For every legislator, the first big step is getting over the hurdle of the election. Next is receiving committee assignments where they can be effective on the issues important to their constituents. Here are the assignments for each of Barton County’s legislators, which they shared at the Saturday morning Great Bend Legislative Coffee:
With two freshmen, Sen. Mary Jo Taylor, representing 12 counties in central and western Kansas, and Rep. Tory Arnberger representing the 112th District which includes all of Great Bend and Hoisington, many who voted for them at the November election turned out to wish them well.
Taylor shared that she was afforded the opportunity to have some choice in what committees she was picked to serve on. Consequently, the former long-time Stafford USD 349 Superintendent will serve on the Education Committee, as well as the Public Health and Welfare Committee and Agricultural and National Resources Committee.
“This is a good fit for me,” she said. In addition to her past work in education, she is linked to rural health care through her husband, Todd Taylor, administrator for Stafford Community Hospital. In addition, many of the constituents in her 12-county district have deep ties to agriculture. One thing the Senate is already working on, she added, is the budget. This is a change from past years when the budget is looked at last in the session.
Rep. Tory Arnberger has been placed on the House Education Committee, and will also serve on the Agriculture and Natural Resources Budget Committee and the Federal and State Affairs Committee.
Returning for his second term, Rep. Greg Lewis, representing the 113th District, will continue to serve on the Agriculture Committee, as well as the Local Government and the new Water and Environment committees.
Rep. Troy Waymaster, representing the 109th District for a third term, and is serving now as Chairman of the Appropriations and serving on the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.
“I served on Appropriations during my last term, and I really enjoyed that committee because you see everything come through that committee,” he said. “I explained to the leadership that I wanted to be Appropriations Chairman because, given the current state we are in with the state budget, I want to be part of the solution.”
As part of that committee, he is working directly on what is being called “the rescission bill for 2017, and he shared that they will be working that bill on Monday when they return.
It’s not unusual for only a couple state legislators to fit a local legislative coffee into their schedules during the regular session. That’s what made Saturday’s coffee hosted by the Great Bend Chamber of Commerce an unexpected treat. All four of Barton County’s elected state representatives made time to come and answer questions and share their early insights about the 2017 legislative session.
Raising funds, balancing the budget
Taxes, how they will be raised and who will have to pay were top concerns of attendees. Questions ranged from inquiries about raising the tax on the lottery and casinos instead of on liquor and cigarettes; to why more taxes couldn’t be collected immediately to help pay the expenses of 2017. For these, Waymaster and Lewis took the floor.
Lewis shared that as a returning representative, the atmosphere in the statehouse is completely different than he has seen it in the last two years.
“This is the first time since 2012 that both chambers are looking at a total comprehensive tax revision,” he said. “We’re all talking, reaching across the aisle talking to the other parties, the leaders of the other parties are also working for total tax plan revision. This is what I call a structural fix, and this is what we need.”
He went on to say he was heartened by the way the Senate is already working on the budget. “We’re not just looking at bandaids this year. Everything is out on the table and is being looked at.”
But attendees at the coffee were looking for specific ideas, but so far, the only answer the representatives could offer was the likely return of the top tax bracket for the state, which is proposed to be 5.44 percent,. That’s a whole percentage point lower than it was before when it was removed in 2012. When asked why, Waymaster and Lewis concurred that it would be exceedingly difficult to get the measure passed if it were higher because there is still a sizeable contingent of legislators that are against bringing any tax back, preferring to continue on the “march to zero.”
Concerning raising “sin taxes,” like that for cigarettes and liquor, Waymaster explained that this was considered by Governor Sam Brownback as the path of least resistance. Meanwhile, there is currently consideration toward reducing the taxes collected from racing and slot machine establishments from 40 percent, down to 22 percent which the three casinos in the state pay. This he added, is an attempt at achieving fairness. Lottery winnings, he said, were designated in 1986 when the state law was created, and haven’t been changed. When legislators start talking about gaming receipts and how that money is divided up, you have everyone wanting a piece of the pie. There are also anti-gaming sentiments among some legislators, who would like nothing more than to get rid of the lottery, he added.
“There’s just a lot of moving parts,” he said.
Several other questions resulted in detailed responses from legislators, and the Great Bend Tribune will report on these throughout the coming week.