In this issue …
- Legislature returns for how long?
- Report: early retirement program led to state hospital problems
- Kansas bond ratings threatened by income tax cut
- Kansas League of Women Voters opposes income tax cut
- Siegfried signals change in KanCare direction
- KEPC honored
Legislature returns for how long?
Kansas lawmakers return to the Statehouse Wednesday for what is expected to be a difficult veto session. Both the House and Senate convene at 10 in the morning. Most of the work of the next few weeks will take place on the floor and in conference committees where House and Senate negotiators will try to iron out differences on major issues.
The Tax Conference Committee, which is considering reductions in the state individual income tax, is expected to meet Wednesday afternoon.
Budget writing committees of the House and Senate met separately last week and are moving forward on one massive budget bill for the remainder of this year and for next fiscal year. Before leaving on break, negotiations broke down over a budget bill that legislators hoped to debate prior to departing Topeka.
Some moderate legislators are privately speculating the delay was not about a disagreement, but an excuse to allow more time to consider redistricting and tax legislation. That’s because once a budget is passed, there’s usually little reason to continue to hang around and the pressure increases to go home.
Report: early retirement program led to state hospital problems
A new wrinkle in the budget is a legislative staff report on problems at state hospitals apparently brought on by Governor Brownback’s voluntary retirement incentive program last year. The program offered health insurance benefits and one time payments to those eligible employees who retired early. The plan was designed to cut the state workforce and save $34 million over two years.
According to an account of the report in the Lawrence Journal-World, the reduction in workforce led to staffing problems which include low pay, long hours, and dangerous working conditions.
Larned State Hospital is reportedly in danger of losing accreditation from the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services, which will result in the loss of $14.5 million in federal funding. Also mentioned in the report are Osawatomie State Hospital and Rainbow Mental Health Facility, and Parsons State Hospital.
Kansas bond ratings threatened by income tax cut
The financial news publication Bloomberg says Kansas and Oklahoma proposals to cut income taxes may hurt municipal bond ratings in those states.
Some excerpts from the story by reporter Esmé E. Deprez:
“Proposals to cut income taxes are threatening a winning streak for municipal bonds from Kansas and Oklahoma, which have been the safest among U.S. states for more than two years.”
The Bloomberg story quotes municipal bond strategist Chris Mier of Chicago’s Loop Capital Markets LLC.
“This has got to be one of the more worrisome trends in state and local finance. If this gains acceptance, it’s an experiment in state and local finance at a very vulnerable time.”
In November, Moody’s Investor Service, one of the biggest bond rating agencies, assigned a Aa2 rating with a negative outlook for Kansas Development Finance Authority (KDFA) bonds to help fund the Capitol renovation project. The rating at that time did not reflect proposals to reduce or eliminate state income taxes.
The Moody’s report said:
“The outlook for the state of Kansas is negative, in view of the state’s general fund balance depletion, continued reliance on non-recurring measures, and lack of a plan to rebuild reserves, as well as significant future funding pressure from pensions, Medicaid and education.”
Kansas League of Women Voters opposes income tax cut
The League of Women Voters of Kansas is opposing both the House and Senate income tax cuts that are currently in conference committee, saying the cuts will shift the state’s tax burden more to low income residents.
President of the organization, Ernestine Krehbiel said the legislation would hurt courts, education, and programs for those in need.
Krehbiel was quoted on the League’s position in a recent Wichita Eagle story:
“How far can we cut in Kansas and not get to the place where we’re losing the very things that make this state have a wonderful quality of life?
Siegfried signals change in KanCare direction
Kansas House Majority Leader Arlen Siegfried is reportedly offering a budget proviso that would take services for the developmentally disabled out of Governor Brownback’s KanCare program until 2014.
In what appears to be a buckling to public and legislative pressure, the Kansas Health Institute News Service reports, “The proviso has been cleared with the Governor’s Office, according to sources in the Legislature and the administration, which means it likely will move through the Legislature with little or no opposition.”
Considered the most controversial part of Brownback’s plan to overhaul Medicaid, lawmakers have made several attempts to remove long-term services for the developmentally disabled from the Administration’s proposal.
The Kansas Economic Progress Council has been recognized for “outstanding contributions to public education in Kansas” by the Confidence in Public Education Task Force. The Task Force is a non-profit corporation formed in 1981 among state education agencies to recognize volunteers and heighten awareness of the important role of public education in society.
KEPC was recognized in the Business/Partner Activity category and was nominated by the Kansas National Education Association. A framed certificate was presented to KEPC Executive Director Bernie Koch at Sunday’s K-NEA Representative Assembly in Topeka, which was attended by several hundred of the organization’s members.