STAR bonds, food sales tax top UG’s proposed legislative agenda priorities

by Mary Rupert

STAR bonds and the food sales tax topped the proposed Unified Government legislative agenda priorities.

In a discussion Nov. 17, UG commissioners and state legislators told of a need to keep STAR bonds as they are, and they also believed that Wyandotte County residents would benefit greatly from an expedited reduction on the food sales tax.

The UG Commission will take up the priority list again at a future meeting to determine its top legislative issues.

A possible challenge to the STAR bond districts, which relies partly on sales tax not getting cut away, would leave Wyandotte County’s STAR bond district more vulnerable, according to Alan Howze, assistant county administrator.

UG Commissioner Tom Burroughs, who served in the House from 1997 through 2022 until deciding not to run again this year, said the impact of STAR bonds for Wyandotte County has made it extremely important to keep the momentum going. There will be a request to change it, and he said every change could have an effect on what Wyandotte County has accomplished so far and will accomplish moving forward.

A lot of people want STAR bonds to meet the project, but don’t want the project to meet the criteria of STAR bonds, Burroughs said.

A lot of people want STAR bonds to meet the project, but don’t want the project to meet the criteria of STAR bonds.

UG Commissioner Tom Burroughs

“That is something that has been very important to this community,” Burroughs said.

Sen. Pat Pettey, D – 6th District, said she was glad expedited elimination of the food sales tax was No. 1 on the UG’s agenda, and the governor is backing it.

“I’m sure every legislator running for office has heard at the door that food costs are going up. It should be at the top of the Wyandotte County agenda. Our citizens would all benefit from that,” she said.

Expanded development

Next on the list was expanded development financing tools.

Rep. Pam Curtis, D-32nd Dist., said last year she worked through legislation that expanded financing tools. The development tools often applied to rural communities.

The city of Topeka made its entire city eligible for housing assistance, something that should be considered for Kansas City, Kansas, she added.

Rural and economically challenged urban areas share a lot of the same challenges, Rep. Curtis said. Their approaches might be different, but there would be no reason to separate them geographically in proposed legislation, she said.

As jobs are created in the state, money is set aside for workforce housing for those earning $60,000 to $80,000, she said. Rural communities have a pot of money to help them while urban areas may want to have the same sort of economic development tools.

Childcare expansion

Childcare and pre-kindergarten expansion also is on the list this year. The Wyandotte Economic Development Council has cited a need for it because of the barrier it creates for job creation, Howze said.

Sen. Pettey said Wyandotte County is in a desperate situation for child care affordability. She is working on a committee with Commissioner Andrew Davis planning strategies around addressing the problem.

The problem isn’t just in Wyandotte County, where it’s severe, but it’s also statewide, she said.

Rep. Curtis said a business child care tax credit was added last year for employers and employees, but the child care work force also has to contract with them.

Medicaid expansion and foster care

Medicaid expansion, a topic that seems to come up every year, is fourth on the UG’s list. Sen. Pettey said it’s needed and the governor will support it again this year.

Fifth on the list was foster care support for those who are 18 or older and aging out of foster care. Proposed legislation would provide stronger supports for this age group as they move into adulthood.

Other items on the legislative list were drug paraphernalia definitions, and substance abuse treatments, especially important with Wyandotte County losing a major facility, the Mirror Inc. Also listed as priorities were clean slate automated expungement, and mental health concerns.

Mental health and the homeless

Commissioner Melissa Bynum said mental health concerns are important with many homeless residents dealing with mental illness or substance abuse.

She said they are seeing an increase in the homeless numbers, and it was already a pretty serious issue before the pandemic.

Other priorities

Funding the public defender’s office, reducing violence, extreme risk protection orders and alternative revenue sources also were listed as priorities.

The protection order would allow law enforcement to take a firearm from a person deemed a risk to self and others, then after due process, to give the firearms back.

Earnings tax

An earnings tax was discussed under alternative revenue sources.

Rep. Curtis said the earnings tax idea had not been successful in the past. What they should be doing is funding revenue sources that are there now, she said.

Commissioner Bynum said the state removed the machinery and equipment tax years ago, lowering revenues for cities.

