Thank you for your questions, ideas, and sharing your concerns over the last year. During this holiday season, I am grateful for the opportunity to serve you and to be part of returning Kansas back to sanity and solvency. We have always been a pragmatic, common-sense state, and with a few years trying other strategies, we are getting back to the basics that made our state great.
I wish you a joyous holiday season and a happy, healthy, safe, and prosperous New Year!
Here is the 2018 House Legislative Calendar to give you an idea of our schedule for the spring.
Please join me at the following legislative forum after the 2018 legislative session begins on January 8th:
Saturday, February 3rd at 8:30 a.m. at the Robbins Center at Fort Hays State University
Since I last wrote, I have been busy representing you at various conferences and learning opportunities throughout the district and across the state:
You pay the bills, you should know what theyíre for, thatís the point of transparency. While Kansas has been known for our forthrightness, that environment has changed significantly under Gov. Sam Brownback as he hid the damage his policies caused. You already know about our drastically underfunded schools. The Brownback Administration also borrowed from KPERS to pay for Brownbackís failed tax plan and left our roads and bridges in dire need of repairs. Then, we heard news about six-figure contracts awarded to unqualified consultants at the Department of Commerce. If that wasnít bad enough, we have missing, unaccounted for, and dying kids in our foster care system.
While I was gone for a few years, I remember how the legislature and state departments used to work, so upon my return to the legislature this year, I wasnít surprised when the Kansas City Star revealed how hard it has become for Kansans to really know whatís going on.
Thereís no doubt our state is in poor condition right now. I want my service in Topeka to help restore faith in Kansas government. Change started last session by ending the failed tax cuts, even though President Trump and Republicans in Congress are set to repeat the disastrous Brownback ďexperimentĒ at the national level. The Hays Post recently ran an article to that effect. In Kansas, Iím hopeful the news of increases in actual and projected state revenue for the remainder of this fiscal year and FY 2019 are good signs.
Removing the cloak of secrecy in Topeka will go a long way to moving our state forward. Some of you may know the audio for House and Senate floor action is streamed live. Thatís a good start, but I also want to see live video streaming, which will now be the case in most committee rooms for hearings. Live video coverage of floor proceedings is a change that needs to be made through the House and Senate rules drafted at the start of each new legislative session. I support this rule change.
Meanwhile, I promise to let you know how I vote and why. In addition, I pledge moving forward to have my vote recorded on all committee votes, which is currently not required by the rules. You can always reach me through social media and my email, as well as meet with me at my public forums. Speaking of votes, you can review mine from the 2017 session by going here.
Schools remain top budget priority
The Legislature relies heavily on the Consensus Revenue Estimating Group to base its budgets, which is now on a two-year (or biennial) cycle. Because the Legislature ended the Brownback tax cuts, revenue estimates went up by $230 million more than we expected. The good news is that we have more money to pay our bills and start the lengthy process of reversing all the damage done to critical state programs during the Brownback years.
School funding will again dominate the legislative session in 2018. While we made some progress last year with modest increases in school funding, we have a long way to go before we can even say that our schools are adequately funded.
The recent decision by the Kansas Supreme Court on school funding prompted the Legislature to form a special joint committee, the Special Committee on a Comprehensive Response to the School Finance Decision. The committee met to hear testimony on how the state should respond to the many policy issues and budget questions caused by the decision.
I am very disappointed in recent comments by Republican leaders in the House and Senate who said they will not consider raising additional tax revenue to support adequate school funding. After several years of severely underfunded budgets, Iím not sure how we can meet the Courtís decision without additional funding. Many state programs are already at a breaking point.
In addition, I oppose the strategy to change the Kansas Constitution with an amendment that would prevent the courts from closing schools next year or change the definition of an ďsuitableĒ education in Kansas. Many believe it will take at least $600 million more in funding to satisfy the Courtís ruling. Five of the justices on the Court faced the voters in 2016, and all were retained. I firmly believe the Court is not the problem. We simply must provide more funding for Kansas schools. To not do so would harm Kansas children for generations to come.
Just this week, Attorney General Derek Schmidt asked the legislature to complete its work in March so his office can prepare arguments for the court in April. We have much work to do and little time to accomplish them.