The Kansas Legislature returned to work this week just in time to learn that revenues in April had come in about $4 million short of what had been anticipated.
With that bad news, lawmakers adjourned early on Friday, presumably to rest up for the struggle of finding more than $400 million to deal with the widening budget gap.
The Missouri General Assembly, meanwhile, has picked up the pace. Major bills are moving quickly, including a promising measure to slightly raise diesel and gasoline taxes to avoid an even worse highway funding situation, and a student transfer bill that has the potential to seriously and unnecessarily disrupt education in Jackson County.
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A lot of the conversation around the Kansas budget crisis centers on the 100 percent income tax break that Gov. Sam Brownback and the Legislature gave to certain types of businesses — those structured to have profits “pass through” and be declared by the owners as personal income for tax purposes.
A lot more Kansans have taken advantage of this generous perk than lawmakers had counted on. Because, why not?
The exemption accounts for only about $220 million of the more than $800 million revenue shortfall Kansas experiences annually from its extreme tax-cutting experiment. Changes to the individual income tax brackets created the bulk of that loss.
Still, the exemptions to owners of only certain businesses raise questions about fairness — and effectiveness. The purpose is to create jobs. Is that happening?
Some lawmakers asked that question this week. The answer: Who knows?
“To my knowledge I don’t think anyone has any specific numbers for you on that,” Chris Courtwright, a legislative researcher, told lawmakers. “I don’t think there’s been any hard analysis.”
An experiment without data? Impossible. If Kansas is going to be a laboratory for tax cuts, the Brownback administration needs to provide valid information on job trends before and after the cuts took effect.
Another big piece of unfinished business for the Kansas Legislature is Brownback’s veto of the bill regulating ride-hailing services such as Uber.
The company irritated legislators by crashing their email servers with the volume of form letters from drivers and loyal passengers. Brownback angered them further by vetoing their bill.
Right after the governor’s action, Uber announced it would add service to four more Kansas cities, expanding its popularity and making it harder for the Legislature to rein it in.
No word on what lawmakers will do about the veto, but Sen. Majority Leader Terry Bruce reportedly told the Republican caucus that “Uber is still an ongoing saga.”
Meanwhile, the Missouri legislature apparently will stand back and let local communities work out ordinances with ride-hailing companies, as Kansas City has managed to do.
Maybe Missouri lawmakers just want to keep their in-boxes manageable. But you can bet that if Uber encounters resistance in a potential Missouri market, they’ll be hearing about it in Jefferson City.
After a 12-year-old autistic boy was severely beaten at Liberty Middle School earlier this year, angry Missouri lawmakers vowed to make schools do a better job of protecting students, even if it means yanking some of their funding.
The result is an anti-bullying bill that is nearing passage.
The latest version defines bullying and cyberbullying, and it requires schools to have a written policy against bullying (most do already). Significantly, the Senate’s language requires schools to begin investigating a reported incident within one school day, and finish within 10 school days. It allows schools to discipline students for bullying, ranging from counseling to expulsion.
Nowhere, though, does the bill provide for sanctions to schools that fail to prevent bullying. In the weeks following news reports of the assault on the child in Liberty, the focus seems to have shifted from penalizing schools to empowering them to better cope with bullying of students.
That’s the wiser approach.
Land of milk and honey
A bill to lighten regulations on small honey bottlers in Missouri is flowing along.
House Bill 1093 has been passed by that chamber and is awaiting action in the Senate. It would exempt bottlers who sell less than $50,000 a year in honey products to avoid certain facility and labeling requirements.
“Honey’s really not been a problem…so no use in over-regulating them,” the sponsor, Rep. Lindell Shumake, a Republican from Hannibal, told CentralMoInfo.com.
The Senate should pass this bill. It’ll be the sweetest thing to happen all session.