Olathe Rep. Mike Kiegerl’s end-of-session report for Topeka legislative session: ‘The most difficult session in my 5-year tenure’

From Mike Kiegerl:

After a contentious fight over SB 51, the annexation bill that both chambers passed, the Kansas legislature adjourned Friday morning until the Sine Die session June 4th. We started Thursday 9 am and ended 2:37 am Friday. I got home at 4:30 am and I’m still recovering from the marathon session but I wanted to get my thoughts to you while their still fresh in my tired brain.

This was the most difficult session in my 5 year tenure and, according to old timers, the most difficult ever. Overshadowed by the deep recession and consequent sharp declines in revenue, the budget for fiscal 2009 had to be completely revised and a workable budget for fiscal 2010, which begins July 1, needed to be finished before the 90 day span allocated for each annual session. At times it seemed an impossible task made more complicated by a Governor whose attention was focused on national office and not the needs of the state. Sadly, her contribution to the budgets was limited by what she did not want and there were no practical solutions offered. Therefore the 2009 budget is essentially the version of the House while the 2010 budget is entirely the work product of the Senate.

THE FINAL BUDGET – EXPLANATION OF VOTE

I voted against the final version of the budget and a related bill for a $70 million tax increase to fill a gap in it. The former on a 64-61 vote passed; the latter failed 72-49. Both chambers had worked hard at proposing solutions to the crisis and, not unexpectedly, there were significant differences which will be described below. The normal legislative procedure is to vote on each bill and then go to conference to find compromise and common ground to get a final bill both houses can accept. In this instance, 14 “Republicans” joined all 49 Democrats to concur with the Senate bill and they succeeded in passing the motion to concur with a 2 vote margin. This rendered the House bill moot and the Senate’s bill is on the way to the Governor. This bill contains the following provisions:

-A 2.75% across-the- board spending cut

-No $25 million slider payments to our cities and the county

-Transfer of $25 million from the state highway fund to the state general fund

-Sweeping $17 million agency special revenue funds to SGF

-Borrowing authority of $38 million

-A $3.5 million cut in the Kansas Technology Enterprise Corp

-A $70 million tax increase

-Insufficient funds for the educationally and developmentally disabled and children on the waiting list for services they are entitled to receive, therefore the list will grow.

-Reduction of $8.5 million from public safety

The House version had a different approach:

-It cut spending $50 million more or about 4% in total

-No increase in taxes

-Payment of $25 million promised to cities and county

-No transfer of funds to SGF

-No borrowing authority

-No reduction of public safety funds

-More funds for ED and DD wait list reduction.

These would have been a basis for discussion and compromise but it never came to that. I had made it clear that I could not support a bill which does not provide care for the neediest amongst us and which raises taxes during a recession. I kept my word and voted no.

EDUCATION FUNDING VERSUS EVERYTHING ELSE

It is no exaggeration to say that this budget is the result of the activities of the strongest lobby in Topeka. There are 42 lobbyists in the “education” lobby. They resist any attempt to make the changes needed for a high quality globally competitive education system. The only answer these folk have to anything related to education is more money. In the past, when we were taking in more revenues than expected, they got what they asked for. I voted for the largest single increase of over $1 billion four years ago. Now that we don’t have the excess money, the reaction is unreasonable. Their efforts are “cut everybody else but not us.” Never mind the requirements for public safety, the disabled, the poor foster children, the elderly, etc, throw them under the bus!

They succeeded to gather the necessary votes to get their budget. They were no help in saving the taxpayers any money. We still have 295 school districts. Economies of scale and the need for efficient administration demand consolidation. Sad to say they have only postponed the inevitable. When the Federal funds run out in 2011, the shortfall will be huge and the required cut backs enormous.

The clamor over the cuts proposed by the House, K-12 Base Aid Per Pupil would have been $4,188 vs $4,236 in the Senate bill was deafening and irrational. Both chambers passed SB 84 Friday which allows school districts to continue levying property taxes on a percentage of State aid as if it had not been reduced at all. The upshot: school districts get $7 million more through LOBs and can raise $28 million more next year.

LAST MINUTE LEGISLATION

In the final hours we passed a number of bills, all except for the annexation bill; fairly non controversial. The following were enacted and are on the way to the Governor. Go to www.kansasvotes.org for a synopsis, for full content go to www.kslegislature.org.

