ELLINWOOD — The 2015 session of the Kansas Legislature begins Monday, Jan. 12. Freshman Rep. J. Basil Dannebohm (R-Ellinwood) hosted an early Legislative Coffee on Tuesday at the new Gather Coffee House, located at 19 Main St. in Ellinwood. In addition to Dannebohm, Representative of the 113th District, Sen. Mitch Holmes, (R-St. John), spoke at the coffee.
Although not a representative of Ellinwood residents, 112th District Rep. John Edmonds, (R-Great Bend), came to listen and was also asked to share his opinion a couple of times.
“I have big shoes to fill,” Dannebohm said, referring to Representative-Emeritus Marshall Christman. “We’re hard at work for you as a team.” He said more Legislative coffees are planned, as he plans to seek voters’ input. Toward the end of the session, he asked contituents to pray for the state lawmakers.
“We’re all in this together,” he said.
The biggest challenge for the Legislature will be the budget, Edmonds said before the coffee. With the present budget shortfall of $250 million projected to double in 2016, and the Kansas Supreme Court demanding another $450-500 million for education, Kansas will be looking at $1 billion to make up in the next two years, either with tax increases, program cuts or new revenue from growing the economy.
It’s a daunting task for lawmakers, Dannebohm said. “This is going to be a tough session.”
“It will be a very large headline year, as far as the budget is concerned,” Holmes said. However, he added, “We’ve come through these situations before, and it makes you stronger.” Those who blame the governor’s tax cuts should acknowledge that many states are currently experiencing shortfalls, he said.
With the budget in the spotlight, Holmes said a couple of issues might “fly under the radar.” These include judicial reform and elections. There will be a bill to have a uniform election date in November.
Holmes chaired the committee that reformed the state employee pension plan in 2011-12. He said 10 percent of the state population is in the Kansas Public Employee Retirement System. Holmes, who has sought to have future state employees in a 401(k)-style contribution retirement plan rather than the current pension system, said the goal is to pay retirees already in the system what they are due, protect the system and make it sustainable for the future.
Homes said a petition that accuses the Legislature of using KPERS as a “slush fund” is not accurate.
The petition on www.changekansas.org, “Hands off KPERS,” states, “Public employees work hard every day to serve the people of Kansas. The Kansas legislature must keep its commitment to fully fund KPERS and must not use it as a slush fund for the State’s economic shortfall.”
“That’s not accurate, folks,” Holmes said. Money in KPERS has not been touched to fund the shortfall, although the govornor did reduce the allotment that was going to be added to KPERS, in order to deal with the budget crisis.
“KPERS is on a good trajectory and it’s my intention to keep it that way,” Holmes said.
For the 2015 Legislative session, Holmes will chair the ethics and elections committee. Other committees for him are agriculture, local government, federal and state affairs, health and human services, and pensions and benefits.
Dannebohm has been assigned to the ag committee, commerce, and Vision 2020.
Edmonds has a new appointment as vice chairman of the tax committee, as he is leaving the pension committee. He returns to heath and human services.