ADJOURNMENT - MAY 20, 2012
The Legislature adjourned the 2012 session on the evening of Sunday, May 20. This session, the most important issue that faced Kansans was jobs and the economy. For too many years, the Kansas government has lived beyond its means. For the past two sessions the legislature has worked to turn the tide of irresponsible government spending and debt accumulation. We needed to improve our economic foundation to be able to attract new businesses and to expand existing ones. This year we made progress toward this goal by controlling spending and lowering taxes. I am confident that the policies enacted will enable Kansas families to improve their standard of living and quality of life, and businesses to thrive and grow employment. Government must be responsive and responsible, through customer service and operational efficiency. We need to achieve measurable real improvement and fiscal restraint.
I look forward to making my way throughout the district to talk to you directly about the issues affecting our area. I would love to hear your ideas.
Kansas Public education is among the highest priorities of the Legislature. We spend 66 percent of the state budget (State General Fund) on funding education. This year budget increases K-12 public education by $40 million. It also increases the base state aid per student by $60. The budget also includes $10.25 million to develop career and technical education programs at Kansas high schools and community colleges.
I did not think that these improvements went far enough. The House tried to make additional policy changes. However, the Senate repeatedly turned down boosting education funding above $40 million in exchange for sensible education reforms. Among the items turned down were:
Governor Brownback has assured School Districts and the Legislature, that the state will continue to make it's payments to schools on time. With that assurance, School Districts will have the ability to provide additional funding for classroom instruction out of unencumbered funds. Many districts still have large cash reserves remaining unspent. The Legislature has worked with the Department of Education and identified a number of funds that could be utilized to help ease financial burdens. We previously had a statutory barrier preventing school districts from using those funds. These districts now have access to approximately $358 million in unencumbered funds.
School Districts are allowed to adopt a local activities budget if a majority of the district's voters approve it. Districts will be able to raise and spend additional funds for voluntary school sponsored activities. Research has shown students who participate in extracurricular activities are significantly more successful in school. This will provide school sponsored programs with financial stability. In the future, students who otherwise would not have had these programs available to them will be provided with the opportunity.
The Kansas Public Employee Retirement System (KPERS) was chronically underfunded ($8 billion at the start of 2011). The national economy and the stock market performance compounded the structural deficiencies that existed within the program. Kansas had the second worst state pension system in the United States, falling only behind Illinois. Substantive reform measures were taken to improve the stability of the retirement funds. However, we must continue to evaluate the processes and take further steps as necessary.
Active members will be able to choose their contribution rate which will result in a new retirement formula for their particular tier. New state employees (beginning January 1, 2015) will be part of a cash balance plan that creates a new tier for their retirement. They will pay six percent of annual compensation, and the state will match the contribution with a service based credit that starts at one percent and increases to four percent.
The state's yearly contributions will be increased until the required actuarially amount is achieved. Additional key provisions include:
The Kansas Constitution and the federal government require that all legislative districts be nearly equal in population based on the most recent census figures. This includes the district boundaries for the state's legislative, congressional and State Board of Education. The goal was to have 22,761 persons in each Kansas House district, 70,986 in each Kansas Senate district, and 713,280 persons in each congressional district. The 2010 census showed that the population of Kansas has increased in the eastern part of the state while western Kansas continues to lose population. As a result, it was necessary to either shift seats or adjust boundaries to account for the population shift. This legislative session has had many unique and unprecedented complications in this process.
The House has been committed from the beginning to making the process as open and transparent as possible to create fair and logical maps. The House crafted a map that represented 125 districts with various interests and ideologies. This map overwhelmingly passed the House with a bi-partisan 109 to 14 vote. This demonstrated how the redistricting process can and should work.
Unfortunately, the Senate failed to pass to the House a congressional, House, Senate or State Board of Education map that met long standing court precedents. These requirements are to minimize population deviations, avoid diluting minority voting power, preserve county and municipal boundaries, create compact and contiguous districts, preserve existing districts as much as possible, and unite communities of common interests.
The Senate map, which the House voted down, separated three communities in three different districts. This included the communities of Dodge City, Garden City and Liberal. Each has strong minority populations. Minority-majority communities should be kept together in one district because of the common interest of its citizens.
Another key element in creating satisfactory district maps is the population deviation. Based on the one person-one vote, courts desire the population deviation to be as close to zero as possible. In the proposed Senate district map 34 of the 40 senate districts had a population deviation of over 2.5 percent, and 22 had deviations of over 4 percent. The deviations in the Senate map were so large that it would have resulted in the 10 most populated districts representing an entire Senate district more than the 10 least populated districts.
The House introduced legislation intended to create districts that fulfilled the requirements of the court. This legislation was crafted with the help of numerous Republican Senators. These Senators offered their assistance because they realized that their own chamber was not able to produce the desired result. Unfortunately, upon receipt of the bill containing the compromise maps, the Senate leadership declared them materially altered, which procedurally killed them.
Sadly, the House was met with Senate opposition each and every time we tried to bring the redistricting legislative obligation to an end. As a result, litigation has already been filed in federal court. The House did everything in its power to pass responsible maps; this is our duty, not that of the court.
During this session there were substantial policies implemented by the Legislature. I'd like to hear your thoughts on the actions we took. Please do not hesitate to contact me. I'd be happy to visit with you over the phone, by e-mail or in person. I always enjoy hearing from my constituents. Thank you for the honor of serving you!