meet reading standards. Doing so also requires the Legislature to meet its constitutional obligation to provide adequate funding for our schools, which is not something that Governor Brownback proposed in his budget, even after making the largest single cut to public education in Kansas history in 2011.
As schools have had to make cutbacks, it is increasingly difficult to provide specialized services to help struggling students to keep up with their peers. Providing our teachers with the resources they need to reach struggling students will make more of an impact on fourth grade reading scores than simply holding back struggling third graders.
Brownback proposes mental health initiatives
In response the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy, Gov. Brownback has announced a plan to shift $10 million in mental health funds from one area of the mental health budget to another. The governor announced he would like to re-direct funds from mental illness treatment to targeting the most mentally ill residents. These funds would be used to set up five to seven regional service hubs for intensive mental health management, care coordination, parent and peer support services, and crises stabilization efforts. The Governor has also recommended setting up a committee to study the mental health system.
While mental health advocates welcome Gov. Brownback's much needed attention, it is disappointing that the Governor is recommending a reallocation rather than an increase in mental health resources. It's important to remember that the governor's plan will provide no additional funds to a system that has lost $15 million since 2008.
Mental health is just one of the vital state service areas that have tightened their belt in recent years and would be devastated by the further revenue reductions that Governor Brownback is proposing.
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 call the legislative hotline at 1-800-432-3924 to leave a message for me. Additionally, you can email me at Stan.Frownfelter@house.ks.gov. You can also follow the legislative session online at www.kslegislature.org.