This week has seen some major bi-partisan cooperation. The last four years have been marked by deeply divided, dysfunctional legislature resulting in a terrible financial situation. We have been making tough decisions and trying to come up with a plan to move Kansas forward to try to address things like our state's rapidly declining credit rating, budget holes and honoring obligations. I even met with the governor early in the week.
As you probably have seen, a comprehensive bill put forth by the House Tax Committee would largely reverse Governor Sam Brownback’s “march to zero” tax experiment, which has put Kansas in a fiscal crisis. While I did not ask for the 2012 severe tax exemptions, we are where we are and I had to make a difficult choice this week.
Sub HB 2178 repeals the LLC loophole, which has allowed 330,000 Kansans to avoid paying any state income tax. It also reinstates the third tax bracket to make tax policy fair. In addition, the legislation will protect the mortgage interest deduction rate of 50%, and returns the medical expense itemized deduction at 100%.
The bill underwent the initial vote on the House Floor on Wednesday, February 15th. It passed with overwhelming bipartisan support, 83 votes to 39. The final vote on the bill occurred Thursday, passing 76 to 48.
The bill passed the Senate Chamber with a bipartisan majority 22 to 18 vote, and will now be sent to the Governor as early as next week. Brownback can choose to sign the bill into law, or use his power of veto to send it back to the legislature.
Short term Budget Fix
The House passed a bill to try to fix the $350 hole in the budget we inherited from the last Legislature. Without a fix, paychecks would be bounce. The House solved the current budget deficit of $350M by largely liquidating a state investment fund (known as the Pooled Money Investment Portfolio, or PMIP). These types of one time fixes to the budget have become the norm but are unsustainable.
Efficiency in Technology
Part of my goal of Security & Technology committee was to look for technological efficiencies in State government. One of the ways we can cut spending is by becoming more efficient across the many different agencies. We heard hearings on the creation of an enterprise IT organization that will seek economies of scale in providing IT services to the different agencies versus each agency trying to maintain independent IT departments and infrastructure. There old mainframe technologies in place that are becoming very outdated and redundancy in positions that we are reviewing. I've seen this work in the private sector so it's an exciting proposition.
Our prison costs in terms of maintenance our too high. The House committee on Transportation and Safety Budget made a recommendation to proceed with the new Lansing Prison option. I anticipate recommendation through the Appropriations committee after that with subsequent debate on the House floor. I'll continue to keep an eye on that.
Local Higher Education
Among the many committee meetings, I was able to meet with the honor society of Barton College. They joined the Leavenworth community about 4 years ago and provide community college courses on Ft Leavenworth for 2 year degrees. It was great to chat with their first full-time faculty member who focuses on Science related curriculum and is interesting in working with our local schools in STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) efforts.
Hospital Conceal Carry Bill Dead in Committee
On Wednesday, February 15th, the House Federal and State Committee voted on a bill that would exempt Kansas hospitals from the concealed carry law set to take effect on July 1st of this year. The committee deadlocked with an 11-11 vote.
Stakeholders from our local Frontier Credit Union came to Topeka to discuss the many services they provide our local community. There are a whopping 6,000+ members from Leavenworth and it's the 6th largest state certified credit union in Kansas!
It continues to be a special honor to serve as your state representative and look forward to any input on the various issues facing state government.
Please feel free to contact me with your comments and questions. My office address is Room 559-S, 300 SW 10th, Topeka, KS 66612. You can reach me at (785) 296-7522 or call the legislative hotline at 1-800-432-3924 to leave a message for me. Additionally, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Some of the action is streaming and you can follow the legislative session online at www.kslegislature.org
Rep. Jeff Pittman