SB 33 State Board of Pharmacy

HB 2162 Behavioral Sciences Regulatory Board

HB 2365 Tax gap in budget

HB 2369 The Energy Act of 2009

SB 51 Annexation Statutes

HB 2072 KPERS (three bills in one)

SB 168 Salaries of state employees

SB 84 School LOB

HB 2158 (5 bills dealing with) Highway Patrol, Ethics Commission, Election Issues, KGEC

HB 2267 (three in one) KBI background checks, racial profiling, commission on rural policy

THE SUNFLOWER COMPROMISE

The new Governor Mark Parkinson agreed with Sunflower Electric that an 895 megawatt coal fired plant will be built in Holcomb. This represents a compromise as the original plan called for two 700 megawatt plants. Nevertheless it is a great success for all Kansans. There will be 1,500 new construction jobs in Western Kansas where jobs are scarce and 400 permanent well paying positions once the plant I built.

The state gains income and tax revenues as we’ll export 600 megawatts we don’t yet need. Energy prices will remain stable, which benefits consumers as will net metering.

Our infrastructure will have additional transmission lines which also helps wind generators. The plant will produce less than half the CO2 emissions of the current coal plants and much of the CO2 will be recaptured due to an innovative process by KSU. The bill also reestablishes how business will be regulated in the future which will induce companies to locate in Kansas.

CASUALTIES RIP

Bills dealing with the death penalty never came to a vote. My impression is that no one wanted to vote on the subject. This leaves the present laws on the books.

The primary seat belt law made it to the floor but was defeated. We already have a law mandating use of a seatbelt and a police officer can write a citation if you’re stopped for another infraction. The new law would have allowed officers to stop cars solely to check whether a driver is wearing your belt.

Grocery store sale of full-strength beer: We passed a bill out of committee but it never made it “above the line” to be voted on. This is an important bill which pits grocery against liquor stores. We learned that the difference in alcohol is very small between 3.2% beer and “full strength” (about 4%) because of how the alcohol is measured. One is by volume, the other by weight.

CASUALTIES HOPING FOR RESURRECTION

The rescission of instate tuition for illegal immigrants was defeated in the House. This gives an $8,000 a year subsidy to the children of illegal’s to attend a State university. American citizens from surrounding states must pay full tuition. This preference of foreigners over Americans must stop, especially when we’re in a financial crisis. There is no justification for this because once these students graduate they are prohibited from getting work in the US by federal law. We’ll try again next session.

Kate’s law which would extend insurance coverage to autistic children also failed as did HB 2227, co sponsored by Rep Kinzer and myself which would give parents the right to choose how and where these children would be educated. Both are sorely needed and will be reintroduced next year.

HB 2125, my hearing aid bill never made it out of committee and an aggressive attempt will be made next session to bring it to the floor. I believe I have commitments from enough Democrats to have a chance. Opposing my bill is the insurance industry.

SB 25, the smoking ban: I believe that the proponents’ insistence on a total state wide ban derailed legislation. Had restaurants, bars and private clubs been allowed to set their own rules this bill would have passed. My view was to take what you can get and come back for more next year. There is no doubt the bill will be reintroduced and a smoking ban in one form or another will pass.

APRIL REVENUES UP – A GLIMMER OF HOPE?

Some good news: the state took in $845,000 more in April than was projected. A drop in the bucket, but any positive news is welcome. While unemployment is still increasing, the rate of increase is slowing. The stock market has been strong but is still down 30%. Are these signs that the worst is over?  Possibly, but don’t celebrate yet. The stimulus is likely to make an impact in the short run but spending at a breath taking rate and taking on unprecedented levels of debt will have undesirable consequences. Watch commodities, oil is going up and the dollar is weakening. Pray for the economy, pray for the nation.

THE NEW GOVERNOR

Mark Parkinson addressed a joint session of the legislature on April 29. While the speech itself was unremarkable, its tone and sentiment was meaningful and well received. He offered to cooperate with the legislature to find solutions to our problems. This would be a welcome change; his predecessor’s confrontational nature frequently got in the way of doing the peoples business. She leaves the state with few accomplishments.

