Rep. Greg Lewis and Sen. Mary Jo Taylor shared challenges facing the Kansas Legislature and what it had and hadn't accomplished in the session so far.
A long way to go and a short time to get there is the situation facing the Kansas Legislature when they return from their April recess. With two weeks left in the session they have no state budget and no school finance bill.
Rep. Greg Lewis and Sen. Mary Jo Taylor both expressed disappointment in some of the major legislation that either didn't pass or did and the governor vetoed the bill. The pair addressed about 30 are residents during a town hall meeting in Pratt on April 19 at Pratt Community College.
Lewis said both chambers are working together to come up with a compromise on a tax bill.
There are lots of new faces in the state Legislature this year and good debate is happening, something that Lewis has not seen before.
"We're going in the right direction," Lewis said.
A rescission bill was passed that is designed to help cover the $250 million short fall in the budget. The bill doesn't cut education and the state was able to make their quarterly Kansas Public Employees Retirement System payment.
The hard work for the Legislature lies ahead when they go back to work in May. It took four weeks to get a state budget bill. The governor vetoed the bill and no replacement bill was passed. Lewis said he didn't know how a new budget bill could be completed in the two weeks remaining in the session and thinks an extended session, maybe lasting for weeks, will be needed to get everything done. He anticipates a flat budget when it is passed.
He and Taylor were both dissappointed the Medicaid expansion bill was vetoed and that there were not enough votes to override the governor's veto. Medicaid expansion is critical for Kansas. With some 170,000 Kansans using the emergency room for medical treatment because they can't afford insurance, hospitals are not getting sufficient payment.
"It puts our hospitals at risk. They have a thinner margin to work with," Lewis said.
Lewis said he thought they would revisit Medicaid expansion but time was short in the session.
House Bill 2410 looks to be the education funding bill for the legislators will get on May 1. It looks similar to the bill before Block Grants were established.
Lewis said he thought one reason the governor might be pushing back from Medicaid expansion is in some states, twice as many people enrolled as participated and he was afraid that would happen in Kansas.
Taylor, who sits on the K-12 education committee, said she was disappointed with the lack of progress. She, as a new member of the legislature, learned that committee chairs make a big difference on committee productivity. The education committee passed two bills. Taylor said she was surprised that so little got gone and that they had the chance to do more. The committee worked on the education bill then the Majority Leader Jene Vickrey said they would watch the House and see what they do.
"It's such an opportunity. The people were ready to work," Taylor said. "Our chair didn't want to work on education funding. I wish we had a more passionate person."
Although the Supreme Court has said the state has to supply adequate funding for education, they have not said what that amount is. In the past, the Supreme Court did set an amount and the legislature said it was there job to set spending and not the court. Now, some legislators are wanting the court to set an amount, Taylor said.
Taylor is concerned that if an eduction bill is passed, it won't pass the Supreme Court muster. If a bill is not passed before June 30, that would cause all schools state wide to shut down.
Lewis said he was confident they would get an education bill passed before the shut down even if they had to come back for a special session.
"I'm confident we'll get this done," Lewis said.
Taylor was frustrated that they could pass bills but couldn't get enough votes to override the governor's veto. In spite of the inability to override the veto, there was good work going on reaching across the aisles.
As far as the budget shortfall goes, Lewis said sales tax had gone as far as it could go and property tax needs relief so that leaves income tax. There was talk of putting the LLCs back on the tax roles but that would not raise enough to cover the short fall. The Senate had looked at a flat tax but that failed.
The situation is that by 2019, the state needs to come up with almost $1 billion. In actuality the state is almost insolvent. A large percentage of state employees have not had a pay raise or cost of living increase for 10 years, Lewis said.
Taylor agreed and said Kansas Judges get the lowest pay of any judges in the country. The Legislature is looking borrowing money from the unpaid property fund but it would have to be paid back with interest.
Lewis said other things they have looked at include raising fees on the water plan.
While its been a rough time for the Legislature, they did manage to pass 166 bills.