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Lawmakers facing tough budget challenges PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 14 February 2018 13:03

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ROBERT PIERCE
• Leader & Times



Like many Kansas politicians, 125th House District Representative Shannon Francis and 38th District Senator Bud Estes found their way to Liberal for the Pancake Day weekend.

The pair was at the Rock Island Depot Saturday morning for a legislative forum hosted by the Liberal Chamber of Commerce and sponsored by AT&T.

The legislature’s session started in January, and Francis and Estes talked about some of what is going on at the state capitol.

The senator and representative spent much of Saturday’s forum talking about what will likely dominate much of the conversation in both state houses this year – school finance.

Estes said some things need to be done in other departments before the legislature can get on with the business of solving the issue of education funding.

“The big concern is school finance, and until that report is done in March that’s commissioned by the House and the Senate, we really don’t know what our plans are,” he said. “We’re waiting on those reports, and once that all happens, we get down to really what we’ve got to get done for this year.”

Francis called school finance the “sleeping giant” of this year’s session.

“It’s no secret that’s what’s going to drive this session,” he said. “Leadership is pretty optimistic we’re going to get out of this relatively unscathed. There’s a report coming out in March that’ll drive a lot of the discussions in the House.”

Francis briefly touched on the issue of rural broadband, saying Kansans across the state have shown concern for many years.

“It’s very difficult for anybody to get anything through the House and Senate, but some of us who have concerns about rural broadband, rural cable, we’re trying to sit down with the people where this is good rural broadband,” he said.

Getting a four-lane highway to Southwest Kansas continues to be a concern of many, and Francis said with a new highway transportation plan on the horizon, finishing existing T-WORKS (Transportation Works for Kansas) projects should be the focal point of that plan.

Of course, all of these issues come back to the state’s budget. Francis said though, a surplus currently exists, it may not be as big as it looks, as some of that surplus has been dedicated to state initiatives, and the next three years could continue to be bleak for Kansas.

“If we do make our statutory KPERS payments, in the year 2020, we’re back to another $300 million deficit,” he said. “In 2021, we have a $281 million deficit if we rob from Peter to pay Paul to wipe out the $300 million deficit in 2020. This year, we’re going to end a $266 million surplus, according to this.”

Estes said future transportation plans need to likewise be shortened to be effective.

“We need five-year plans” he said. “We don’t need 10-year plans. Ten-year plan’s too long. Nothing gets done. Five-year plan’s what he wanted.”

Estes said lack of a four-lane highway is the primary reason Southwest Kansas is not seeing the development other parts of the state have.

“Every other part of Kansas has a four-lane highway except us, and once we get it, manufacturing will look differently at us,” he said. “We have a cheaper land. It’s a good situation if we have four lanes.”

Estes then talked about some issues dealing with nursing homes, including payment and application process and fines given out for infractions.

“Right now, the way we’re set up, the payments to rest homes, the applications for people going into those homes is really messed up, and I thought it was state employees,” he said. 

Estes said a state official had informed him a few years ago, the state had farmed out the labor for processing applications and payments.

“Instead of state employees doing this, we went with a private company who said, ‘We’ll take care of all that for you,’” he said. “Come to find out, that company hires minimum wage people who are untrained in what they’re doing.”

Estes then addressed the concern about fines levied against nursing homes for minor infractions.

“A lot of rest homes will voluntarily turn in a problem to the department because that’s what you do,” he said. “Now you turn it in, and a $50,000 fine later, you say, ‘Why in the world did we do that?’ Part of the problem is we only have so many inspectors, so when you turn this thing in, until they get an inspector, until they get one out there to say this has been taking care of, they fine you $5,000 a day. It’s crazy, and come to find out, it’s federal government rules. The federal government says how much you’ll be fined, and Kansas is saying, ‘We’re going to fine you $500.’ The federal government’s saying, ‘We’re going to fine you $20,000 for this little infraction.’”

 

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The High Plains Daily Leader and Southwest Daily Times are published Sunday through Friday and reaches homes throughout the Liberal, Kansas retail trade zone. The Leader & Times is the official newspaper of Seward County, USD No. 480, USD No. 483 and the cities of Liberal and Kismet.  The Leader & Times is a member of the Liberal Chamber of Commerce, the Kansas Press Association and the Associated Press.

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