Saturday morning, the Great Bend Chamber of Commerce hosted its first Legislative Coffee for 2019, welcoming Sen. Mary Jo Taylor, District 33 and Rep. Troy Waymaster, District 109. Waymaster introduced both his wife, Crystal, and four-months-old son Christian, who accompanied him that morning. Taylor introduced her daughter, Molly Smith and her daughter-in-law, Amy Smith, also in attendance.
Taylor briefly provided an overview of Kansas Governor Laura Kelly’s agenda for 2019. Education funding, Medicaid expansion, wage increases for corrections workers, addressing performance shortfalls at the Kansas Department of Children and Families, and restoration of funding to higher education were noted priorities.
Although the budget and the financial situation is better than its been for awhile, everyone wants a piece of the pie, Taylor said. Three weeks into the 2019 legislative session, most of the work happening in Topeka has been behind-the-scenes in committees, with few bills being advanced early on. President Susan Wagle formed a select committee on taxes, appointing herself as the chair. They have met three times in the past week, and Thursday submitted SB 22, asking for $54 million in tax dollar relief to tax payers, and $137 million in relief to business.
Taylor said she did not sit in on the committee, but heard that businesses including Bombardier, Seaboard, and Spirit sat in on the hearings.
“This may not help a work-a-day world person very much, but would it help a farmer? It might,” she said. In her opinion, there are many things to think about before deciding how to vote on the bill “Who will it help, and is it really a good thing to do now, because the tax dollars aren’t really in hand, they are only projected.”
Another issue being heavily debates when and how much money to return to KPERS in light of a possible “windfall.” Senators are expected to vote on a bill Monday to determine if $115 million should be paid back into the find now, or if any payment should be put off until later in the session.
Waymaster then took the floor. As Chair of the House Appropriations Committee, he echoed Taylor’s earlier assessment that with the return of revenue, lawmakers are looking for their share for their constituents. In light of this, Waymaster said he will have the Appropriations Committee analyze the entire budget of the State of Kansas, with an eye out for “creative accounting tactics” that have been used over the past several decades and attempt to restructure the budget.
One constituent, Pam Martin, asked, “How can it be responsible to give a tax cut?”
Her question was countered by one from another visitor, who asked, in light of the Governor’s remarks about the state possibly dropping into recession, “ “Wouldn’t it behoove the state to give that money back to people that aren’t currently getting it under the current guidelines, so they could spend their money via commerce, etc., versus the state keeping it?
Both Taylor and Waymaster shared the floor. Taylor affirmed the money belongs to taxpayers, but in her opinion, the more responsible approach would be to wait until April when the consensus revenue group has a more solid idea of what the state’s revenues and expenditures will be before deciding.
Waymaster shared a conversation he had with the governor concerning her approach on the budget. He shared his concerns that in his part of the state, recession was already happening.
“We already have low commodity prices in the ag sector, lower prices in oil and gas, which are the two main economic drivers in western Kansas. We are seeing farm bankruptcies... we’re already there.
Kelly proposed paying off in full the zero percent $319 million Pooled Money Investment Board loan, taken in 2017 in order to balance the books because the state was in a deficit situation. The money would come from the general fund. He questioned why they would pay off a zero percent loan, and take out another one that would cost the state more money in order to reamortize KPERS. He suggested expediting the loan, and using the savings for transportation or KPERS.
“She was actually very agreeable to that,” he said. “As long as you promise me that you are going to use it for one time spending, and not for operations for future years, she said she is fine with it.”
Waymaster added that if the payment on the loan can be made for the next two years, the state’s obligation to KPERS will drop significantly. The proposal to refinance it for another 30 years, he said, has not gained much traction in either the House or the Senate, and he doesn’t see it going forward.
Waymaster served on the transportation task force during the break. They met 11 times throughout the state, and were approached by over 400 conferees each with particular projects under the new transportation that the legislature will be looking at in the coming year. Three priorities include: preservation of roads, completion of T-Works, and a holistic look at needs for new projects including air, freight, rail, mass transit, and roads.
“We’ve looked at a completely different picture of what we want the next 10 year program to be like,” he said.
More than a couple constituents questioned the prospects of Medicare expansion. Those asking favored expansion. Again, both Taylor and Waymaster stated it was too early to tell if and when this might happen.
Other topics covered included renovations and improvements at Lansing and El Dorado correctional facilities, industrial hemp integration, rural and urban economic development and voter registration.
Neither Rep. Tory Aumberger, District 112, nor Rep. Greg Lewis, District 113 attended. It was noted that Lewis was home recovering from surgery. Aumberger told the Tribune she was unavailable because as the DECA Advisor at Otis-Bison, she was needed at a fundraising engagement to help send the team to State.
Both Taylor and Waymaster have submitted their latest newsletters to the Tribune, which can be found in the Sunday, Feb. 4, edition of the Tribune, and online at www.gbtribune.com.
The 2019 Legislative Coffees are sponsored by Hutchinson Regional Medical Center.