It was a very good year for business interests in the Kansas Legislature.
Starting July 1, a variety of tax and regulatory changes go into effect that are favorable to employers.
Most important, said Jason Watkins, lobbyist for the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce, is that the Legislature continued to push for tax and spending reductions.
The sales tax will drop this year from 6.3 percent to 6.15 percent. Income tax rates won’t come down this year, although the Legislature enacted a law mandating income tax reductions starting in 2014.
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“Overall, we’re mildly pleased with the budget,” Watkins said. “It’s a budget that controls spending, which we supported.”
Disagreements over taxes kept lawmakers in Topeka throughout May. In the end, the compromise agreement lowered the sales tax a bit while also making cuts to higher education. It also included other changes regarding tax deductions and rebates but will keep income tax rates at their current level.
For Wichita, the budget approved by lawmakers maintains $5 million in subsidies for air service at Wichita Mid-Continent Airport and another $5 million for the National Institute for Aviation Research at Wichita State University for two years.
The Legislature cut funds for the National Center for Aviation Training from $5 million to $3 million. But there’s a possibility some of the funding could be restored the following year, Watkins said.
Also, in bill after bill, the Legislature strengthened the hand of employers, especially in their dealings with employees.
• SB149 mandates drug screening of Unemployment Insurance claimants as well as those receiving other cash assistance from the state. A first screening failure results in treatment; a second failure means a loss of benefits.
• SB187 expands the nominating board for Workers Compensation appeals judges. Previously, board nominations were split between the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO. Now the board will be expanded to more groups, including more employer-related groups. It increased judges’ pay in an attempt to attract higher-quality candidates. It also shortens the time to file a claim from 30 to 20 days for an employee or from 20 to 10 days for someone who has left employment.
• HB2069 banned the ability of local governments to mandate that workers be paid prevailing wage rates on construction projects using public dollars. The Unified Government of Kansas City/Wyandotte County was the only local government to have such a mandate.
• HB2022 banned public sector unions from automatically deducting member dues for political activities. It also gives employers a stronger ability to withhold pay, such as to replace uniforms or repay loans.
• HB2105 strengthened employers’ legal grounds for denying a worker unemployment insurance. It also re-wrote the formula for employers’ contributions to the unemployment insurance pool to increase the amounts paid by employers who have more layoffs.