Tag Archives: Kansas legislature

Articles about the Kansas legislature, both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Kansas Speaker Mike O’Neal at AFP Summit

Representative Mike O’Neal, Republican from Hutchinson, is the new Speaker of the Kansas House of Representatives. He spoke on January 10 at Americans For Prosperity‘s Defending the American Dream Summit in Wichita.

His speech warned of tough times ahead, with a difficult job for both the legislature and citizens. Part of the problem is that we’ve been spending a lot in recent years: “Kansas is a cash basis state. We have spent more in the last four years than we’ve taken in, primarily because we’ve had healthy balances, and because we have had, historically, some decent economic growth. That, however, is not, and should not be, the justification for growing government and continuing to spend money without looking out on the horizon to see what economic markets are going to do.”

He said that the current year deficit (the fiscal year ending June 30, 2009) is around $190 million. But the number to aim for is $290 million, so that there is an ending balance. Then for fiscal year 2010 (July 1, 2009 to June 30, 2010), somewhere near $1 billion.

That’s the bad news, he said. “The good news is that presents us with an excellent opportunity to do things fundamentally different with the way we look at state budgets. … It would probably surprise many of you in this room to learn that we do not conduct financial audits of the state budget, and have not done that for a number of years.”

“We simply spend our session looking at the governor’s enhancement budget for those agencies, and determine what, if any, enhancements we’re going to allow. That is not going to happen this year. … We are looking at making fundamental cuts in the budget.”

He went on to say that we’ve known of the trouble with the budget for about 90 days. So why hasn’t anything been done? The legislature couldn’t do anything because it wasn’t in session. But, Governor Kathleen Sebelius can do things when the legislature is not in session. She can make targeted cuts. With permission of the finance council, she could make across-the-board cuts. But she’s not done either.

The Wichita Eagle provided coverage of O’Neal’s talk, including some remarks made afterwards, in the article Speaker says cuts will be painful.

Testimony against taxpayer-funded lobbying

The following testimony from John Todd explains some of the harmful effects of taxpayer-funded lobbying. Isn’t it terrible that that interests of governmental bodies like the city and county you live in or your local school district are different from your interests? As John explains, local government has become a special interest group, and like other such groups, it must lobby for its own interests.

February 18, 2008

House Committee on Federal and State Affairs
Kansas Legislature
State Capitol
Topeka, Kansas 66612

Subject: My testimony is presented in SUPPORT OF House Bill No. 2775 concerning governmental ethics; requiring the reporting of lobbying expenses by municipalities.

Mr. Chairman, and members of the House Committee on Federal and State Affairs, my name is John Todd and I live in Wichita, Kansas. Thank you for allowing me this opportunity to speak to you in Support of the passage of House Bill No. 2775 concerning governmental ethics; requiring the reporting of lobbying expenses by municipalities.

“Government lobbying is toxic to representative democracy,” says Goldwater Institute Chairman Tom Patterson. “It distorts the democratic process by pitting government interest against those of citizens. Letting government agents lobby with taxpayer funds … drowns out the voices of regular citizens, putting private citizens at a distinct disadvantage.” (See Goldwater Institute Policy Report No. 217, January 23, 2007 “Your Tax Dollars at Work: The Implications of Taxpayer-funded Lobbying” by Benjamin Barr at www.goldwaterinstitute.org)

I have personally witnessed this abuse over the last several years as a citizen appearing before a number of legislative committees. During the 2006 and 2007 legislative sessions government lobbyists and their associations opposed popular reform efforts in the area of eminent domain.

In previous legislative sessions government lobbyists were successful in blocking two attempts to obtain Municipal Court Reform that would have allowed the election of Municipal Court Judges by the people. A third attempt at Municipal Court reform was opposed by a lobbyist from the Kansas Supreme Court itself, resulting in this measure never making it out of committee.

Local government in Wichita and Sedgwick County has become “big business” with government spending for our city, county, and local school district at nearly $1.4 Billion. In addition to their taxpayer-funded associations like the League of Kansas Municipalities, the Kansas Association of Counties, and the Kansas Association of School Boards, these government entities employ their own taxpayer-funded lobbyists.

At a minimum, the passage of House Bill #2775 is a start towards making taxpayer-funded government lobbying more transparent and accountable to the people. I would request that you study the report “Your Tax Dollars at Work: The Implications of Taxpayer-funded Lobbying” by Benjamin Barr posted on the Goldwater Policy web page, as referenced above, to consider additional taxpayer-funded lobbying reform that is needed in Kansas.

The Kansas legislative buffet

When Sen. Phil Journey, a legislator who is known as a conservative, uses the term “legislative buffet,” it reveals the wisdom and foresight of Bastiat, who long ago described the legislative process as this: “A share of the plunder for me, for me!”

The Wichita Eagle article “Water, med school join priority list” (November 30, 2007) describes the battle Wichita-area legislators face: “work together to compete for state resources or lose out to other areas, primarily Johnson County.” As Kansas will spend some $12 billion this year — and probably much more the next — there’s a lot at stake. Whether Wichita gets its fair share of spending on local needs depends on how agile our local senators and representatives are at the buffet.

