By REP. JOHN BARKER
Although the 2013 session just got underway on Jan. 14, I have already found myself plenty busy serving as your representative for the 70th District. You showed your confidence in me throughout the November elections and our state leaders have shown their confidence in me by appointing me to serve on six committees, several of which are key in shaping our state’s future. I will serve on the Judiciary Committee, Committee on Local Governments, Election Committee, Veterans-Military and Homeland Security Committee, Pensions and Benefits Committee and the Legislative Post Audit Committee. It is an honor to be selected to serve on these committees.
Here is a quick overview of what we have been working on thus far:
The lens through which I will evaluate budget and tax proposals is a simple question: will these policies improve opportunities and financial wellbeing for Kansans?”
Education, Medicaid, roads, public safety, administration functions, and social/safety net programs all compete for limited resources. Spending on all of these programs has risen while revenues stagnated or declined. In short, the state over-committed and we now must prioritize which programs to continue funding and at what level. These are tough decisions, but taking the easy out is what brought us to these crossroads. We can no longer afford to keep “kicking the can down the road,” expecting our children and grandchildren to pay the bill.
Gov. Sam Brownback has initiated reforms to grow our economy and state revenues. The first reforms provide tax relief for all Kansas taxpayers beginning with the 2013 tax year. Reforming Kansas to be a tax friendly state has received encouraging attention in the business media regarding the lure of Kansas to those businesses looking to relocate operations.
A short delay is expected before the reforms provide the intended boost to the economy and state revenues. In the interim, there is a proposal to continue the current state sales tax rate, which was increased as a “temporary” revenue fix in 2010. For taxpayers, if continued, the otherwise temporary increase should be more than offset by reductions in income tax rates. I want to know more before committing to this path, and I would very much like to hear your thoughts on this proposal.
Gov. Brownback also proposes eliminating the state income tax. To reach that goal more quickly, he suggests phasing out the mortgage interest deduction – taxpayers could still take the much larger deduction on their federal tax return, this proposal only affects state income taxes.
The Kansas Dept. of Revenue reports most taxpayers would save more from reduced tax rates than this deduction. I would appreciate your comments in this regard.
School funding is based upon a decades old formula containing few safeguards regarding fiscal accountability and student achievement.
It does, however, contain special funding triggers requiring large increases regardless of the ability of Kansas taxpayers to fund them. All the while, less than 65 percent of funds make it into the classroom to assist our teachers in benefitting students. We can surely do better.
During the recent recession, the state delayed automatic funding increases rather than raise taxes on already hard-pressed Kansas families. Some administrators then sued Kansas taxpayers to extract the funds. The resulting ruling, if implemented, could cause a $600 million property tax increase. Attorney General Schmidt has appealed the ruling, seeking to protect Kansas families from this financial impact.
The Legislature will revisit the formula to identify efficiencies and establish greater accountability, both in how tax dollars are spent and in academic achievement. This is not “cutting education.”
On the contrary, we must ensure our kids derive the greatest benefit from every education dollar spent. Education Week magazine just released a study ranking Kansas among the top 20 states for education dollars spent, but only 37th for achievement.
Kansas is the only state to select its judges with a system largely controlled by a single interest group – Kansas lawyers. It has been proposed that this process be reformed by amending the Kansas Constitution to provide that the Governor makes judicial nominations and those nominees be confirmed by the Kansas Senate. The change purportedly would allow Kansans to learn more about nominees and provide input through their elected senator. The proposal has already passed the Kansas Senate, but must also pass the Kansas House before it would appear on the ballot for consideration by voters.
While state government cannot make it rain or restore withered crops, there are resources available to help those affected by the drought. Gov. Brownback has created a website dedicated to drought-related resources. The website can be accessed at https://governor.ks.gov/kansas-drought-resources.
The Kansas Secretary of Agriculture has proposed repealing certain restrictions on corporate farming. In general, Kansas law limits corporate ownership, barring many out-of-state entities from engaging in farming operations in Kansas. The Kansas Attorney General has recently expressed doubts whether certain aspects of the restrictions are constitutional. Any discussion in this regard needs input from our farming communities.
Please share your thoughts with me on these or any other issue of concern. I can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or drop me a letter at Rep. John E. Barker; 103 Wassinger Ave.; Abilene, KS 67410. I can be reached via phone in Topeka during the legislative session at (785) 296-7674 or in the district at (785) 479-7519.