The Sentinel recently spoke with newly elected Kansas Senate Majority Leader Jay Emler about priorities for the upcoming 2011 legislative session. Emler has served in the Kansas Senate since 2000, and was the previous chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee.
What is the first thing you believe the Senate will consider?
“Probably one of the very first things we’ll consider are appointments the governor has made for cabinet positions, and going through the confirmation process,” Emler said, adding he did not see any problems with any of Governor-elect Sam Brownback’s appointees.
Is there a chance the recently passed statewide sales tax increase will be repealed, and what plans are in the works to address budget shortfalls?
“I don’t see (a repeal) happening. It will leave a $308 million hole in the budget we can’t afford. I think ideas about the economy and streamlining of government are definitely on the table,” Emler said. “The governor-elect believes there’s more that can be done. I’m positive agency heads will be brought in to see what can be accomplished in streamlining. I’m not saying there are no tax plans. There may be tax adjustments and there maybe repeals of some programs.”

What is going on with school funding?

“When we talk about school funding, we tend to only talk about the state’s base aid contribution. We have to look at the whole picture instead of snippets,” Emler said, adding that every time a district offers raises to teachers, the state must match that in contributions to the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System (KPERS). According to Emler, these contributions have increased 12.8 percent over the previous year.
“That means more money into education, but it’s toward teacher retirement,” Emler said. “I’m not being critical of those wanting more money for base aid, but you have to look at the total picture. When you have a farm, you don’t just look at the seed cost. You factor in labor, the tractor, the combine, etc. We never look at that with education. You have a whole program to look at. I think is a year we’ll hear more about that.”

What is the outlook for KPERS?

“Is KPERS in jeopardy in the short term? No. In the long term, you have to look at actuarial balance,” Emler said, adding this will take years. “The underfunding did not occur overnight and it will not be fixed overnight.”