The Governor gets full recognition for his bold and decisive action on energy and restoring regulatory certainty. This is a major benefit to Kansas. His willingness to look at all areas of the budget also augurs well for the future cooperation between the administration and the legislature. All in all a great improvement and I wish him well and look forward to working with him.

PLANNED PARENTHOOD PROTECTING SEX ABUSERS OF KIDS

Senator Huelscamp and Representative Kinzer produced a tape during a press conference which shows how the abuser of a 14 year old girl was being protected by Planned  Parenthood, a sex crime cover-up. This agency, which maintains an Overland Park abortion facility, is under investigation to determine whether late term abortions were performed in violation of Kansas law. They get hundreds of millions in federal and state funds, but no longer from the state of Kansas. We stripped all money allocated to PP and gave it to community health centers (SB 22).

UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE NEWS

Under TARA, Kansas is eligible to receive $69 million for the State unemployment fund. As with most stimulus money there are substantial strings attached and we had to make a decision whether to accept the Washington largesse. We need to remember that the federal funds are a one time payment and we’ll have to live with the required changes after that money is gone, and they are not cheap. We took the $22 million that has already been sent to us. HB 2374 passed April 3, and implements the following new procedures and policies to comply with federal law:

-An alternative base period is added.

-Must provide benefits to workers seeking part time employment

-Extend benefits while a worker is in training.

The first payment of $22 million has arrived and the unemployment fund which was in good shape is in better condition now.

WIND TURBINE PLANT COMING TO KANSAS

SB 108 revised the Economic Revitalization and Reinvestment Act by allowing wind and solar energy manufacturers to qualify for up to $5 million in bonds. One such company is already taking advantage of this legislation passed in March. SIEMENS, headquartered in Munich, Germany will build a wind turbine manufacturing facility in Hutchinson where the nacelles (structures which house the turbine components) will be built.The plant will be a 300,000 square foot, $50 million facility which will employ 400 workers. The first 90 ton nacelle will be shipped in December 2010.

WHAT IS TO COME IN 2010?

Unfortunately the House vote on the Senate’s Omnibus budget happened because some lawmakers seemed to want to speed up the legislative process instead of rolling up their sleeves and working to solve the financial crisis. As mentioned before, this will only postpone the inevitable need to make major changes in all government departments and programs. I’m concerned how the next budget will be handled. A $600 million shortfall is predicted and we won’t have federal funds. I fear a solution will be to attempt raising taxes drastically.

That is why I’m backing a proposal by Rep Tafanelli (R, Ozawkie) that sets up an independent panel of experts and leaders but no legislators to evaluate and identify essential government services and to make reduction recommendations on the others. Such a committee would have the ability to help make difficult decisions on state government

CHILDRENS ISSUES

The rotating chairmanship between House and Senate places me in the chair this year of the Children’s Issues Committee, with Senator Lynn vice chair. We will hold hearings on SRS practices and policies, Kate’s law, and HB 2227 in the fall. More details will follow. All hearings are open to the public and if you wish to testify please note again that legislation should be pre-filed for the best chance of passage. Therefore, let’s get together if I you have an idea you want to see enacted. Keep in touch.

PERSONAL STUFF YOU MIGHT NOT BE INTERESTED IN

Monday morning I attended a meeting with the Secretary of Transportation, Deb Miller in her office to find out the details of a plan to connect K10 with I-35 by a highway from De Soto via Edgerton, Gardner and Spring Hill, I’ll report on that with a brief message, and I send another newsletter after Sine Die. Then we’ll publish our newsletter every four to six weeks until next session.

My family is all excited about our up coming trip. Most of the family will be gone 2 weeks. My saintly wife and I intend to spend an extra week visiting my sister and family in Germany. Praise the Lord, Peggy is getting better but not yet 100%.

Upon return I’ll look for a job teaching a course at a local college in the fall. I’ll start swimming at the Y tomorrow, every day for an hour. Need to lose 65 lbs. That won’t happen but I’ll be happy if I lose enough not to have to look in the mirror to see what shoes I’m wearing!

THE LAST WORD

“Never forget only dead fish swim with the stream.”

- Malcolm Muggeridge, author of Jesus Rediscovered (back in print). A great hero of mine.

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