Advocating for You - January, 2019

The Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce advocates for its membership in Missouri, Kansas, Washington, D.C., and local government. Here are the highlights of activity in January.


City Advocacy on Pre-K Tax: As Kansas City moves toward the April 2 ballot initiative to approve a three-eighth cent sales tax increase to fund universal access to quality pre-K in Kansas City, KC Chamber leaders met this month with each member of the City Council to share key information behind the Chamber Board of Directors' endorsement of the ballot initiative. Chamber staff told Council members that one-in-three Kansas City area children do not come to Kindergarten ready to learn. This holds hundreds of students back each year. Thus, reducing key measurements such as third grade reading assessments, graduation rates, workforce readiness and increasing crime statistics in our region. The meetings also provided Council members with critical information showing how several competing metro areas, including Denver, San Antonio, Cincinnati, Seattle, and more, are delivering quality pre-K education to their students funded by a local tax. The Denver Public Schools even credit the area's 12-year-old Denver Preschool Program (funded by a local sales tax) as a key factor in moving district reading assessments from the lowest to the highest level among its statewide peer group. Chamber member businesses who want to learn more about the Chamber's work on universal Pre-K education can e-mail Pam Ronfeldt to schedule a special presentation on the topic.

Earnings Tax Letter to Gov. Parson: The KC Chamber and the Civic Council of Greater Kansas City sent a joint letter to Missouri Governor Mike Parson and Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz (R-26) opposing the elimination of the earnings tax in Kansas City. The letter described what the one percent tax on earned income means for the area, emphasizing that approximately 76 percent of the revenue generated is used for municipal public safety needs such as ambulatory services, firefighters and police officers. Revenues from the earnings tax amount to about $230 million annually which is 40 percent of the city's general fund. Given that 50 percent of the tax is paid by those who do not live in the city but use city infrastructure and resources, losing the critical tax would create a funding gap that Kansas City residents would be left to fill. Opposition to Senate Bill 112 remains a priority for the Chamber and is essential for Kansas City to remain regionally competitive.


Missouri State Affairs Committee Talks Workforce Development: Missouri's Director of Economic Development Rob Dixon and Commissioner of Higher Education Zora Mulligan joined Senators John Rizzo (D-11) and Mike Cierpiot (R-08) for an inside look at the state's recent workforce development efforts during this month's KC Chamber Missouri State Affairs Committee meeting. The committee learned about a year-long study of Missouri's workforce needs, which lead to new policy proposals to enhance the state's ability to produce an educated and skilled workforce. Dixon and Mulligan shared how proposed changes would enable their departments to improve outcomes through agency reorganization and collaboration. Other initiatives like the "Fast Track Workforce Incentive Grant," a grant program for Missourians attaining their college degree, seeks to improve access to credentialed education and has already been filed in Jefferson City. With guidance from the Missouri State Affairs Committee, the Chamber continues its advocacy in the halls of the state capitol as lawmakers consider new pathways to better develop and educate a competitive workforce.

More on Missouri Workforce Development Efforts: In his state of the state address, Governor Parson included workforce development as a key priority for his administration. The legislature followed by filing several bills with the intention of strengthening the state's workforce. The KC Chamber provided testimony on four bills as Senate and House committees began the work of reforming the Missouri workforce development system. Proposals like Missouri OneStart, or House Bill 469, would help the state's three workforce-related business incentive programs geared towards business attraction, expansion and retention training to become more flexible as to better address regional workforce needs. Other legislation, like House Bill 225 and Senate Bill 56, continue the work of bringing new jobs to the state. Both bills would allow the Department of Economic Development to use a portion of Missouri Works program funds as a "closing fund" to close the deal on businesses looking to create jobs here in the state. The KC Chamber will continue lending its voice as these pieces of legislation make their way through the General Assembly and to the Governor's desk.


Call to End the Shutdown: The KC Chamber joined 645 other state and local chambers from across the country to call for an end to the longest federal government shutdown in United States history, as a result of disagreement on border security funding. The letter urged Congress and the administration to restore full operation of the federal government to help remedy some of the harm caused to federal employees as a result of missed paychecks. Additionally, the letter urged for compromise, “that should be acceptable to all parties.” The Chamber believes in responsible immigration reform that improves access to much needed human capital and believes that a fully functioning government is critical to economic vibrancy for our region. The Chamber was relieved to see the government reopened at the end of Friday, January 25.

