Legislators share insights on capital issues
Nudist colonies, gambling, interstates, the Kansas budget, fishing licenses and, of course, education all were a part of the conversation at Saturday morning's legislative coffee at Bitler's BBQ.
About 20 people listened as three state legislators gave rundowns on issues coming up in the Senate and House this session. Rep. Ken Wilk, R-Lansing, Rep. Ray Cox, R-Bonner Springs, and Sen. Don Biggs, D-Leavenworth, attended the session, sponsored by First State Bank and Trust.
On a practical note, Cox advised that starting in March, Interstate 70 heading east from Bonner Springs will be two lanes during road construction.
"Avoid that area at all costs," Cox said. "It's been a mess, and it's going to get worse."
Concerning educational funding, Cox said, a bill in the Senate would allow the installation and use of slot machines at the three racetracks in Kansas. Proceeds from the machines would help finance education.
"It's controversial because of the gambling," Cox said, "And also because the state would be using gambling proceeds to finance education."
This is an important issue to Kansans, Cox said.
"No matter how you feel about gambling, it's important to note that $180 million of Kansas money is floating over to Missouri gambling each year. If we could get some of that, we might sink a boat over there and keep some of that money here."
Cox said he was concerned that issues that should be handled locally are making their way to the state.
"It seems like some representatives in Topeka want to make the state Legislature the zoning and planning commission for Topeka," Cox said.
He mentioned two areas have cropped up in this regard zoning regulations of liquor stores and nudist colonies.
"They want to make sure a nudist colony can't be closer than five miles to the nearest town," Cox said. "Instead of going to their local government, they're going to the state Legislature. You've got to maintain local control of issues like this."
Wilk discussed the state budget.
"As usual, it's interesting," he said. "It doesn't matter how much money you have or how little money you have, the budget is always a crisis for somebody."
The state does not have a revenue problem, Wilk said.
"We have a spending problem. We are spending a billion dollars more than we did five years ago."
What it will boil down to in April is the great battle over who gets the dollars, Wilk said.
"I think that education will get their $50 per pupil," Wilk said. "I said that last fall; I still believe it today."
An area of controversy in the Legislature is that in the past, Kansans age 65 and older did not have to pay for licenses to hunt and fish. Nor did they have to pay for permits to use state parks.
A bill that would require senior citizens to pay half the regular cost for these services was not taken lightly, Wilk said.
"You'd have thought the sky was falling in on Kansas," Wilk said.
"But there are a lot of people in Kansas driving $100,000 RVs and pulling expensive boats and yet they don't want to pay $7.50 for hunting and fishing licenses," Wilk said.
Wilk termed this a "demographic" issue.
"The baby boomers are getting older," he said. "As they continue to get older and there are more in the 60- to 65-age group, the current system will not be able to support this."
Biggs said he supported charging senior citizens for these services.
"Our generation really has it good with social security and retirement benefits," he said. "It's the young families who I think will have a tighter squeeze in this day and age."
Biggs talked about the Kansas State University agriculture program which is working to reassess priorities in this field and find new ways for farmers to make money. He mentioned the growing of cotton, for one.
"We're asking the Senate to redirect funding to help find ways to keep these farmers and ranchers on their land," Biggs said.
As far as confined hog facilities, Biggs said he's in favor of having counties set their own standards for these facilities.
On the state budget, Biggs said there would be major cuts in all areas.
He pinpointed education.
"If we do what's proposed on special education cuts, local districts will have to make up the difference," Biggs said.