What’s not often discussed is the absurdity of sending billions of local dollars to Topeka each year, hoping we are judged worthy enough to get some of it back. Or, perhaps we’re hoping to hit the jackpot: if we have very good legislators who can really “belly up” to the buffet, they might manage to get back more from Topeka than we sent. This pattern is not unique to Wichita; each city or region has its own needs and priorities. Why not just leave the money at home, letting each city or county decide how much and on what to spend?

Even better: many, if not all, of the things we want the legislature to do could be done privately, without any government intervention. Then we could accomplish things through voluntary cooperation, instead of the coerced march of our dollars to Topeka, where we have to then fight to get them back. Conservative legislators like Sen. Journey should seek to end the “legislative buffet” instead of restocking it year after year.

Your principle has placed these words above the entrance of the legislative chamber: “Whosoever acquires any influence here can obtain his share of legal plunder.” And what has been the result? All classes have flung themselves upon the doors of the chamber, crying: “A share of the plunder for me, for me!”

— Frederic Bastiat, “Selected Essays on Political Economy” (1848)

Floods and whirlwind (of spending in Kansas)

Floods and Whirlwind
By Karl Peterjohn, Executive Director Kansas Taxpayers Network

Kansans are focused upon the floods as well as the results of the tornados that tore up this state in early May. The wrath of Mother Nature is upon us just as the Kansas legislature has left its own flood of spending and whirlwind of legislative changes on this state. The legislature’s fiscal wrath might be overlooked by Kansans focused upon their flooded basements or providing help and assistance to the devastated folks who survived in Greensburg. Kansans ignoring the legislature do so at their peril.

Kansans will soon have to pay another $1/2 billion more for state government. As one liberal Democrat legislative leader put it, “We spent it,” was the watchword from assistant minority leader State Representative Jim Ward, D-Wichita, to his home town newspaper April 22 when asked about the 2007 session at that point. A few days later the legislature returned to Topeka and spent even more.

That’s the budget that will soon become law as a result of the 2007 Kansas legislature. Governor Sebelius’ signature is needed to make this $6.089 billion General Fund budget official. This is a 10.4 percent spending hike over last year’s budget.

It is almost a billion more than the 2006 budget of $5.139 billion. That’s 18.5 percent in two years. Has your salary gone up 18.5 percent in the last two years?

Ironically, there have been newspaper articles targeting the less than $35 million in tax cuts as a fiscal problem for Kansas. The Wichita Eagle warned that cutting the business franchise tax and reducing the tax penalty on social security payments to seniors could place this state in fiscal jeopardy. Tax cuts are a problem while spending growth is ignored among the liberal Kansas newspapers.

Obviously, these are fiscally liberal journalists who never bothered to read the budget. Now there was pressure from the liberal spending lobbies starting with the Kansas Supreme Court as well as the governor demanding massive hikes in state school spending. That part of the court’s edict will expand almost $200 million in one year or $450 per pupil. In addition, the rest of the spending lobbies from the state regents universities and social service welfare spending advocates are among the most prominent who perpetually dominate the budget process in Topeka. That why a liberal spending advocate like state senator Tony Hensley, D-Topeka, praised the 2008 budget on the senate floor before voting for it.

Nebraska is looking at major reductions in a variety of anti-competitive state taxes and may use a sizable part of their budget surplus coming from the Bush tax cuts for some major, over $200 million in income and property tax cuts in a state with 60 percent of the Kansas population. Last year Oklahoma passed an even larger dollar amount of income tax cuts. In April the Tax Foundation (taxfoundation.org) reported that Kansas has the 15th highest total of state and local taxes as a percentage of income among the 50 states.

Kansas went into this budget cycle with over $734 million as a beginning cash balance. That will soon be spent. The real challenge that awaits us is state revenues are growing at only a fraction of state spending, and this spending growth cannot continue without raising Kansans’ taxes.

It’s not yours to cut

An article in the April 22, 2007 Wichita Eagle by Dion Lefler states: “All together, those [tax] cuts will cost the state $570 million in lost revenue in the next five years, according to the consensus report estimates.”

A statement like this reveals a faulty line of thinking: that the government has a legitimate claim on a large part of our incomes and wealth. Then if, somehow, the government is persuaded to “give” any of that claim back to us, this gift has to be paid for.

It’s the people who “give” tax money to the government, not the government who “gives” it back to the people in the form of tax cuts. If the government cuts taxes, the government gives us nothing. It simply takes less of what is ours in the first place.

Liberal publications with a national audience like The New York Times use thinking like this all the time. It’s very disappointing to see it at home in Wichita and Kansas.

This backwards thinking about taxes was also revealed in reporting by David Klepper in the May 12, 2006 Wichita Eagle: “They [Kansas lawmakers who supported the cuts] consider the cuts a wise, $128 million investment to spur new investment by business, new jobs, more economic activity and, consequently, higher tax receipts.”

In the same article: “Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat, who first proposed the business machinery tax cut, agreed. ‘We’re not giving away money for the sake of giving it away,’ she said. ‘I’m hoping that the economic growth will actually help fund the school plan that we just passed.'” (emphasis added)

It is depressing to realize that the Governor of Kansas equates letting people keep a little more of the money they earned with the state “giving it away.”

