This week finds us moving closer to the end of what has been promised to be a shorter legislative session than those in the recent past. If the schedule holds, we will make our first adjournment in just three weeks. That leaves a lot of issues and not a lot of time.
The biggest issue remains the state budget. The House appropriations and tax committees passed out their answer to the governor’s proposed budget last week, as well as the Senate’s modifications to that plan. The House version calls for the sunset of the six-tenths of a cent sales tax and an across-the-board reduction in the amount of individual deductions taxpayers can itemize on their state tax return. It also calls for about $370 million in reductions to the Kansas Department of Transportation budget, which will force at least a two-year delay in the comprehensive transportation plan known as T-WORKS. That means that some projects scheduled for the out-years of the plan may not ever be completed.
The House version of the tax plan rejects making further cuts to the state income tax rate unless and until there is economic growth. When growth exceeds 2 percent per year, then slight cuts to the income tax rates would be made. This process would continue until the income tax was at 0 percent.
The four big questions to follow as the budget discussion moves center stage are:
1) What happens to the 1 cent sales tax that was supposed to sunset this year?
2) What revenue generators (some call them taxes) will be put in place to fill the hole caused by last year’s large tax cuts? (Look for the home mortgage interest deduction and property tax deduction to figure prominently here.)
3) Will tax rates continue to go down? If so, how? (The governor says yes after 2017; the House says only when growth justifies it.)
4) How much money will be taken from the transportation department?
The House also recently took up and passed a series of bills relating to guns. The two bills receiving the most attention concerned when and where holders of a concealed carry permit could carry their firearms in public places, specifically relating to city halls, county courthouses and universities. The bill was heavily amended, but ultimately passed. The second concerned an attempt to limit the federal government from enforcing laws against guns manufactured or assembled in Kansas. This bill had a provision allowing for the arrest of federal officials who attempted to enforce laws in Kansas. An effort to amend that provision out of the bill was defeated by one vote. Both of these bills will be heard in the Senate where I expect further changes.
I remain committed to preserving all of our constitutional rights, but I think we must also remember we live in a federal system where our constitution says federal law trumps state law most of the time. I encourage citizens who are concerned about the role of federal laws to be sure to contact our federal elected officials to make sure your concerns are heard. Here is contact info for our U.S. representative and senators:
• U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins — (202) 255-6601
• U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran — (202) 224-6521
• U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts — (202) 224-4774
Thank you for your time in reading this, and most importantly for the honor of serving you in the Kansas House of Representatives.
Blaine Finch is Kansas House member, representing Franklin County. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (785) 296-7655.