The Legislative Session resumed after a three week break. An adjourn resolution was passed before the break that set final adjournment for Friday, May 4. In one sense that is good as it defines the time available to finish work, but also could cause the work to be rushed to the point where items are missed and will need corrections at some future point.
There are a couple of "must do" items that remain. Those are fixing the school formula and passing a budget for 2019. House Appropriations and Senate Ways and Means met the day before session officially restarted and worked to get budget proposals out to the floor. When passed, the House and Senate budgets went to conference to iron out differences, reaching agreement midweek. The school issue was addressed soon after we returned, passed the Senate and is on the way to the Governor. Now we wait to see if the Courts agree. Despite the significant amount of money going to schools, many of the local schools will receive a relatively small amount.
One of the main tax issues is whether or not to decouple from the Federal Tax Code so Kansans can continue to itemize at the same level as in the past on their return. An argument can be made that decoupling would have a net zero effect on the budget since the Federal reform was not part of the revenue estimates. However, the other side is that there have been so many changes to both State and Federal tax codes that a ‘time out’ needs to be called in order to simply wait and see the real effects on revenues. It becomes a situation that when such a large number of variables is put together, the end result becomes very uncertain.
As I write this, the tax proposals have not yet been settled, even though we must adjourn the session by midnight. However, the tax proposals before us generally include a wide variety of ideas. The first includes decoupling from the Federal tax changes passed in the Federal Tax Reform. Among other proposals, the decoupling would include allowing itemized deductions phased in for State taxes, but also includes an additional exemption for one particular Hospice and for the sale of precious metals bullion. With such a varied range of inclusions, including some additional exemptions and removing others, what is a good vote?
Another tax package includes Sales Tax and Revenue (STAR) bonds, High Performance Incentive Program (HPIP), and a relatively new program called Ad Astra. All are job promotion bills, but vary widely in effectiveness and structure. This bill passed although there are parts to like and other parts, not so much.
A very controversial bill came up at the end regarding adoption services. There were claims of discrimination from all sides and claims that religious based service providers should not receive tax dollars to provide those services. In reading the bill several times, the worst I could see in it is that religious based adoption service providers can continue to operate as they have. The discrimination claims come from the fact that some of the providers have policies not allowing adoption service for single or gay couples. However, the bill does not require anyone to seek any specific type of service provider but allows anyone to seek the adoption services they are most comfortable with.
The end of the session is always like this as certain Legislative members insist on a vote on issues important to them. The bright side is that a budget that makes sense has passed. Statewide Officers and House members are up for election this summer, so the public again has the ability to decide if State officials have done a reasonable job or not. Please vote in the primary election in August, and again in the general election in November.
— Don Schroeder is a Republican member of the Kansas House of Representatives, representing the 74th district. He has served since 2007.