Archive for Wednesday, December 18, 2002

Legislators deliver unwelcome news to county

December 18, 2002

Four state lawmakers painted a grim picture last Wednesday when they attended a county commission breakfast in Leavenworth.

County department heads also attended the session along with commissioners Joe Daniels and Don Navinsky. Commissioner Bob Adams was unable to attend because of illness.

State Rep. Kenny Wilk, R-Lansing, said the state's budget deficit, predicted to reach $312 million by the end of this fiscal year, is uncharted territory for legislators.

"Certainly we're in much different times than what we've been in in recent memory. You've got to go back to the early '80s to where you can find anything remotely close to what we're experiencing right now," Wilk said.

The nation, and Kansas, have not yet recovered from the terrorists' acts of Sept. 11, 2001, in the eastern United States, Wilk said.

"That was a huge economic body blow, and Kansas has taken a disproportionate hit here because of the influence of our aviation sector," Wilk said.

Wichita, where Cessna and Boeing have factories, has been hard hit by job layoffs, he said.

"Wichita has had the equivalent of the entire city of Leavenworth being laid off," Wilk said. "We are not that big of a state, and when those things happen this has a dramatic impact."

Increasing costs of health care continue to place a heavy burden on state finances, Wilk said.

Health care expenses, which cover Medicaid, Healthwave for children who are not covered by health insurance, nursing home care and insurance the state pays for employees, totals about $1.8 billion annually, Wilk said.

"Over 20 percent of all our state funds goes directly to health care," he said. "The state of Kansas is by far the largest funder of health care in the state."

Wilk said he expects health care costs to be a major part of the state budget for the next 10 to 15 years as more and more baby boomers need additional healthcare services.

It's the taxpayers

The 52 percent of Kansas' budget that goes to school districts will likely result in additional cuts in state funding, Wilk said. In August Gov. Bill Graves cut $27 from the per pupil state aid that school districts receive.

Whether schools, cities or counties receive tax cuts, much of the money comes from the same source the taxpayers, Wilk said.

"If you hold the school districts harmless but you take a big chunk of hide out of cities and the counties, what you have accomplished is that the taxpayers at the end of the day are funding all of it," Wilk said.

Wilk said the state has some huge problems to face.

"Inevitably, we have to face the fact that we're spending a lot more money than we're bringing in," Wilk said. "We cannot print money and we cannot deficit spend and we will have to find some way to balance the budget."

Let's come together

State Rep. Candy Ruff, D-Leavenworth, said legislators will need to start working together if anything is to be accomplished.

"In the Kansas House you have 45 to 50 legislators that have refused to vote for fee increases. : That leaves the four of the state legislators in this room to make the big decision," Ruff said. "In the House you've got three people who are on your side Marti and Kenny and I ought to be standing here with choir robes on."

Rep. Marti Crow, D-Leavenworth, also attended the breakfast.

Ruff said legislators who are willing to vote for budget cuts and tax increases may take a hit in the next election.

"The problem is you've got an election in two years," Ruff said. "Come on you guys I've still got the scars from last Nov. 5."

The upcoming session will be challenging, with the different factions in the Legislature, she said.

"When we get over to Topeka in January, not everybody is going to be singing off the same page of the hymnal," Ruff said. "Some of us who vote for tax increases to save a lot of suffering from layoffs, further cuts, whatever, that comes with a very severe price in two years.

Crow noted that she, Wilk, Ruff and Sen. Mark Gilstrap, D-Kansas City, Kan., have cooperated with one another.

"We haven't looked at each other as Democrats or Republicans," Crow said.

A herd of suits

An upcoming chore for the Legislature, Crow said, will be to decide what tax exemptions will be cut.

"We may have to cut things that have very strong lobbies," she said. "But every time you mention an exemption you see a herd of suits."

Crow argued that the Legislature passed exemptions last year needlessly.

"Last session as we looked out in the future at a billion dollar hole in the budget there were exemptions that were passed and there were tax credits that were passed," she said. "We have not managed the budget in a responsible manner from the way I look at it. You have to make very careful decisions, you have to look at every single spending cut and revenue cut to see who it hurts."

Gilstrap said the work is cut out for legislators.

"We know the problems and now we've got to figure out the solutions," Gilstrap said.

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