Three area lawmakers were on hand Saturday in Salina to give an update on the 2016 Legislative Session in Topeka.
A crowd of about 70 people jotted down questions and pitched them in a basket for State Representatives, Steven Johnson, Diana Dierks and J.R. Claeys to respond to during the 90-minute meeting.
Much of the conversation centered on the recently passed state budget – and how soon legislators can circle back to find an extra $54 million to pay for a mandated Kansas Supreme Court increase for public schools.
Last week the House and Senate approved a plan that squares the budget by eliminating a projected deficit of nearly $200 million, but left the missing $54 million piece of the puzzle to be found later.
“I voted against the budget because it was not complete,” Representative Dierks told the gathering. “It’s another example of trying to do things too quickly.”
“We better find out where we’re going to get this $54 million dollars from, “ she said.
Representative Claeys expressed that he wants a formula that will inject more money into the classroom, while Representative Johnson said he favored passing what they had in hand last week.
“The best strategy was to pass the budget for the entities it serves,” he said. “We’ll have to revisit it at some point.”
The Bank of KDOT
Borrowing funds earmarked for Kansas transportation projects has been a bridge used to fixed several budget holes in the past. A practice legislators say points to deeper concerns on the horizon.
“It shows we have a revenue problem,” Johnson told the audience.
Rep. Dierks told the group, “There’s not one magic solution.”
Rep. Claeys added KDOT 10-year plans sometimes leave transportation projects overfunded, “You can’t predict in 2010 what fuel prices, what asphalt’s going to cost and where the bids are going to come in, in 2020,” he said.
“We’d like to do is move back to a six year plan with three year updates.”
“That’s why you are seeing those shifts out of KDOT because we don’t need all of the dollars there. We do need to put them towards our general fund where they belong,” Claeys said.
Grocery Sales Tax
All three State Representatives agreed that a new proposal to eliminate or lower sales tax on groceries in Kansas is a step the right direction. “I’m an advocate for that,” Dierks said.
“It’s great but it’s going to take some time to look at it,” Claeys added.
Rep. Johnson agreed, commenting he favored a slow reduction over time down to a 3-percent sales tax.
Senator Tom Arpke of Salina was unable to attend the update due to a prior commitment for a Republican party meeting,
Legislators will be back in Salina for their second update on Saturday, March 19th while the third and final update is scheduled in May at the Chamber.