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The Leavenworth Times - Leavenworth, KS
  • Adventures at the Statehouse

  • This was the last week for Committee work in the 2013 Legislative
    Session, so there were some last minute hearings and many bills were
    worked and passed out to the House as a whole for debate.
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  • Preparing to Wrap it Up
    This was the last week for Committee work in the 2013 Legislative
    Session, so there were some last minute hearings and many bills were
    worked and passed out to the House as a whole for debate. We also spent some long days on the floor in debate of the House version of the budget and a new tax plan that would alter the plan passed last year. I only counted 30 bills being passed out to the Senate though, despite all the long hours. Next week will be short in days, but the House and Senate will spend all day debating bills and the House is scheduled for 26 bills on just Monday!
    The House Budget
    The House and Senate both passed out their own versions of the Budget this week and the conference committee is already scheduled to meet on Monday to start the process of working out their differences. We only debated the budget for about 3.5 hours this year and only 11 amendments were offered. That is a record low since I have been in the House.
    This year's House budget has some interesting new methods in it to
    reduce spending, as the Appropriations Committee tried to be creative.
    Besides just basic cuts to every agency, the Appropriations Committee
    proposed placing a "salary cap" on every agency. The Committee
    Chair had legislative research compile a list of what every agency has
    spent on salaries so far for the current fiscal year through March 15
    (the FY does not end until June 30th) and told every agency that is the
    amount they will get for FY2014. This results in huge cuts for some
    agencies, and an actual increase for a handful of agencies that had
    overspent their budgeted salaries to this point.
    An example of those who lose (and this hits home in our community) is
    the Department of Corrections. This salary cap does not take into
    consideration the fact that two new units were opened or expanded in
    FY2013 partly through the year – now those units' salaries in FY2014
    will be based on only the few months of salary they received in FY2013.
    I asked the Secretary of Corrections how this would affect his
    Corrections Officers and operations. His Chief Finance Officer crunched
    the numbers and reported that using conservative numbers, they would have to lay off at least 94 people. We have spent all session studying the current situation in the Department of Corrections and everyone agrees that they need more people, not less.
    An example of an agency that overspent their salary and now will get
    Page 2 of 4 - more in FY2014 than they were budgeted to get in FY2013, is the
    Lieutenant Governor's Office. There are only a handful of agency
    budgets in this situation, and they are all very small. There is only
    one exemption to the cap that was made through an amendment offered during floor debate. The amendment removed the cap from the Board of Regents and allows them to use reserve funds to pay for salaries. No one else was exempted. The Senate did not use this method of cutting in their budget, so we will now wait and see how this comes out of the conference committee.
    Another interesting amendment was offered to take the FY2015 budget out of the bill. This year, the Governor announced in his State of the
    State Address that he wanted to go to a 2 year budget in order to bring
    some prior planning and stability to the budget process. The issue
    though, is that it was too late to start a 2 year budget process this
    year. None of the agencies had FY2015 figures so the budget
    sub-committees and full Appropriations Committee had no input from
    anyone on their FY2015 budgets. The result is that the amounts for
    FY2014 were just carried over to FY2015. There was no input on
    expansion of projects, or projects ending, or bonds being paid off, or
    new bonding, or inflation, or growth of the economy, etc. Despite these
    shortfalls, the amendment failed and the bill retains a budget for
    FY2015 – which can be changed during next year's session.
    The New House Tax Plan
    The House Taxation Committee produced a new tax plan to try and alter the income tax plan of last year. In an attempt to control the large
    deficits that last year's plan will produce, the committee members
    proposed: raising the State sales tax, sending the sales tax that is
    supposed to go to the highway fund to the state general fund instead,
    cutting income tax deductions, and creating a system to slowly reduce
    income taxes based on economic growth.
    After considerable debate on the floor and 6 offered amendments, the
    bill passed by allowing the State sales tax to stay at 5.7 % after July
    1st this year and allowing KDOT to keep their sales tax revenue stream, which eliminates two of the proposed changes to last year's income tax plan. A change that stayed in the bill is that if you itemize on your State tax return, your income tax deductions will be cut by 24% this year and again each year until they are gone, whether there is economic growth or not. The income tax rates will be reduced only if the state exceeds 2% growth (this is not specifically defined). These changes to last year's tax plan produce over $390 million in revenue over the next five years. That is not enough to end the deficits, but it does eliminate $390 million worth of deductions that previously stayed in tax payers' pockets (those who itemize).
    Page 3 of 4 - The Senate's tax plan proposes a $497 million revenue increase over
    the next 5 years and the Governor's initial plan was over $685 million
    in revenue. Now the House and Senate conference committee will meet to work out their differences. Some big differences in the Senate plan are that the Senate sets the State sales tax rate at 6.3% indefinitely, the income tax rates will go down each year whether or not the economy improves, and the adoption tax credits are restored .
    Handicapped Placards and Plates
    We had an interesting hearing in Corrections & Juvenile Justice
    Committee this week dealing with disability placards (hang tags) and
    plates. Current law states that once a person who was issued a placard
    or license plate dies, the placard must be returned to the DMV and the
    plate must be returned to the County Treasurer. If another family
    member is also eligible for the placard or plate, they can bring in
    verification from their doctor and have the placard/plate transferred to
    their name. This bill, HB2393, would make the failure to return them a
    felony.
    The Director of Motor Vehicles testified in opposition to the bill
    saying that most of the placards and plates are returned, but most that
    are not returned are because spouses who are also disabled believe they can continue to use them as the vehicle was in both names. The bill did not address fraudulent use of the placards/plates, just the failure to return them. Therefore the DMV believes this proposed change would make a person who merely misunderstands the law, a felon.
    There was no proponent, so the Committee chose not to work the bill.
    The reason I mention this bill is that many folks probably do not
    realize that failure to return the placards when they expire is a
    misdemeanor with a $50 fine! The placards also have a tendency to break apart after long exposure to the sun, so do not just throw the pieces away. Be sure to take the pieces back to the DMV.
    Keep in Touch
    You can track my activities on my website www.meier4kansas.com, my
    FaceBook page www.facebook.com/Meier4Kansas, and Twitter
    www.twitter.com/melaniemeier. 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
    Page 4 of 4 - home or in Topeka. My office is on the 4th floor of the Capitol, Room
    451-S. To write to me, my office address is Kansas State Capitol,
    Topeka, KS 66612. You can also reach me at the legislative hotline,
    1-800-432-3924. Additionally, you can e-mail me at
    melanie.meier@house.ks.gov. And do not forget to follow the legislative session online at www.kslegislature.org.
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