Democrats unveil ‘Kansas Jobs First’ proposal

House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, talks about the Kansas Jobs First proposal at the Statehouse Tuesday.

TOPEKA — Kansas Democrats said this morning that a casino in southeast Kansas and slot machines at three racetracks could help pay for programs that increase the state’s odds of adding jobs.

The “Kansas Jobs First” proposal includes 14 bills lawmakers plan to introduce during the 2012 legislative session, which begins Jan. 9. The plan aims to ensure state spending goes to companies that employ Kansans; improve training programs; fix aging infrastructure and protect workers.

House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, acknowledged that his party’s plans face an uphill battle in the Republican-dominated legislature, but he and others said they believe their proposals will get bipartisan support.

Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, said there has been a lot of attention focused on school finance, Medicaid reform, tax policy and others. “But there’s no more important issue, we believe, for the legislature to spend its time on than the issue of creating jobs for the people of Kansas,” he said.

Hensley said the economy has begun to recover from the recession, but more than 50,000 Kansas workers are still unemployed.

“Families are still struggling to keep a roof over their head, to pay for their child’s doctor bills, to keep their gas tank full,” Hensley said during a news conference in the Statehouse. “Workers are stuck in low-wage jobs because they lack the money or time to obtain the skills that will help them find work at a higher wage.”

The proposal calls for state gambling laws to lower the $200 million investment threshold required to open a casino to $100 million. Democratic leaders say that $200 million minimum has prevented Southeast Kansas from getting a destination casino. The plan would also modify thresholds for slot machines at racetracks to help re-open racetracks in Crawford, Sedgwick and Wyandotte counties.

One proposal would use some gaming revenues for repairs at state universities and to fund city and county infrastructure projects, such as repairing crumbling sidewalks and aging sewer systems. Under the proposal, 50 percent of the state’s Expanded Lottery Act Revenues Fund money would pay for deferred maintenance projects at Regents facilities and 20 percent of the cash would go toward city and county infrastructure.

Democrats say industry estimates show opening three existing racetracks would generate $33 million per year for the state and that opening a new casino in Southeast Kansas would add $11 million per year. But Gov. Sam Brownback has said he doesn’t want the legislature to tackle the issue because it distracts too much from other pressing issues, including his proposals for tax policy, school financing, Medicaid reform and an overhaul of the state’s pension system — all of which Brownback is pressing for in an election year where lawmakers are grappling with redistricting.

Another bill would accelerate projects in the T-Works program, which Democrats say is slated to spend $440 million next year and $237 million in 2013 on road projects across the state. Their bill would push forward at least $50 million of that work by putting out for bid in February any projects that already have engineering complete.

Hensley said the T-Works acceleration proposal should have a lot of support. He said it is projected to create 175,000 jobs over 10 years. “That is a big deal for the state of Kansas,” he said. “And if we can accelerate that program, we’re going to create jobs much sooner than would have been otherwise. And I think that’s something that should definitely have bipartisan support during this legislative session.”

Hensley said Democrats researched and prepared their proposals with input from the business and labor communities.

Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka

The Democrats’ full set of proposals would cost $11.1 million from the state’s general fund in fiscal year 2013. But it is projected to generate $5.4 million in 2014 and $15.4 million in 2015. The revenue hinges entirely on gambling income.

Davis said Democrats were very conservative in their estimates, especially with gaming revenue.

Here’s a fiscal breakdown Democrats provided.


-$3 million (Job Training Tax Credit)

-$2 million (Apprenticeship Tax Credit)

-18.6 million (Technical Education Formula)

-$4 million (Kansas Economic Growth Act increase)

+$16.5 million (1/2 of racetrack revenue)

Total: -$11.1 million impact on state general fund

FY 2014

-$3 million (Job Training Tax Credit)

-$2 million (Apprenticeship Tax Credit)

-$18.6 million (Technical Education Formula)

-$4 million (Kansas Economic Growth Act increase)

+$33 million (racetrack only revenue)

+$5.4 million impact on state general fund

FY 2015

-$3 million (Job Training Tax Credit)

-$2 million (Apprenticeship Tax Credit)

-$18.6 million (Technical Education Formula)

-$4 million (Kansas Economic Growth Act increase)

+43 million (racetrack and SEK casino revenue)

Total: +$15.4 million impact on state general fund

Brownback issued a brief statement about the Democrats proposal: “We welcome all ideas on how to create jobs in Kansas, and look forward to working with all Kansas legislators in the coming session to move our great state forward.  Our focus is on the full agenda already proposed with KPERS reform, pro-growth tax policy, Medicaid reform, school finance and water conservation.”

The Kansas Republican Party said it welcomes the Democrats’ ideas, and it plans to study them further. “At first brush, however, the 14 points appear to emphasize even more direct government intervention in the market, more spending, more regulations, and more tax code complexity,” the party said in a statement.

Democrats’ other proposals include:

Hire Kansas First Act: A proposal to require any contractor or subcontractor working on a state contract worth at least $100,000 a year to ensure at least 70 percent of employees working on the contract are Kansas residents. That would exclude lease agreements, lease-purchase agreements, contracts that aren’t only for acquiring goods, projects that require expertise not readily available in Kansas and local government contracts. It would, however, include companies using several tax incentive programs to have 70 percent of their workforce from Kansas. Incentive programs include Promoting Employment Across Kansas Act, High Performance Incentive Program, Business and Jobs Development Tax Credit and the Sales Tax and Revenue Bond Program (or STAR bonds).

In their proposal, Democrats say Kansas needs to do more “to keep projects like the Ambassador Hotel, which sent $2 million worth of electrical work to an out-of-state firm; the Fairfield Inn being built by a Utah contractor; and the runway upgrade at McConnell Air Force Base given to a Florida-based company, here in Kansas.”

Application discrimination: This bill would ban employers from using applicant’s credit history when deciding who to hire. There are exceptions for some positions that require employees to have regular access to personal or financial information. It would also prohibit employers from advertising a preference for applicants to be currently employed.  Similar bills have been passed in other states.

Immigration accountability: It would require state and local government agencies and contractors and sub-contractors under contract to verify their employees’ residency using the federal E-Verify system.

Worker classification: The idea would increase penalties for employers who intentionally misclassified an employee as an independent contractor from a class A nonperson misdemeanor to a nonperson felony.

Student tax credits: Democrats propose giving students enrolled in post-secondary courses an individual income tax credit mirroring federal education tax credits. Students who get the federal credit would also get a credit equal to 10 percent of that amount on their state tax return.

Apprenticeships: The idea would provide non-refundable tax credits to businesses that sponsor apprenticeship programs. Those companies would be eligible for up to $1,000 per apprentice per year, for up to four years. Apprentices must be working for the business at least 7 months during the year. Another bill related to that would full-fund the technical education formula approved earlier this year without funding. Brownback has said he will unveil a technical education plan of his own in the near future.

Bio-tech: Democrats propose removing the $35 million cap on the Kansas Economic Growth Act, approved in 2006. They propose $4 million increases each year, until it is fully-funded in 2017.

Disadvantaged businesses: The plan would create an outreach program to help small-, minority- and woman-owned businesses participate in state and post-secondary education contracts for goods and services.