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Noonletter, Dec. 11, 2018

Crysta Henthorne
Kansas News Service

Windfall or tax hike?

Last year, Congress and President Donald Trump delivered sweeping federal tax cuts. Because the changes in tax law meant fewer people had to itemize their tax returns, the changes actually upped the (smaller) state tax bill for some filers.

In some corners, that’s seen as a windfall of revenue for state governments, including Kansas. Seen another way, it’s a de facto tax increase in state taxes for a minority of people.

Last spring, lawmakers contemplated returning that money to state taxpayers but couldn’t agree on terms.

Now comes Democratic Gov.-Elect Laura Kelly, who says let’s wait before dashing into another change in Kansas tax law.

After all, when Sam Brownback was governor the state slashed taxes. It saw the state’s finances dive into crisis territory in the long aftermath of the 2008 recession. Then in 2016, legislators reversed course and overrode a Brownback veto to restore much of the taxes they’d eliminated a few years before.

Stephen Koranda reports that Republicans in the Legislature now seem eager to move on a change.

Republican state Sen. Caryn Tyson, for instance, told him that in choosing not to return those tax dollars, “we absolutely would be letting a tax increase occur, and that is not good policy. We need to address it.”

Kelly’s seeming resistance to giving the windfall back to taxpayers could be a bargaining chip she wants to cash in on a grand bargain that would expand Medicaid. Or she could be trying to squirrel away money for any number of other things.

Sure, state revenues have been beating projections the last year and a half. But that comes after years of shortchanging the state pension system, borrowing from highway dollars and fighting constantly with the courts over aid to local school districts.

Work requirements later, hemp subsidies now

Even if you don’t know a combine from a tractor, the farm bill passed by Congress every four years (in theory) could figure in your life. It has far-reaching implications for Kansas and the country.

A long-awaited final version of the farm bill spilled out Monday night.

In the end, legislators decided not to fight over food stamp work requirements in the farm bill. But it does legalize hemp (for federal purposes; states including Kansas have been rapidly approving no-high cannabis). And something wouldn’t be a crop with a federal government seal of approval if farmers weren’t offered crop insurance to grow it.

For the real lowdown, go to Harvest Public Media’s breakdown of the bill.

And you can’t even get a decent signal

It’s bad enough paying those doofuses at Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile or Sprint hefty service charges for wirelessly plugging your cellphone into the internet and such. Then you notice that extra money on the bill for taxes.

It seems to go only in one direction. The anti-tax folks at the Tax Foundation note that the government fees you’re paying for cell service keep ticking up, dammit.

Nationally, the average government add-on to a cellphone bill went from 18.5 percent in 2017 to 19.1 percent in 2018.

Kansas has the 12th highest rates in the country. Not counting any city taxes, a Kansans pays 21.23 percent in taxes, fees and government surcharges.

School funding, the fight that never ends

House Speaker Ron Ryckman suggests the state’s plan for funding local school districts might be in for a makeover.

He told the Sunflower State Journal that the current formula and funding level — the Legislature added more than $500 million over five years in the wake of an order from the Kansas Supreme Court — might remain as it is.

But he said what lawmakers settled on last spring isn’t set in stone.

“We’re going to go back and look: What was the rationale for last year’s bill; why didn’t you try this; why didn’t you look at this; did you include this; have you talked about this?” he told the Journal’s Brad Cooper. “It’s all open again to look at. That’s what the process is.”

From State to State

There was a time when you didn’t know who Bill Snyder was, either.

Now comes Chris Klieman, the successor to the most successful football coach K-State’s ever known.

For him, it’s a step up to a bigger league, leaving behind North Dakota State (where his guys still have a chance at the Football Championship subdivision crown this year) and a level of college football where the budgets aren’t so big and the access to tip-top talent is limited.

He went 67-6 up north. Snyder’s last year was a losing effort. Klieman won three national championships at the FCS level. Snyder took his Wildcats from a doormat to at least occasional discussion about a national title. He was also criticized for loading up the team’s non-conference schedule with walkovers.

Klieman gets a six-year deal with Kansas State, starting at $2.3 million a year. Probably more than the English faculty make.

Moving on

Former Kansas education commissioner Diane DeBacker, who was appointed by Gov. Jeff Colyer to a new position meant to better link education and the state's workforce needs, is leaving Kansas.

She’ll be head of academics for Seattle Public Schools.

Scott Canon is digital editor of the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio covering health, education and politics. You can reach him on Twitter @ScottCanon.

 Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.

As the editor of a statewide news outlet, I aspire to work with our reporters to give Kansans a clear-eyed view of the place they call home. That means delivering hard-hitting stories that expose those things that keep Kansas from being the most vibrant, healthy place it can be. You can reach me at scott@kcur.org or 816-235-8023.
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