KEPC UPDATE: New Gov on Weds, transpo task force, broadband access, school finance, internet tax lawsuit

In this issue …

  • A new governor on Wednesday
  • Bill on transportation task force gets a hearing
  • Broadband access an emerging problem
  • The plan on school finance
  • Survey shows how districts would spend $600 million in new dollars
  • South Dakota AG to discuss internet sales tax lawsuit


A new governor on Wednesday

Governor Sam Brownback has submitted his resignation as Governor of Kansas to the Secretary of State, effective at 3 p.m. on Wednesday of next week.  The U.S. Senate has confirmed him as ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom.

That means Lieutenant-Governor Jeff Colyer will become the Governor of Kansas.

On Wednesday, Colyer plans to attend Mass, tour a child mental health center, and have lunch in his hometown of Hays.  He will then return to Topeka for the swearing-in ceremony, which will be held in the Capitol rotunda.

Speculation is ongoing concerning how Colyer will compare to Brownback.  We are hearing he may be more open to Medicaid expansion.  Colyer’s ideas on how to satisfy the Kansas Supreme Court on K-12 education funding will also be of interest.


Bill on transportation task force gets a hearing

Senator Carolyn McGinn’s Senate Ways and Means Committee held hearings on Senate Bill 285.  Senate Bill 285 establishes a joint legislative transportation task force with members appointed from a variety of organizations.

Some of the testimony:

  • Bridgette Williams of the Heavy Constructors Association of Greater Kansas City discussed the $2.4 billion diverted from the 2010 transportation program to other purposes. “The diversion of transportation funds has delayed promised projects across the state and resulted in a decline in the level of annual maintenance of the existing system,” said Williams.  She added that SB 285 is the first step in a process that would bring back thousands of good-paying, skilled construction jobs back to Kansas, jobs that have gone to other states as funding for the current program has dropped.
  • Michael White of the Kansas Contractors Association asked the committee to consider how the Kansas transportation industry can grow the Kansas economy. “This may require hard conversations about State General Fund and State Highway Fund expenditures.”
  • Melissa Wangemann with the Kansas Association of Counties asked that public safety be considered by the task force. “There have been reports that traffic accident fatalities are increasing in Kansas.  At the local level, we see outdated roads, many of which do not have shoulders and other modern safety details.
  • Eric Smith with the League of Kansas Municipalities said, “Economic development opportunities for our member cities require a properly funded state transportation program.
  • Cathy Bennett with the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce said, “transportation is one of the major drivers of the economy in the KC region and throughout the state.”
  • Tom Whitaker of the Kansas Motor Carriers Association (the trucking industry) noted that the task force appears too tilted towards those that would profit from the program. He used members be included from highway users organizations.

A second day of hearings was held on Thursday.  Chair Carolyn McGinn said the committee will attempt to work the legislation next week.


Broadband access an emerging problem

Many legislators agree with a statement made this week by Kansas Representative Annie Kuether (D-Topeka).  Kuether, who is the ranking minority on the House Energy, Utilities, and Telecommunications Committee, was reacting to a discussion on the need to expand broadband access in rural areas of Kansas.

“It’s all throughout the building,” said Kuether, referring to Statehouse discussion of the issue.

The House Energy, Utilities, and Telecommunications heard from a representative of the cable television industry who is proposing a state task force on how to expand high speed broadband internet access.

John Federico, President of the Kansas Cable Telecommunications Association said the federal government is putting a lot of money into broadband, but he’s not sure there’s really a coordinated statewide effort.

“Let’s focus on the underserved areas,” he said, adding that Kansas should not focus on one technology over another.  He also said the state should determine how to pay for expanded service and that Kansas should keep away from already served areas.  He suggested a task force be formed, similar to the transportation program.

Some legislators on the committee disagreed that already served areas don’t need help.

The committee plans to continue discussions next week.


The plan on school finance

This was another slow week for school finance.  Facing a Kansas Supreme Court finding that the current law is unconstitutional, lawmakers seem to be moving slowly, at least in public.  The best guess of many Statehouse observers is that legislators are waiting to see how much money they need spend.

That information will come from the hiring of Texas A and M professor Dr. Lori L Taylor, who is conducting a cost study.  That won’t be available until March 15.


Survey shows how districts would spend $600 million in new dollars

In his blog this week, Mark Tallman of the Kansas Association of School Boards has released the results of a survey of the state’s school districts which asks how they would spend additional funding.  They dollars would be $600 million statewide over a three year period.

$600 million is the number mentioned most often as what may be needed to satisfy the Kansas Supreme Court.  First on the list spending on at-risk students, second is class size, and third is for more school counselors and social workers.

Here’s a link to the survey results.


South Dakota AG to discuss internet sales tax lawsuit

The Attorney General of South Dakota will appear before a joint meeting of the House and Senate Tax Committees next week.  South Dakota and 34 other states are suing online retailers Wayfair, and Newegg Inc. in an attempt to be able to collect state and local sales tax for online sales.

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to take up the case two weeks ago.

South Dakota AG Marty Jackley will speak, along with Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt and Marc Beshears of the Kansas Department of Revenue.  Kansas is one of the states that has joined the lawsuit.

Under current interpretations of the law, states may collect sales tax on interstate sales if the retailer has a physical presence in the state.  The lawsuit asks the U.S. Supreme Court to nullify the physical presence requirement.  At stake are millions of dollars that could be coming to state and local governments.


Bill tracking

Here’s our latest bill tracking on measures we think are of interest to our readers.  All of these bills are held over from 2017.  As new bills of interest are introduced, I will add them to the list.

You should be able to click on the bill number and be taken to the Kansas Legislature’s web site page for that particular bill.  You will be able to see all actions taken, read the bill, and read any supplemental notes (layman’s descriptions) and fiscal notes (how much does the bill cost the state) that have been prepared.