Sen. Rick Wilborn and representatives Les Mason and Don Schroeder attended Saturday's Legislative Coffee, organized by the McPherson Chamber of Commerce and hosted at Prairieland Partners.
On Saturday, three legislators who represent McPherson County residents answered questions from their constituents.
Sen. Rick Wilborn and representatives Les Mason and Don Schroeder attended Saturday's Legislative Coffee, organized by the McPherson Chamber of Commerce and hosted at Prairieland Partners. Representative Steven Johnson was unable to attend, as he was occupied with family matters.
Each legislator began by explaining what has been going on in their committees. Most committee meetings so far have been informational so new members understand the issues facing Kansas.
Wilborn, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said asset forfeiture issues have been a point of debate. A bill has been proposed to require law enforcement officers to file formal charges against a person before seizing assets, and other reforms have been discussed as well.
McPherson Mayor Tom Brown said some proposals could be burdensome on cities. For example, holding animals in custody until a trial can impose a significant expense, whereas the animals might have new owners found if they don't have to be held until a trial.
"Some of these things sound good and compassionate, but the city can bear the cost," he said.
On the House's side, budget proposals have taken center stage, with a proposal to use the unclaimed property fund gaining support. This proposal, submitted by Gov. Sam Brownback, could use the $364 million in principal and interest to shore up Kansas' current fiscal year.
"That fund used to hold unclaimed property, but the name is a bit of a misnomer now," Schroeder said. "It holds ending balances that were transferred each year for long-term investments."
Brownback has also proposed increasing taxes on alcohol and tobacco products. Mason said legislators will need to research carefully to see if this idea will really bring the returns the state needs.
"My feeling is that we're at that point of diminishing returns," Mason said. "If you raise those taxes, you have a lot of people on the state line who will just drive across the border and get those things cheaper."
Another proposal involves repealing the small business tax exemptions enacted in 2012. Schroeder said doing so could bring an additional $270 million into the state each year, an amount he called notable but not gigantic in the scheme of total state revenue.
Wilborn said he believes a bill to repeal the tax exemptions would pass with a veto-proof majority, but legislators may add other items to the bill that make it less popular. Overriding a veto would require 27 senators and 84 representatives to succeed.
A resident asked about the state of elder care, in particular an increase in bed taxes at the state level combined with decreasing Medicare reimbursement rates that put many elder care facilities at risk.
Wilborn explained that the plan was to increase the bed tax from $250 per bed to $600 per bed, while also increasing the reimbursement rate to $15 per day per bed, which would give care facilities a net increase in funds. However, he said Brownback used executive privilege to cut the reimbursement boost but keep the tax hike.
Ron Loomis, McPherson County commissioner, addressed the topic of tax lids, which limit how much government entities can increase taxes. He said there are enough ways around the tax lids, such as creating special taxing districts, that the current lids may prove ineffective for those determined to circumvent them.
"I think we need to either get rid of them and let us do our job, or do something sensible," he said.
Mason said the lids seemed like a good idea but need work. He said while McPherson County governments are good stewards of tax dollars, other places aren't, and the lids are intended to keep poor stewards in check.
The last question of the day was on the topic of what will be done to ensure adequate and equitable school funding. Schroeder said the budget committee has been tasked with writing a new formula, and that he is confident a new formula will be finished by the end of the legislative session.