A group of state senators and representatives shared issues facing the 2018 state legislature in Topeka during a legislative luncheon at Pratt Community College for faculty and staff.
State Senators and Representatives shared thoughts on issues for the upcoming 2018 Legislative session during a Legislative luncheon for Pratt Community College administration, faculty and trustees.
Sen. Ed Berger, District 34, said the Legislators would have lot on their plates when the session starts. Top of the list is the funding formula K-12. They would have deal with the possibility of raising taxes, making cuts and other options to come up with something palatable for the Kansas Supreme Court that ruled funding for education was not adequate and more funds had to be made available.
While education has the lions share of state funding, other departments are also facing funding issues. The Department of Corrections funding for the facility at Lansing is not good. The facility is deteriorating and in bad shape, Berger said. The state mental health facility is also facing funding issues. Staff are working double shifts, the Osawatomie facility is finally open again with 60 beds available but they are low on funds as well.
Rep. Greg Lewis from Dist. 113 that covers Pratt, said it would take a tax increase to cover the extra funding to meet the Supreme Court ruling. But, he questioned whether the Legislature would have the stomach for a tax increase especially in an election year for all Representatives.
The results of the Brownback tax cut in 2012 will be with the state for for 40 years. The State has 1,000 fewer employees than it did in 2012. But with fewer employees, the state was able to give a cost of living increase for the first time since 2012.
Other funding issues facing the Legislature include the Kansas Bureau of Investigation wants to add more agents and Lansing needs improvements to its facility that was built in 1860 and they are looking at privatizing mental health in Kansas.
Rep. Leonard Mastroni from Dist. 117 said the Legislature was facing tough, hard issues. What they did last year was positive and the state's economy is growing.
Mastroni wants to expand Medicaid. Hospitals are doing no fund warrants in his district. If hospitals lose staff, it has a ripple effect through that community.
The Department of Corrections is working with Barton County Community College to help 300 youthful offenders between the ages of 18 to 25 to get them in courses for truck drivers, welders or to get their GEDs.
Rep. Jack Thimesch from Dist. 114 said the governor's 2012 tax cut was on the table and the Legislature could have stopped it and fixed it but they didn't.
Thimesch said he has had lots of calls complaining about too many regulations that were costing money.
"We keep changing the rules for the next guy down the line," Thimesch said.
This attitude is making it harder and harder to get things done. An example was buying former rest homes for older prisoners but not being able to use them because the hallways were a couple of feet to narrow.
Sen. Mary Jo Taylor from Dist. 33 that covers Pratt County, said getting the funding issue taken care of was a top priority. When the Supreme Court says if funding is not adequate, they will shut down the K-12 schools.
In health, KanCare is not working as well as it should and the Legislature needs to address that issue.
Taylor said there needs to be transparency, accountability and fiscal responsibility and that can be accomplished with the Representatives at the luncheon.
Rep. Boyd Orr of Dist. 115 said he sees rural Internet service has become a utility just like electricity or water. The cost is very prohibitive. Orr said it cost $36,000 for fiber optic installation for just one home in Fowler. Orr said this is a critical issue for rural Kansas.
He agrees that overregulation is hurting the state and making it hard to get things done. The solution of more regulations to fix an issue isn't working.
Sen. Larry Alley from Dist. 32 said he agreed that Internet service needs to be sustainable.
He said health care has serious problems. Some 40 hospitals are in financial trouble. He would like to see businesses contract with hospitals to provide primary care for employees and their families. It works in Garden City were some employees save $1,000 a year. If hospitals could be the primary provider, Alley said it could create $600,000 more revenue a year. And excess capacity in hospitals could be used as a secondary revenue resource.
"Communities will save hospitals," Alley said.
Linda Fund, executive director of the Kansas Association of Community College Trustees, said when funding cuts are made, schools that are already running lean get cut hard. She appreciates the work the Representatives and Senators are doing in Topeka.
There is a funding inequality for community colleges. The state spends 17 percent of the budget on community colleges but they educate 90 percent of the students in Kansas.
Pratt Community College Michael Calvert said he hoped the Legislature would be able to restore the four percent cut education suffered in 2017. He pushed the Legislators to work for full funding for Bill 155, the governor's career technical education initiative that provides high school students with postsecondary technical training. Community colleges are the most economic source of education in the state and PCC graduates for the last five years, have started in the workforce with the highest income for two year colleges and for students graduating with a bachelors degree from a four year university.
Can the college be better? Of course it can, Calvert said.
The college has the responsibility to train students to go into the job market.
Trustee Dwane DeWeese asked the legislators to consider legislation that would shut off the end guns on irrigation systems. DeWeese said is was a waste of water because it just evaporated in the air.
Trustee Darrel Shumway said he would like the legislature to examine getting other counties with students that attend PCC to help pay for funding because Pratt County pays for 56 percent of the funding.