Critical topics at the forefront in Topeka
The first week of the 2013 legislative session was a busy one. During Gov. Sam Brownback's State of the State address, he addressed a joint meeting of the Legislature on the issues he wishes to take on during this term. Gov. Brownback said the state of the state is strong and he exclaimed, "Watch out Texas, here comes Kansas!"
The session ahead will be busy and challenging, but, by working together, I am confident Kansas will be put on a continued path to prosperity and growth. Here are a few of the many issues the legislature will work on this year.
Tax policy: Last session ended with the simplification of the tax code from three income tax brackets to two. The top and low end rate tax rate was decreased with the new rates are 4.9 percent and 3 percent respectively. This tax cut should curb the loss of businesses that have been fleeing Kansas for states that have a more attractive tax policy. Gov. Brownback wishes income tax rates to be decreased even further, eventually down to zero. I am committed to economic growth and wish to encourage this growth by decreasing taxes and leaving more capital in the private sector.
Budget: The governor is proposing a two-year budget instead of the traditional one-year budget. This will allow for increased budgetary certainty for our schools and local governments. The budget for the state of Kansas has come a long way in the last two years; from having $876.05 left in the bank and facing a $500,000,000 shortfall to last year ending with $500,000,000 in the bank. I look forward to continuing this trend by voting for a fiscally responsible budget that continues to find efficiencies in government while providing the necessary resources for key services.
Education: School funding is based upon a decades-old formula containing few safeguards regarding fiscal accountability and student achievement. It does, however, contain a litany of special funding triggers that require large increases regardless of the ability of Kansas taxpayers to fund them. An eye-popping statistic regarding school funding is that less than 65 percent of funds, on average, ever make it into the classroom to benefit students. We can and should do better.
During the recent economic downturn, the state chose to delay automatic education funding increases, rather than raise taxes on already hard-pressed Kansas families. School administrators immediately sued Kansas taxpayers to extract the funds. A state court recently issued a ruling that, if implemented, will require a $600 million property tax increase on Kansas families. Attorney General Derek Schmidt has appealed the decision, protecting Kansas families from this financial devastation.
Judicial selection: Kansas is the only state in the nation that uses a system to select its judges that is controlled by a single interest group -- Kansas lawyers. Those with the greatest economic and professional interest in judicial decisions are the very people charged with choosing our judges. Legislation is expected during the 2013 session to remove this conflict of interest and open up the process to public light. One proposal is to require those nominated for appointment be approved by the Kansas Senate, allowing Kansas citizens to learn about nominees and provide input into the process through their elected senator. More information on this and other proposals is expected soon.
KDOT/KTA: Kansas currently has two agencies -- the Kansas Department of Transportation and the Kansas Turnpike Authority -- assigned with the same task; maintaining the highways for the state of Kansas. The house and the governor continue to work together to reduce the size of government, and it is logical for the state of Kansas to combine these two agencies. Currently, there is $14,000,000 in wasted spending that could be avoided if the agencies were combined. One example of the inefficiencies of having two agencies is that KDOT and KTA have sheds on either side of the street in the Emporia area. Merging these two agencies would reduce the size of government and result in more responsible governing.
Second Amendment: In 2006, Kansas passed its first concealed-carry bill. Since then, more than 55,000 law-abiding Kansans have applied and been granted their constitutional right to protect themselves. Many have said guns have no place in public buildings. The problem is it is irresponsible to prevent law-abiding citizens from protecting themselves if adequate security is not provided. We all can agree that a sign of a gun with a line through it does little to stop those who wish to do harm. I will stand firm in support of our Second Amendment rights and defense of our families.
The governor has set important goals for the legislature, and it is up to us to refine them. Do not hesitate to contact me if with your thoughts and concerns. I am dedicated to providing outstanding constituent service and your continued communication is vital to that process. You can stay connected by following my Facebook page at www.facebook.com/TravisforKansas and website at travisforkansas.com. As always, feel free to contact my office at (785) 296-4683.
Travis Couture-Lovelady represents the 110th District in the Kansas House of Representatives. firstname.lastname@example.org