Sen. Pettey said she was on the UG Commission when the commission supported an e-tax, but she doesn’t think it has any legs in the Legislature. Everyone campaigning has heard people complain mostly about taxes, she said.

The UG Commission once supported an e-tax, but it doesn’t have any legs in the Legislature. Everyone campaigning has heard people complain mostly about taxes.

Sen. Pat Pettey

Commissioner Chuck Stites agreed that people are talking about how high their tax bills are now and how they can reduce them.

Money that has been taken away from local governments over the past 10 years was supposed to have been reimbursed, starting that payment back, Burroughs said. But anything to do with an earnings tax would be met with scrutiny, according to Burroughs.

An e-tax involves people driving into the community to work in jobs here, then driving out of the community when they get off work without paying taxes – the earnings tax would try to tax people who don’t live here but who hold some of the highest paying jobs here.

“Members to the south now have the largest voting bloc in the caucus,” Burroughs said. “Even if our community wanted it, it would be a difficult lift.”

Sports wagering

Another of the priorities on the proposed list would try to get the UG some funding from the sports wagering bill that passed. Unlike the casino gaming revenue funds, the local governments were not cut in on the sports wagering proceeds. Instead, under the law a portion of the money went to creating a professional sports fund that would attempt to lure pro teams to Kansas.

Commissioner Mike Kane advocated for the prevailing wage, and said it must be moved up on the list.

Issues with medical cannabis

Legalization of medical cannabis was down toward the end of the priority list. Sen. David Haley, D-4th Dist., said he was concerned with the issues.

With surrounding states legalizing marijuana, it can put Kansas law enforcement officers in a difficult position to enforce a law no one else has on its books, he said.

Mayor Tyrone Garner said the legal team and district attorney have discussed the situation, and were looking at depenalization similar to a Wichita proposal


Residents have to be careful not to be trapped.

Mayor Tyrone Garner

Residents have to be careful not to be trapped by a bridge to a felony, he said. If Wyandotte County is easy on a first offense, other counties may not be as lenient with the penalties. A third penalty, from another county, could put a felony on a person’s record. A felony for possession where it’s legal in two neighboring states needs a second look, he said.

Commissioner Andrew Davis supported legalization at the state level. It won’t be a question of too much longer, as half the country is there now, he believes.

Property tax relief

Also discussed were the golden years property tax relief for senior citizens. Rep. Curtis said there was a property freeze circuitbreaker bill passed with a maximum refund of $2,500 on property taxes paid by those 65 or older, disabled veterans, for households earning less than $50,000. Not all senior citizens would qualify. Information about such a program will be going out to people in January to March 31, according to UG officials..

Funding education

Commissioner Christian Ramirez supported fully funding education and special education. Students need resources and full funding, he said.

Rep. Valdenia Winn, D-34th Dist. said that unfortunately there will be attempts to change the definitions or add definitions in state statutes that currently exist.

“You don’t like something, you do a little voodoo math,” she said.

You don’t like something, you do a little voodoo math.

Rep. Valdenia Winn

She invited people to participate in upcoming hearings. There are real examples of costs not being covered, she said. The gifted are considered special education and will be affected as well as other special education students.

This year, there are more new faces in the Wyandotte County legislative delegation with the retirement of some long-time representatives.

Paul Davis, the UG’s lobbyist, said the next session of the Legislature in Topeka will be similar to last year. While there’s always change with every election, Topeka will look pretty similar with the same governor, a couple different statewide officeholders, and the composition of the Legislature will be pretty much the same as it has been before. Gov. Laura Kelly’s administration will set the agenda, present the budget and set the baseline.

The governor most likely will propose moving up the elimination of the sales tax on food on her agenda, but there are likely some priorities they have yet to hear about, he added.

Other issues were discussed at the legislative priorities meeting, and can be seen at

Democrat Sawyer steps away from leadership post; Hawkins seeks job of Kansas House speaker

by Tim Carpenter, Kansas Reflector

Topeka — Kansas House Democratic leader Tom Sawyer, first elected to the Legislature in 1986, said Tuesday he didn’t intend to seek the leadership job entering the 2023 session.

