McPhersonSentinel - McPherson, KS
  • Tough decisions await on taxes, school funding

  • The 2013 legislative session is off and running. We began the session on Jan. 14 with the usual ceremony the sessions typically begin with.
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  • The 2013 legislative session is off and running. We began the session on Jan. 14 with the usual ceremony the sessions typically begin with.
    The governor's State of the State address was given Tuesday evening. Of course, the message the governor gives is a reflection of his goals for the future of the state, as well as the priorities he has for the current legislative session. Many of his goals center around efficiency and smaller government.
    We received the proposed budget from the governor on Wednesday morning, so I have not had a chance to look it over to any degree. It is several hundred pages and takes some time to sift through the contents. It appears the proposal to make up for the lower revenues is to retain the sales tax.
    Speaking of revenue, the state is expecting a reduction of about $270 million for this year and larger revenue reductions for the next several years unless some adjustments are made to the existing tax package. It will be interesting to see what priorities come to the top as the legislative session progresses and if the earlier proposal to extend the sales tax and further reduce income taxes has any chance of happening.
    Much of the concern, especially now that a court ruling has come down regarding increased funding for schools, is whether the state will have enough revenue to take care of basic services, especially K-12 schools. School funding is constitutionally required, although we debate what a suitable level is.
    This may be a good time to remind everyone that more than half of the state general fund goes to K-12 funding. If we put together K-12, higher education, social services and public safety, the funding for those four programs represents more than 90 percent of the state general fund. It is a real puzzle to figure out how to resolve the funding issue for the state in the future.
    The governor put forward a proposal to make sure fourth-grade students are able to read at the appropriate level. Reading is key to virtually all other education, so targeting that is important. The governor also suggested we may want to put some definition to exactly what the term 'suitable' means in the state constitution as it pertains to school funding. Any change in language would be a constitutional change, and therefore a question that the people of Kansas would have to vote to accept or reject.
    Committees are just starting to meet. With so many new members in the House, a fair amount of time is needed to bringing these members up to speed on everything from what terms and acronyms mean to who the people are who direct various programs and departments. The 50 plus new House members already have received fairly extensive orientation on procedure, but committees are another level.
    Page 2 of 2 - I have two new committee assignments this year. I continue to be vice-chair on the Agriculture Budget Committee and am also on the Agriculture and Natural Resources and the Utilities and Telecommunications committees. We expect to hear many issues relating to telecom. Those issues also include broadband and Internet, as well as wireless communications. The availability and quality of communications in rural areas is a concern for much of Kansas.
    This week is a short week as Martin Luther King Day was Monday. The session passes quickly, so I anticipate full committee schedules even in shortened weeks. The overall session is planned for 85 days, leaving five days to use if needed.
    It is a pleasure to serve as the representative for part of Harvey, Marion and McPherson counties. Contact information for all legislative members is available on the Kansas Legislature website, so please contact me if you have issues you need to discuss. My phone is 785-296-7500 and e-mail is don.schroeder@house.ks.gov. Thank you for your interest in the legislative session!
    Don Schroeder of Hesston represents Kansas House District 74, which includes Moundridge.
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