Farm Bill Passes Congress: Before the 115th Congress adjourned for the final time, they passed a new farm bill led by Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Kansas Senator Pat Roberts. In addition to the continuation of current farm and nutrition policy, the bill also expanded workforce development money for those receiving SNAP assistance. Specifically, the bill expanded the SNAP Employment and Training Program (SNAP E&T) to $1 Billion a year with minimum allocation of funds raised to $100,000. SNAP E&T allows low-income individuals to receive subsidized workforce training programs. The KC Chamber applauds the Senate and House Agriculture Committees, especially committee members from our area delegation, including Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Pat Roberts (KS), Rep. Vicky Hartzler (MO) and Rep. Roger Marshall (KS) on passing legislation that boosts critical workforce programs. These programs are expected to grow the pipeline of talent ready to fill the thousands of vacant jobs in the Kansas City area.


Pre-K and Early Childhood Education: KC Chamber President and CEO, Joe Reardon, spoke with the Early Childhood Education Caucus of the Kansas Legislature this month to share vital statistics on how the lack of access to early education is impacting the KC workforce and the opportunity of area children to participate in the regional economy. Reardon told the Caucus that one in three Kansas City children starts kindergarten behind and shared data showing that children raised in lower-income households, on average, experience 30 million fewer words than children raised in more affluent households. The presentation outlined results from the High/Scope Perry study demonstrating that communities receive a return of nearly $13 per every dollar invested in early learning, including savings on welfare costs, crime savings and revenue from tax earnings. While Kansas and Missouri currently spend $39 million and $17 million per year, respectively, on early childhood education, Oklahoma spends $141 million per year, Colorado $109 million and Iowa $84 million. With Kindergarten Readiness as one of the Chamber’s Big 5 Initiatives, the Chamber would be pleased to share the same provocative pre-K presentation with any Chamber member. Contact Pam Ronfeldt to schedule a presentation for your workforce or community group. The Chamber looks forward to continued advocacy in Topeka and Jefferson City for expanded access to quality early learning programs.

Workforce Advocacy in Topeka: The KC Chamber and our key partners have been busy advocating and educating members of the Kansas Legislature on workforce development priorities for the Kansas City area. On January 23, Chamber Policy Director John Jenks hosted Jim Jamieson, Honeywell; Sheri Gonzales Warren, KC Rising; and Donna McDaniel, Kauffman Foundation for a presentation to the Kansas House Commerce committee highlighting the priorities and work of the Chamber’s Workforce Development Initiative. The Chamber presenters shared the importance of aligning business and education needs to ensure our future workforce is being equipped with the necessary skills for a 21st century economy. Chamber staff delivered a similar message later in the month to Dr. Randy Watson, Kansas Commissioner of Education, and Blake Flanders, President and CEO of the Kansas Board of Regents. In the presentation state education leaders were asked for their perspectives on how the KC Chamber might advocate for improved alignment between the needs of business and education and providing our students with the necessary tools to be ready for jobs on the horizon. The Chamber workforce development initiative is bringing K-12, higher education and business leaders together to meet the needs of business in the greater Kansas City area and create a pipeline to fill the thousands of unfilled jobs in the area.

January Kansas State Affairs Committee Meeting: The first Kansas State Affairs Committee meeting of 2019 featured Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning and Representative Stephanie Clayton. Both opened the meeting with general remarks about what to look for from the 2019 Kansas Legislature. KC Chamber members raised concerns about a variety of issues including reassurance that discriminatory legislation will not be passed and urged the legislators to make transportation funding and planning a priority. Chamber staff shared with the group a brief summary of chamber work on workforce development and urged the elected guests to consider workforce policy to improve access to a ready workforce.

Special Announcements: Transportation Big 5 Co-Chair Julie Lorenz has been named Interim Secretary of the Kansas Department of Transportation by Governor Laura Kelly. Julie has long been an outstanding advocate for innovative transportation, and we look forward to working with her in her new role. Additionally, KC Chamber President and CEO Joe Reardon has been named by Governor Kelly to the Governor’s Education Council that started under Governor Jeff Colyer. The goal of the council is to improve outcomes for Kansas kids and provide an opportunity for connecting educators from Pre-K through higher education with leaders in the business community.