The mood around the Statehouse is not quite as optimistic as it was at the beginning of the session, but Legislative members are still anticipating some good work during this time. Committees continue to meet regularly and are watching the calendar to make sure they finish committee work on time.
Many keep asking what the plan is to balance the budget. While the overall plan is not very apparent yet, it is important to note that the Senate had been working on a tax and budget plan that is different from the House. The Senate plan was to cut spending for the current year and then raise income taxes for next year. Part of the plan to raise taxes is putting income taxes back on the LLC’s and raise the individual rates. That fell apart late in the week.
House Tax Chairman Johnson held hearings on the LLC’s and tax exemptions earlier and worked a bill Thursday. As passed out of committee, that bill eliminates the LLC exemption, adds a third-tier income tax bracket and raises the middle tier rate. I just learned that, as written, it is retroactive to January 1 of this year. Now to see what happens as it comes to the full House.
The House budget committee is primarily looking at using the unclaimed property fund as collateral for a loan to fill the current year gap and then some type of income tax increase for next year. Any plan we look at is less than ideal, but it’s apparent that something needs to change. Hearings on, and working of, the 2017 rescission budget bill is planned for next week. With the tax committee passing a bill out, the picture becomes much clearer for the Appropriations committee as to what is possible.
This week the House Health and Human Services committee held hearings on Medicaid expansion. In many ways it may make sense to expand Medicaid, especially knowing how it would help small rural hospitals. There are also logical reasons why expansion at this time may not be wise. One of the main reasons to not expand is the uncertainty regarding what may happen in Washington.
After being in the Legislature for several years, some issues keep coming back. A case in point is that the Ag committee is again looking at changing the noxious weed law. The changes would remove the names of noxious weeds in statute and would instead form a permanent committee to review requests for additions to the list. At least, that is the main change. There are certainly pros and cons to do that, but the last time a weed was added to the list it took 5 years before the legislature acted.
Much of what has come to the full House so far has been fairly mundane. Things like technical adjustments to the laws are common at this point. Most real action is still in committees. The Appropriations committee is considering and gathering information on budget related issues, including the Judicial budget. The Judicial budget proposal is always a little different in that it is submitted to the Legislature along with the Governor’s budget proposal, but typically the Governor simply passes the Judicial budget along without changes or comment.
Wednesday the Legislative Post Audit committee heard the audit results if schools would use the State insurance pool for employees. Small schools typically struggle more with this issue than large schools because of the size of the insurance pool. The report shows there could be some savings, but there are many details that need to be addressed before that could happen.
Of course there are numerous issues taking shape in committees. As turnaround approaches, those policy proposals will be arriving on the House floor. Discussion on all those issues in committees has been overshadowed by the tax and budget issues. There is no doubt the next two weeks will be busy and interesting with turnaround on February 23.
—Don Schroeder is a Republican member of the Kansas House of Representatives, representing the 74th district. He has served since 2007. The Kansan makes this space available to the Harvey County contingent in Topeka on a first come, first served basis.