Tax bills headed to conference committee; education advocates urge changes

With the passage of the U.S. Senate tax reform bill early Saturday morning, education advocates must focus on the conference committee process to defend public education. 

The Senate passed its version of the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” by a vote of 51-49 at 1:30 a.m. Central Time Saturday morning. Kansas Senators Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran voted “yes.” 

The floor debate included a number of dramatic moments, as the bill teetered on the brink of being sent back to committee for further work after Senate deficit hawks complained the measure adds $1 trillion to the federal debt over the next decade. Republican leaders, however, were able to assuage the concerns of most of those Senators as the debate wore on. 

An amendment from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), proposed expanding the use of “529” savings plans to pay for up to $10,000 annually for public, private or religious K-12 tuition. Roberts and Moran voted for the amendment. With the vote tally standing at 50-50, Vice President Mike Pence cast the deciding vote and the amendment passed. Kansas public schools do not charge tuition; tuition tax credits have the effect of school vouchers by incentivizing investments in private schools over public ones. 

The Senate bill eliminates most state and local tax deductions (SALT) from the itemized federal return but retains a $10,000 deduction for property tax payments. A Government Finance Officers Association analysis of state and local tax deductions estimates 25 percent of Kansas taxpayers take the deductions for an average tax savings of $9,425. Education advocates fear the elimination of SALT deductions will put pressure on state and local governments, including school boards, to lower their tax rates as well, reducing the revenues that fund local services. 

National School Boards Association Executive Director Thomas Gentzel released a statement Saturday criticizing the Senate action.   

“Tax reform should cultivate state and local investments and innovation, not impede them,” Gentzel said. “In rushing to pass legislation, lawmakers are presenting Americans with a potential tax structure that offers tax breaks and benefits for the few at the price of supporting state and local efforts to invest in vital areas including education. 

“NSBA urges Congress to put students, parents, and communities first as the House and Senate bills move to conference. NSBA opposes any tax proposal that negatively impacts local decision makers’ ability to govern and operate in the best interests of our country’s students and the American taxpayer. To do anything less would be irresponsible and a reckless disinvestment in students and their future.” 

The U.S. House passed its tax bill in mid-November. The two bills must now be reconciled in a joint conference committee. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI), said over the weekend he would announce House conferees today.  

Ryan and Senate Republican leaders are under pressure to deliver a legislative victory for President Donald Trump before the end of the month. That task is complicated by the additional tasks of funding the federal government after this Friday, reauthorizing the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and immigration negotiations.  

Watch KASB’s News Briefs and social media accounts for information and calls to action. 

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