January means New Year’s resolutions, honoring Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and welcoming legislators back to Topeka and Jefferson City. As we gear up for the 2015 session, here’s a snapshot of what to expect for both states.
There are a couple big issues that are going to occupy most of the legislators’ attention. The Kansas budget is in crisis, with revenues continuing to decline in the wake of 2012 income tax cuts.
Projections show a $279 million deficit this fiscal year and a $436 million deficit the following. Most members of leadership have signaled that they plan to tackle the deficit by spending cuts, not more revenues. As a result, those with a stake in the budget, particularly safety net clinics and mental health providers, will be playing defense.
The bleak financial picture does create some opportunity for increasing the state’s tobacco tax, which, at $0.79, is still well below the national average of $1.54. While legislators may view a tobacco tax increase as budget fix, public health advocates support increasing the tax since it is an evidence-based strategy to reduce youth smoking.
Complicating the budget picture is the school finance litigation that has been in process for several years. In a preliminary decision last year, the Kansas Supreme Court outlined two problems with Kansas’ school financing: equity and adequacy. The Legislature and Governor Sam Brownback addressed “equity” during the last session to the satisfaction of the Courts. However, the Supreme Court recently ruled that in order to meet “adequacy” requirements, the state must find another $550 million.
It may be a new session, but the pressing health issues are largely recycled from previous years. While Medicaid expansion has been a priority for health advocates for the previous two sessions, look for the issue to be more front and center in 2015. There will also be continued interest in KanCare oversight.
Looking toward Missouri, capitol insiders are watching the impact of Amendment 10, passed in November 2014 by Missouri voters.
Amendment 10 changes the policymaking process by prohibiting the Governor from including items in the proposed budget that have not yet passed through the legislature. It also gives the legislature authority over budget withholds. The net result is that there are a lot of unknowns and the budget process will be a whole new ball game.
Responding to the Ferguson grand jury decision and subsequent protests is a priority for policymakers, however, there is little consensus about policy solutions. Legislators are discussing everything from changing the amount of revenue cities can collect from traffic tickets to eliminating the grand jury process.
Regarding Medicaid, Missouri has made some progress in the previous two sessions, which means the conversation will start ahead of where it has in the past. Watch for the Senate to take the lead, with many different Medicaid transformation proposals in the mix. A subtext to the Medicaid conversation is the ongoing backlog in processing Medicaid applications, fueled in part by reorganization of the Department of Social Services. During the 2014 session, adult dental benefits for Medicaid beneficiaries were reinstated, but withheld by Governor Jay Nixon. The General Assembly is very supportive of the reinstatement, so the issue will likely come up again this session.