Next Monday the Kansas Legislature will open its doors. We will welcome a number of new faces to the Capitol, as well as new leaders to important legal committees. The biggest change is the appointment of Rep. John Baker (R-Abilene) as chair of the House Judiciary Committee. The Kansas Senate has appointed Sen. Greg Smith to chair the newly formed Corrections Committee. The vast majority of issues pertaining to the legal community will be introduced into these committees, as well as their House Corrections and Senate Judiciary counterparts.
But the major issue facing all legislators is the budget deficit in FY 2015, ending June 30. As it now stands the state must come up with nearly $280 million dollars to fill the hole. By cutting children programs, KPERS, and KDOT, the governor has identified roughly $100 million in savings but the remainder will need legislative approval. House leadership would like to see more cuts to create a smaller government while more options seem to be on the table in the Kansas Senate.
Once they figure out how the ax will fall on state government for FY 2015, the legislators will need to balance the budget for the next two fiscal years. If you thought the numbers were bad in FY 2015, they are several times worse going forward. The rough estimate is that the state will see a revenue shortfall nearing $750 million. How they address this issue remains to be seen but I suspect it will take a very large lift to roll back the tax cuts so we are looking at more cuts or possible sales tax increase.
It should also be pointed out that none of these budget issues take into account any increase to K-12 funding based on the school finance decision handed down last week. In that opinion, http://www.shawneecourt.org/DocumentCenter/View/527, the three-judge panel said that the current funding formula is unconstitutional. They threw out some numbers that would indicate the need to raise base state aid by $500 million or so to become compliant. However, the decision did contain language calling the formula broken and that more money does not necessarily increase positive outcomes. As such, some are calling to simply redo the funding formula. How that is proposed is not yet known but a constitutional amendment might be on the horizon.
For information on legislators, bills and committee assignments please take a look at http://www.ksbar.org starting on January 12. You can also find information at http://www.kslegisalture.org. To get live updates will the session is going you can follow us on Twitter (@KansasBarLeg).