May 20, 2017 | Bill Tracker
By: Dodie Wellshear, Government Relations Consultant
Legislature in Overtime
This Monday marks the 98th day of the 2017 legislative session, into what most of us would call “overtime.” From the beginning, legislative leaders allowed that this session might take closer to 100 days given the weighty issues before them, but it’s clear that day will be in their rearview mirror before the session wraps up.
The real sticking point is assembling a comprehensive tax package that can pass both legislative chambers, without being vetoed by the governor. The House has shown willingness to pass healthier revenue bills, including one vetoed by the governor earlier in the session. The House voted to override the veto, but the Senate failed to do so by three votes.
Democrats are also slowing down progress on a tax package vote, insisting on passage of a school finance bill before a tax bill. Their rationale is that running a tax package first may artificially hold down the amount invested in school finance for the coming years. They have stated a school finance package should be passed first, so legislators have a clear idea of the revenues needing to be raised.
About that Cigarette Tax
An increase on cigarettes is still in the mix, at least behind the scenes, as legislators grapple with assembling a comprehensive tax package that meets the revenue needs of our state. Most agree that the proposed increase on other tobacco products will likely not be in the mix, however.
While polling shows the cigarette tax to be fairly popular among voters, it is less so among legislators. One key argument against is that it is unfair to pick one segment of the population to bear a tax burden that they did not create. These are policymakers who are also clear that it was the dramatic 2012 income tax decreases that created much of our current fiscal crisis.
Some want to simply repeal the 2012 tax changes, but most legislators and the governor are battling over the exact structure of the personal income tax rates – between a two-tier, favored by the governor, and a three-tier, favored by Democrats and moderate GOP members.
There still has not been a tax package proposed that meets the full budget demands, including a court-ordered school finance fix related to adequate funding. Another key issue, though, is that there are few taxes that will raise the revenue needed in the next fiscal year.
That is where the increase on cigarettes becomes a critical consideration in a tax package. It will start garnering immediate revenue and is a solid performer among Kansas’ various taxes. If the tax on cigarettes is raised by $1.50, the state can look at $61 million in fiscal year 2018; raising it by $1.00 brings in $52.8 million.
It’s a tax that leaders aren’t talking much about publicly, but privately they see it as a tax and an amount that can bring more immediate revenue and can fill in the “holes” of proposed tax packages.
KanCare Provider Cuts
Advocates are still awaiting conference committee action on HB 2079, which is where budget leaders are saying they plan to restore the KanCare provider cuts of 2016. The measure has been passed in separate bills, SB 94 and HB 2180, by each chamber respectively, but neither bill has made it through both chambers.
There were some differences between the House- and Senate-passed versions, but both fully restore the provider cuts and focus remaining funds on other Medicaid services.
Family Doctor of the Day
The Family Doctor of the Day program is available to legislators during the statutory 90-day session. As the 2017 Legislature has passed the 90th day, the service is no longer available. It’s difficult to explain how valued this service is to legislators and Capitol staff. We hope that physicians are already looking ahead to next year, so that every legislative day will be covered in 2018. Thank you to all who participated this year, many more than once, and provided an important health care service at the Kansas Capitol.