The announcement that Sawyer would step aside but remain in the House followed decisions by House Speaker Ron Ryckman and House Speaker Pro Tem Blaine Finch, both Republicans, not to seek reelection in 2022. House Majority Leader Dan Hawkins, who was reelected, is expected to be chosen by peers to serve as House speaker for the two-year legislative cycle.

Sawyer, of Wichita, was House majority leader from 1991 to 1992, House minority leader from 1993 to 1998 and House minority leader since 2018. His final day in that role would be Jan. 9.

“Upon deep reflection, I believe it is time for me to step back and allow the caucus to have a new leader who will lead us and Kansans towards achieving these important goals,” Sawyer said. “It has been an honor of a lifetime to be entrusted with the responsibility to lead our caucus over the many years.”

Voting in the August primary and November general election left House Republicans with a two-thirds majority important when considering vetoes of Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly. Democrats gained one seat to bring the caucus to 40 in the 125-member House. Democrats fell two seats short of breaking the GOP supermajority and offer more assistance to Kelly during her second term.

Sawyer, who ran for governor in 1998 and served four years as chairman of the Kansas Democratic Part, said he expected Democrats to expand their numbers in the House.

“This growth, which I hope to see continue in the coming years, will strengthen our position to advocate strongly for the issues that matter most to Kansans, such as tax relief, expanding Medicaid, fully funding public education including special education and legalizing medicinal marijuana,” he said.

Hawkins, who has served in the House since 2013, outlined in a letter to House Republicans a critique of the governor. He said Kelly botched handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, allowed crime and inflation to rise and made anti-abortion policy an “afterthought.”

Individuals elected in November to serve in the 2023 Legislature will vote Dec. 5 on nominees for House speaker, House majority leader and House speaker pro tem as well as the top Democratic posts in the chamber.

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Kansas lawmakers consider using state’s surplus to cut Social Security taxes

Kansas projected to have millions in surplus for next fiscal year

by Rachel Mipro, Kansas Reflector

Topeka — Kansas legislators want to use a projected budget surplus to address the state’s “Social Security cliff,” which they say is driving retirees out of the state.

Kansas taxes income from Social Security benefits, with an income tax exemption for those who make $75,000 in federal adjusted gross income or less. Critics of the tax policy say retirees are put under unnecessary financial strain.

During Friday’s legislative hearing on taxation, Sen. Caryn Tyson, R-Parker, said she supported removing state income tax on Social Security entirely. Tyson and other lawmakers have tried to pass legislation on this subject for the past few years.

Most recently, lawmakers tried to pass House Bill 2597 in 2022, which would have exempted several thousand dollars in retirement plan income and provided for that amount to annually increase by the Internal Revenue Code cost of living adjustment.

“All the committee members, we definitely made an attempt, a great attempt, to address this last year and in previous years,” Tyson said. “If there’s any type of tax on social security that plays into it and discourages people at different levels to not work. We engineer behavior through our tax structure.”

With Kansas carrying a record surplus of more than $2 billion this fiscal year and a surplus of $400 million expected next year, lawmakers are trying to decide what to do with the extra money.

Surplus estimates for the 2023-2024 state general fund were produced by the Division of the Budget and Kansas Legislative Research Department using a consensus process. The governor and the Legislature use these estimates when making the annual budget and spending blueprint.

For the 2023 fiscal year, the estimate increased in November from previous estimates made in April by $794.2 million. Total tax estimates increased by $773 million, and other revenue estimates increased by $21.2 million, making the revised estimate for the 2023 fiscal year $9.701 billion.

The initial estimate for fiscal year 2024 is $10.124 billion, a 4.4% increase from the 2023 fiscal year estimate. The amount of total taxes is estimated to increase by 0.9%, following an increase in 2023.

Gov. Laura Kelly campaigned for reelection on a platform of more quickly eliminating Kansas’ 6.5% sales tax on groceries, fully funding special education and working to reduce the Social Security income tax cliff. Kelly’s budget will be released in January, and it’s expected that some of these issues will be addressed in the budget.

Sen. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City, said Social Security issues needed to be a priority in the upcoming legislative session.

“As far as it comes with Social Security, I am very interested in addressing the cliff issue,” Holland said. “That’s a real problem to me, for people who have paid into Social Security, particularly for those who are seniors who don’t have other additional sources of income. I think it’s imperative that they get access to those funds.”

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