The Kansas Legislature gaveled back into session this past Monday in Topeka to continue the people’s work. 2013 marks the first legislative session during Governor Brownback’s term where conservative Republicans are firmly in control in both the senate and house legislative chambers. Governor Brownback will most likely receive strong support for his legislative initiatives over the next two years, and it will be quite interesting to look back two years from now to see the various legislative changes that will have been enacted during that period.
For his 2013 State of the State address Governor Brownback outlined a number of policy proposals. Regarding education, he proposed a new “Kansas Reads to Succeed” initiative that pledges to provide $12 million to support innovative programs to help struggling readers, provide incentives to elementary schools that increase 4th grade reading proficiency, and require 3rd graders who do not read at grade level to not be promoted to 4th grade. As part of his “Road Map for Kansas,” he wants state income taxes to be lowered even further by cutting the lower income rate (currently 3.5 percent) to 1.9 percent and dropping the top rate (4.9 percent) to 3.5 percent. He also wants to raise the sales tax rate back up to 6.3% starting July 1st to help pay for last year’s income tax cuts. In responding to the recent district court ruling that the state’s current funding for education is unconstitutional, he called for the legislature to define in statute what constitutes “suitable provision” for the funding of education and strike the current reference in the Kansas constitution. He also proposed changing the way that the appeals court and Supreme Court judicial nominees are chosen by making them either elected or selected by the Governor. They are currently selected through a merit-based process by a commission of nine individuals.
The political makeup within our legislature has certainly changed during my past 10 years of service. From 2003 through 2010 a coalition of moderate Republican and Democratic legislators drove the legislative agenda in Topeka in both legislative chambers. The House coalition was effectively dissolved during the November 2010 elections as Democrats lost 16 House seats to conservative Republicans. Fast forward to the 2012 primaries, and the remaining Senate coalition that had been stymieing Governor Brownback’s agenda was likewise wiped out when 8 moderate Republican seats lost their seats. As Bob Dylan says, “The times they are a-changin”, and Kansas will now bear witness to a conservative political policy juggernaut I believe will be unprecedented in our state’s history.
As I did last year, I will once again be conducting town hall meetings at various locations throughout the district as we progress through the 2013 session. Notice for these events will be publicized in the near future. I hope to see you there!