The monkey on the back of the Kansas Legislature will look much the same Wednesday as it did when state lawmakers rolled into Topeka in January.
House and Senate members make their way back to the Capitol aware of the need to resolve issues of public school finance, a federal income tax windfall, the governor’s proposal to expand Medicaid, Farm Bureau’s bid to dabble in the health policy market and the annual imperative of crafting a new state budget. So far, only one bill has made it to Gov. Laura Kelly’s desk.
“There’s a lot things still to be discussed in this session,” said Rep. Blaine Finch, an Ottawa Republican who serves as House speaker pro tem. “Budget, school finance, tax. There’s a discussion people want to have about health care policy. I think we’re going to have a lot of those big conversations.”
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat and retired teacher, said Republican leadership, especially Senate President Susan Wagle, deserved criticism for failing to push through a school-funding bill and for refusing to convene meaningful debate on broadening eligibility for Medicaid to more than 100,000 low-income Kansans.
“Senator Wagle is stifling debate and a vote on Medicaid expansion,” said Hensley, who theorized movement on the issue could fuel compromise on other bills. “That could all be part of the discussion to figure out what the endgame is.”
On Wednesday, a House committee plans an informal discussion of enrolling more people in KanCare, the state’s privatized Medicaid program serving about 400,000 people. It isn’t clear the meeting will lead to consideration of an expansion bill. The Affordable Care Act obligates the federal government to pay 90 percent of the cost of expanding enrollment in Kansas.
Wagle, a Wichita senator, encouraged the governor to sign a bill appropriating $115 million to the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System. The cash would cover a pension payment skipped in 2016 when the state scrambled to balance the budget.
“We cannot continue down the road of fiscal instability,” Wagle said. “We must work towards creating a stable financial future for all Kansans.”
Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, R-Overland Park, said the House ought to adopt tax “windfall” legislation approved by the Senate. It would give Kansans the option of taking an elevated standard deduction on federal tax returns while reserving the option to itemize deductions on state tax returns.
He said provisions of Senate Bill 22 “avoid an unintended tax increase to middle-class individuals who normally itemize on their tax returns.”
In addition, the Senate bill would allow multinational corporations taking advantage of a lower federal tax on returning foreign earnings to the United States to avoid paying income tax in Kansas on the business income. The combined tax avoidance outlined in the bill might top $200 million.
A House committee complicated debate on taxes by including in the bill a 1 percentage point reduction in the Kansas sales tax on food and by imposing a new sales tax on internet purchases. The House hasn’t voted on the revised version of the bill.
“It just came out of committee,” said House Majority Leader Dan Hawkins, R-Wichita. “We’ve got to talk to our caucus and find out where everybody stands on it.”
Kelly said she wasn’t interested in big changes to the state’s tax code. There is uncertainty about size of the corporate repatriation provision and the state may not be able to afford lowering sales tax on food at this time, she said.
“This is not the right time to be meddling with the tax structure,” Kelly said. “I want to hold off and let the dust settle on taxes.”
On Wednesday, the House Insurance Committee will conduct a hearing on Senate Bill 32 granting Kansas Farm Bureau authority to offer a health benefit plan. It wouldn’t be subject to standard insurance regulation but could be attractive to healthy people struggling to afford health insurance. Critics say the Farm Bureau offering wouldn’t necessarily cover pre-existing conditions.
House Speaker Ron Ryckman, R-Olathe, said the bill ought to clear the committee and be considered by the full House.
“We’ll see how it goes in committee and look forward to seeing it on the floor,” Ryckman said.
This article was originally published on The Topeka Capital-Journal website, here.