The 2012 Legislature adjourned May 20th after 99 full days of contentious debate. This session proved particularly frustrating because the most important issues, including tax reform, school funding, KPERS, Medicaid and the state budget were left until the waning hours of the session.
If you have any questions, feel free to contact me at (785) 865-2786 or Tom.Holland@senate.ks.gov. Also, thank you for letting me serve as your state senator! I am honored to have represented the 3rd district these past four years.
Governor Signs into Law Massive Tax Cuts for the Wealthy
In May, the governor signed into law a $3.7 billion tax plan that cuts the top tax rate for the wealthiest filers and eliminates taxes on non-wage business income. The plan also repeals tax credits available to low-income families, including the child care tax credit and the homestead tax refund for renters.
I voted against this plan, which would decimate our state surplus and spiral into a $2.5 billion budget shortfall by 2018. To offset these costs, the state will have to cut nearly half of our general fund budget, making it impossible to fund education and mental health services as well as reduce disability waiting lists. As the ranking member of the Senate Tax Committee, I believe that instead of shifting the tax burden from our richest citizens to those who are least able to pay, we should have a fair and balanced tax system that benefits all Kansans.
Kansas has a Property Tax Problem, Not an Income Tax Problem
When it comes to taxes, 3rd district constituents have told me repeatedly that property taxes are too high. And they are right! A 2011 Kansas Speaks survey found that when it comes to lowering taxes, 45 percent of Kansans would most like to lower property taxes. And no wonder – the US Census Bureau ranked Kansas 14th highest in the nation on residential real estate taxes. For businesses, the news is even more alarming. When comparing mature and new business firms, the Tax Foundation found that burdensome property taxes left Kansas 47th in the nation for mature businesses and 48th for new establishments.
To offset rising property taxes the Senate passed legislation I introduced this session to provide Kansas communities $45 million in local property tax relief each year for four years. This would provide needed help for Kansas families that continue to struggle to pay their bills and put food on the table as the economy recovers. In an ironic twist, a version of this bill was included as part of the signed tax plan.
When it comes to taxes, everyone needs to pay their fair share, especially wealthy corporations and the richest individuals. Governor Brownback’s just-signed tax plan will do exactly the opposite, gutting the state budget and forcing middle-income and poor families to pay more in property and sales taxes while dramatically lowering income taxes for the wealthiest. I hope that next year we can reverse the governor’s devastating tax policy and renew our focus on Kansas’ real tax dilemma – property taxes.
Kansas Only State to not Finish Redistricting
Senators have worked diligently for over a year to redraw each of the state’s congressional, senate, house and state board of education districts to reflect population changes. And for nearly that entire time, the governor and House Speaker have interfered with Senate progress. As a result, Kansas is the only state not to complete redistricting, postponing the filing deadline and forcing the courts to decide a remedy.
Redistricting should follow the “one person, one vote” principal. Districts should be impartial, fair, and represent every Kansans’ right to be represented. As a member of the Senate Redistricting Committee, I have witnessed this process firsthand and believe it is time Kansans commission a non-partisan group to draw future redistricting maps. The peoples’ voices should not be muted by politicians intent on using the system for their own political advantage.
KanCare Disability Services Delayed, More Evaluation Needed
The Legislature delayed by one year the inclusion of disability services in the governor’s new KanCare system. Currently, the state invests $2.8 billion to administer Medicaid services for 380,000 children, seniors and disabled Kansans. But under KanCare, those funds would be redirected to private insurers.
Medicaid stakeholder groups have raised issue with the proposed reforms, voicing concerns that KanCare could wreak havoc on those served. A number of states have already encountered problems in their attempts to reform Medicaid, including Kentucky, where lawmakers are dealing with lack of payments for medical services, challenges with medication approvals and delays in service authorization.
As Kansas embarks on Medicaid reform, we should make it a priority to “First Do No Harm”. At a minimum, Kansas should implement a limited pilot program to test out KanCare and confirm the results before committing all 380,000 clients to a new system. Otherwise, we could be picking up the pieces of shattered lives for years to come.
Budget begins restoring cuts, tax plan could derail efforts
After several hours of debate, the Legislature approved a $14 billion state budget needed to keep vital state services open this fiscal year. I voted for this bill, with some reservations. I was pleased to see the budget include full funding to the Children’s Initiative Fund (CIF); nearly $2 million to reduce waiting lists for Kansans with disabilities; a 1% pay increase for underpaid state employees; and $40 million for Kansas public schools, which will increase base state aid per pupil by $60 next school year.
While this year’s budget begins to reinvest in the programs we all value as Kansans, the governor’s tax plan threatens to derail any positive steps we have made. Until we reverse the huge budget crisis these tax cuts will cause, it will be impossible to adequately fund any of these programs.
Vietnam Veterans Recognized
On March 30th I had the privilege of introducing six local Vietnam veterans as part of “Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day”.
During the Vietnam conflict, more than 58,000 members of the U.S. Armed Forces lost their lives and more than 300,000 were wounded. Despite their brave service, many Vietnam veterans returned home to little fanfare. It was my honor to formally acknowledge the effort, selfless service and sacrifice of these local veterans.