Legislative & Political Update
January 12, 2018
The Kansas Legislature convened the 2018 session on Monday, January 8. Although a relatively slow work, legislatively speaking, the Governor’s State of the State speech delivered to a joint session of the House and Senate on Tuesday of this week made up for any deficiency of excitement or entertainment.
Leading up to the governor’s speech were statehouse rumors that the administration would propose additional money for K-12 education in response to a Kansas Supreme Court decision holding the state’s school finance formula unconstitutional on grounds of adequacy and equity. The Court has ordered the state to remedy these deficiencies by April 30, 2018. The Legislature added nearly $300 million over two years into K-12 education with a new formula passed in 2017. The Court held that insufficient and the legislature’s response so far has been to add to their legal team and retain a school finance expert to advise the Legislature how to meet the Court’s order with little or no new money. At least that seems to be the theory. House and Senate Leadership are reluctant to simply write a $600 million check to address the Supreme Court opinion absent additional information on how best to resolve the case now and going forward.
After a significant tax increase last session, there is virtually no will to increase taxes again in 2018, particularly when this is an election year for the Kansas House and statewide office holders, including the governor.
However, on Tuesday of this week, Governor Brownback recommended the Legislature fully fund the K-12 revenue shortfall by appropriating $600 million over the next five years. No funding mechanism was proposed, other than testimony from his budget director the following day that economic growth would allow the State to make such investments over the five-year timeframe.
Opposition from legislative leaders, particularly in the Senate was unduly harsh and immediate. Both Senate President Susan Wagle (R-Wichita) and Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning (R-Overland Park) expressed strong criticism for the proposal, which they suggested would require tax increases to sustain as early as FY 2020.
Virtually all legislative constituencies were caught off guard by the size and scope of the Governor’s proposal and few expressed support. Even the Governor’s traditional allies – conservatives who stood with the Governor against tax increases in 2017 expressed disappointment in the proposal. Only Democrats seemed to like the proposal, with general comments of “that’s the right number, but not sure how to pay for it…”
In the backdrop of all of this is the resubmission of Governor Brownback’s name by President Trump to be the U.S. Ambassador At Large for Religious Freedom. Some suggested the Governor’s proposal was political payback for the Legislature’s override of his veto of the tax increase bill of 2017.
Regardless, the Governor’s proposal is in the legislative process and the House and Senate can decide what, if anything they plan to do with it. One would suspect the proposal will be set aside in favor of House and Senate discussions on a school finance plan that would not require substantial new money, but perhaps structural tweaks to the formula passed in 2017.
The biggest news on the election front this week was the filing of campaign finance reports by gubernatorial candidates. The State has 25 individuals at last count who named a treasurer for the office of governor. The reporting period covered by the filing is for calendar year 2017.
Leading candidates/fundraising totals are as follows:
Leading Republican Candidates:
Willis (Wink) Hartman $1,830,661.90 Loaned his campaign $1.6 million
Ken Selzer $713,462.00 Loaned his campaign $250,000.00
Lt. Governor Jeff Colyer $632,067.67
Mark Hutton $581,636.00 Loaned his campaign $200,000.00
Jim Barnett $564,645.00 Loaned his campaign $505,000.00
Kris Kobach $354,732.00
Ed O’Malley $218,362.82
Leading Democrat Candidates:
Josh Svaty $192,545.01
Laura Kelly $155,691.18 Entered the race 12/15/17
Jim Ward $90,534.51
Carl Brewer $45,470.52
Leading Independent Candidate:
Greg Orman $452,931.07
For a complete listing of campaign finance reports for all candidates, including gubernatorial candidates, check out the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission website and go to “View Submitted Forms and Reports” under “Campaign Finance”.
A handful of bills have been requested for introduction and shown up in print. However, for the next few weeks, the Reviser’s (attorneys assigned to the Kansas Legislature) will be busy taking bill drafts and proposals and turning them into actual bills.
Legislative leadership is hopeful for an orderly session with the total number of calendar days holding under 90 days… however, that is likely to be dependent on what the Kansas Supreme Court thinks of the Legislature’s response to its school finance decision.
That’s the report from Topeka as of the first week. A more substantive review of legislative initiatives will follow in subsequent reports.