The 2020 legislative session kicked off on January 13 with a busy week organizing committees. On Wednesday I was honored to be elected chairman of the Building & Construction Committee. This committee reviews all state leases and construction projects.

Gov. Kelly gave her State of State address, which was a broad overview of the Governor’s vision for Kansas. Larry Campbell, the Governor’s budget director presented the proposed budget to our Senate Ways and Means and the House Appropriations committees jointly. The Governor’s budget is built on the premise of re-amortizing KPERS, the state's retirement program. She wants to use KPERS to help finance the budget that may provide some short-term gain but would add another $4.4 billion in debt to the unfunded liability and an additional 10 years to the payment plan, if the plan were approved. If the State continues on our current payment plan, KPERS is expected to be fully funded in 15 years. At this time KPERS is funded at about 68% and our unfunded liability is about $7 billion. Last year I opposed the re-amortization and I will again this year.

Governor Kelly’s proposed budget will cost around $7.8 billion for the upcoming fiscal year. The proposed plan includes various new social spending initiatives, Medicaid Expansion, delaying payments to our state retirement fund and a pay raise for state employees. Even with a billion dollar budget carryover, the Governor continues to request transfers from KDOT (Kansas Department of Transportation).

In an attempt to help Kansans with property tax costs, the Governor suggests funding a program called the Local Ad Valorem Tax Reduction Fund, which hasn’t been used since 2003. It is a cumbersome fund designed to send money back to local government who will decide whether or not to pass the money on to taxpayers. LAVTRF relief estimates calculated by independent researchers show, after going through all the red tape, taxpayers who own a $150,000 home will only save an average of about $12-$25 per year depending on the county.

The Governor also wants to provide $53 million in tax credits to low-income families for sales tax relief while a Republican plan would eliminate the cumbersome tax return credit element and simply lower the amount of tax paid at the store when Kansans buy groceries.

To help try to offset at least some of her spending plans, the Governor would like to begin taxing streaming services like Amazon Prime, Disney Plus and Netflix, which, if approved, would take affect in July. Her budget plan, according to the state’s bipartisan Legislative Research Department, overspends and cuts into our reserves by an estimated $571.8 million. Republicans strongly support allowing Kansans to take advantage of the Trump Tax Policy which allows taxpayers to itemize their deductions to get breaks on property taxes, mortgage interest expense and healthcare costs.

We have opportunities for young students in middle school, junior high or the first years of high school to come to Topeka and be a page. It is a great learning experience about the legislative process and an opportunity to see Kansas’ beautiful Capitol building. If you are interested contact my office assistant at 785 296-7399.

Thank you to all who returned my survey. Anyone who did not receive a survey and would like a copy of my update/survey may call my office and request a copy by mail or email, 785 296-7399 or rick.billinger@senate.ks.gov.

It is an honor and pleasure to serve the 40th Senate District of Kansas.

Rick Billinger, R-Goodland, is the senator for the 40th Kansas Senate District.