With the start of the 1992 Legislature only eight days away, Lawrence and Douglas County officials are making final preparations on their pitches for proposals and projects.
Now the question is: How accommodating will legislators be to the goals sought by the city and county?
"We're usually in a defensive mode . . . we're watching to see what happens," City Manager Mike Wildgen said.
Lawrence Mayor Bob Walters stressed the city's need to "preserve and protect" state highway funds for local road projects. With an extremely tight fiscal year forecast in state government, a number of legislators have discussed diverting funds from the billion-dollar comprehensive highway program approved in 1989 to social programs.
"We certainly encourage the Legislature to go forward with the direction of the highway bill, and not do a `highway robbery,'" Walters said.
Douglas County Administrator Chris McKenzie paused after commenting that the pre-session forecast every year indicates a challenging regular session.
"I expect this is going to be a very difficult session," he said with a knowing laugh.
But the city and county won't be without allies and an attack plan when the Legislature convenes Jan. 13. The two commissions, along with the Lawrence school board, will huddle with the county's legislative delegation to discuss priorities in a pre-legislative session from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. Wednesday at the Kansas University Adams Alumni Center. The annual event is sponsored by the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce.
LAST WEEK, the city approved its legislative "wish list," which included opposing property tax lids; opposing legislation that would interfere with local officials dealing with and solving local problems; maintaining the current level of state aid to Lawrence, including state highway funds; increasing state funding for the Lawrence public school system; and passing a law for a mobile home park landlord-tenant act.
The county will consider its legislative priorities Monday. The county is interested in preserving the state's 90 percent financing commitment to build the regional juvenile detention center, maintaining adequate funding for community corrections and reappraisal efforts, keeping the state highway program intact and amending several aspects of the property appraisal system.
COUNTY COMMISSION Chairman Louie McElhaney and Commissioners Mike Amyx and Mark Buhler concurred on the importance of the county retaining all state support for existing programs. Buhler fears community corrections could get lost in the shuffle of state funds. Amyx said he hopes the state will amend its law that appraises a house or building at full value even if the structure is destroyed during the year.
McElhaney wants the county to avoid picking up the tab if the state cuts a program's funding.
"I think all the legislators are aware throughout the state that nobody wants to have their property tax increased," he said.
Legislative leaders set the tone of the upcoming session last week by indicating state taxes probably would not be increased to provide more money for state programs. Such a stance probably means state funds will be shifted or state services will be cut, local officials say.
"WHAT I'M perhaps most concerned about is that when money is short, the Legislature finds it much easier to cut programs that are administered at the local level," McKenzie said.
Echoing Buhler's concerns, McKenzie said community corrections could be a target of cuts. McKenzie said a cut in community corrections funds could negatively impact the juvenile intensive supervised probation component of the program, which assists youths and keeps them out of more expensive detainment places.
The county will use the Kansas Association of Counties to lobby the Legislature. McKenzie and county staff members also will take advantage of the proximity between Lawrence and Topeka and make appearances at the capital when needed.
CITY COMMISSIONERS agreed that maintaining state aid was a top priority. Concurrently, the commissioners did not want to relinquish control by having a lid on property taxes or seeing their home rule powers tampered with by the Legislature.
"We believe very firmly in our right and our responsibility to spend the citizens' money as we best see fit for our city," Commissioner Bob Schumm said.
Highway funds are another item high on Schumm's list. He wants the city to keep its state funds and would like for the state to provide about $3 million for the Eastern Parkway, which has not received any state support.
Walters said highway funds should not be diverted to other programs.
"The governor should recognize those monies . . . should be maintained for the economic developement of Kansas," he said.
Walters and other commissioners mentioned the need for changes in property reappraisal for a more equitable taxing structure.
COMMISSIONER Shirley Martin-Smith said financing public schools is "critical to our entire county." She added that none of the city's requests should cause major problems with the Legislature.
"I don't think anything we're asking is unreasonable this year," she said.
The Legislature in 1992 will redraw the state's congressional district boundaries, and Martin-Smith and Commissioner Bob Schulte mentioned they hoped Lawrence would be left in the 2nd District.
"Redistricting is an important one because . . . it would put KU and the (Kansas University) Medical Center in two different districts, and that would allow us to have representation at the university level by two different Congress persons," Schulte said.