Polk Quincy Viaduct

Modernization of the Polk Quincy Viaduct is the Chamber’s top legislative priority.  The project meets criteria set forth by the Joint Legislative Task Force on Transportation which met throughout the summer and released its recommendations earlier this month:

  • Safety:  the tightly curving bridge does not comply with current federal design standards and is nearing the end of its design life.
  • Regional Economic Impact:  Easing this choke-point along I-70 is critical to ensuring undisrupted movement of people and goods along the Animal Health Corridor from Manhattan to Kansas City.  Economic Development: Landowners in the vicinity of the existing roadway and the area just to the north to which I-70 will shift are unable to take advantage of the momentum in downtown until they gain some certainty about the future of their property.
  • Local Participation:  City officials have signaled their full willingness to work in tandem with the state to develop a dynamic funding mix including state, federal and local dollars.

Last week, the Chamber met with the Kansas Secretary of Transportation to urge her to include the project in the state’s next comprehensive long-term transportation plan.  A tour of the viaduct with the Secretary and other decision makers is planned for March-April.  The Chamber has communicated this priority to the Shawnee County legislative delegation and Senators Roberts and Moran and Congressman Steve Watkins.  The METL collaboration has taken-up the Polk Quincy Viaduct as its main transportation priority.

Tax Debate

At its February meeting, the Chamber Board of Directors took on a robust debate of one of the most contentious issues facing the Kansas legislature this session.  At issue is whether Kansas tax filers should be allowed to itemize their state deductions even while utilizing the new federal standard deduction which was doubled by the tax act of 2017; the state’s standard deduction has not changed.  Supporters of the bill which would “decouple” a taxpayer’s federal deduction from their state deduction consider the measure crucial to head-off an impending effective tax increase.  Opponents believe now is not the time for the legislature to turn-away up to $50 million in revenues (the estimated impact of decoupling the deduction methods).  The Board determined that, while it is generally in the public’s best interests to return tax dollars to tax payers, Kansas’ currently tenuous fiscal condition makes the timing of this particular legislation problematic.  The Board would urge legislators to invest revenues in such a way that the state can be definitively placed back on a sound budgetary footing.  The Chamber Board is living up to its refined role as the GTP’s public policy arm.

The House Tax Committee held hearings last week on the decoupling bill, Senate Bill 22.  On Monday, it passed the bill out of committee with two key additions.  The full House will debate this week the decoupling provisions plus an internet sales tax and a proposed 1% decrease in the food sales tax.

Economic Development

The House is considering two bills pertaining to the state’s economic development programs.  One creates an online database of all companies that have received economic development incentives.  The original version of the bill was concerning as it would have entailed the disclosure of considerably more detail about companies than would have been necessary to analyze the programs.  The House Commerce Committee adopted a number of amendments which make the bill more palatable.  Another House bill would call for periodic review of all the state’s economic development programs and tax credits.  Such review, coupled with the information made available through the database, should make it possible to make the case even more clearly for such programs as HPIP and PEAK.

METL

On February 19, the METL coalition held its Legislative Luncheon in the new offices of the Greater Topeka Partnership.  Over 50 leaders from the 4 METL communities (Manhattan, Emporia, Topeka and Lawrence) were in attendance, including 19 legislators who represent the METL region.  The audience learned about the METL 2019 Legislative priorities which are:  :  GET KANSAS STUDENTS READY TO WORK; FUND TRANSPORTATION PROJECTS IN NORTHEAST KANSAS; PLAN TO GROW KANSAS; and TAKE ADVANTAGE OF FEDERAL FUNDING BY EXPANDING MEDICAID.  Legislators have expressed increasing gratitude for and interest in the work of METL which enables the entire Northeast Kansas region to speak with a stronger voice together.

Association Health Plans

Multiple bills before the House will enable chambers of commerce to make health insurance available to smaller members, grouping them to achieve more competitive rates.  These bills are different from the so-called “Farm Bureau plan” which has advanced rapidly through legislature.  That bill allows the Farm Bureau to offer health benefits to its members outside the ambit of regulated insurance.  The Topeka Chamber has not participated in the debate of that bill.  The Association Health Plans favored by the Chamber would be subject to the jurisdiction of the Insurance Commissioner.  For the time being, the bills remain in committee.