Furthermore, the true motives of politicians are revealed: they say they are “investing” in tax cuts in the hope that the state will collect even more tax money in the future.

We should be asking this question of our elected representatives: If tax cuts stimulate investment, jobs, and economic growth, why didn’t you cut these burdensome taxes last year?

How children lose in the Kansas Legislature’s special session

USD 259 (Wichita) public schools superintendent Winston Brooks plans to use the majority of the anticipated increase in school funding to reduce class size. Evidence cited in other articles on this website show that smaller class sizes don’t produce better educational outcomes for students.

Because the conventional wisdom is that smaller class sizes are good for students, the extra money and smaller class sizes will be saluted as a victory for the children. Editorial writers, school administrators, teachers, and those who don’t care to confront facts will thank the Kansas Supreme Court and Kansas Legislature for saving the children.

The sad fact is that this seeming victory, a victory which does nothing to help children, will delay desperately needed reform for another year. In all likelihood reform will be delayed even longer, as if the legislature accedes to the court’s demand this year, it may also do so next year, when the court has called for even more spending.

Who benefits from smaller class size? The teachers unions do. Smaller class sizes mean a lighter workload for current teachers. More teachers (paying more union dues) need to be hired, as is the plan in Wichita.

But as mentioned earlier, smaller class size doesn’t help the students. That’s the danger in spending more on schools. It seems like the additional money should help the schools, and those who procure the money are treated as heroes. This illusion of a solution delays the reform that is badly needed.

What would truly help children? Overwhelming evidence points to school choice. As Harvard economist and researcher Caroline M. Hoxby said about the school voucher program in Milwaukee:

From 1998-1999 onwards, the schools that faced the most competition from the vouchers improved student achievement radically–by about 0.6 of a standard deviation each year. That is an enormous, almost unheard-of, improvement. Keep in mind the schools in question had had a long history of low achievement. Yet they were able to get their act together quickly. The most threatened schools improved the most, not only compared to other schools in Milwaukee but also compared to other schools in the state of Wisconsin that served poor, urban students.

Milwaukee shows what public school administrators can tell you: Schools can improve if they are under serious competition.

Why, then, don’t we have school choice in Wichita? The teachers unions and education establishment are against it. They don’t want to face the same type of free market forces that the rest of us face. They are in charge of educating children, they tell us they are doing the best they can, that everything they do is for the children and only the children, but they oppose desperately needed reform.

Regarding School Finance from Senator Karin Brownlee

By Senator Karin Brownlee, Republican from Olathe

What is the higher priority? Should the Legislature send $143 million more to schools or preserve the form of government our forefathers carefully designed over two hundred years ago? The separation of powers doctrine is fundamental to maintaining our free society because it maintains a balance of powers with the judiciary unable to control the budget. That is until last Friday when the Kansas Supreme Court blurred the lines and came out with a ruling that the Kansas Legislature should appropriate an additional $143 million to the K-12 schools, for starters. The Court expects $568 million more after that.

A few school districts in Kansas sued the state because of their perception that the state is under funding them. This suit worked its way through the Kansas courts to the point that the state Supreme Court in January mandated the Legislature to address some specific areas to ensure an equal education for all Kansas students. The Legislature responded by voting to send an additional $142 million to our schools with some of the additions targeting the specific needs. This is the largest increase to schools since 1992. Out of our $4.9 billion budget, about $2.6 billion will go to schools in ’05-’06.

The school lobby in the Kansas Capitol is possibly the strongest lobby under the dome. I have seen bills pass initially one day only to get squished like a bug the next day on a final vote because the Kansas Association of School Boards (KASB) and the Kansas National Education Association (KNEA) deemed the bill a threat to their way of life. Because of the strength of this lobby, it is hard to sort fact from fiction when discussing school finance.

You have probably heard that the base state aid per pupil (BSAPP) has not kept up with inflation. What are the facts? BSAPP is only one part of the school funding formula and there isn’t a district in the state that only receives this amount. It is always multiplied by weighting factors which increases this number significantly. Since the school funding formula was rewritten in 1992, state, local and federal funds increases for K-12 have surpassed the consumer price index (CPI) every year. Kansas spends about 54% of its state budget on our schools. On average, other states spend about 35% of their state budgets on K-12. The next time someone tries to convince you that the Legislature is shortchanging our schools, you might keep these facts in mind.

Additionally, Kansas students perform quite well when compared to students in other states. Over the past few years, our schools have ranked in the top ten states in many categories. In some areas on nationalized tests, our students are ranked even higher. Lack of quality is not driving the push for millions more to schools.

I write all of this to make the point that the true need may not be the hundreds of millions of dollars that the state Supreme Court is mandating. Certainly our schools would make use of any money sent their way. However, the need for balance in state spending is critical to maintain a positive climate for families and businesses. Frankly, this struggle is no longer about school funding. The greater need is to maintain the balance of powers and not allow a court to tell the Legislature who gets how much money. That is the exclusive duty of the Kansas Legislature.