Lawrence residents peppered their legislators with questions Friday afternoon, most of which were answered with the qualification, "if we can find the money."
A range of issues facing Lawrence and the state were discussed, but the predicted state revenue shortfall colored most of the talk.
"Each week, the word from the budget department is grimmer and grimmer," said Sen. Sandy Praeger, R-Lawrence. "We're hoping as income taxes are filed, the picture will be better. But most of the discussion lately is about how we are going to get out of this session with a balanced budget."
The meeting, a rare afternoon Eggs & Issues event at the Hereford House, 4931 W. Sixth St., was sponsored by the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce. Panelists included Lawrence lawmakers Praeger and Reps. Barbara Ballard, Troy Findley and Tom Sloan.
Topics included mental health care, education, the Kansas Lottery, incentives for new teachers, an energy-use plan, technical college funding, and whether Douglas County would receive a new district judge.
Legislators said they realized that the revenue shortfall, which they estimated at about $56 million, will force difficult decisions about which programs receive money.
"You know what you want or what you think ought to be, but we're dealing with the art of the possible," Sloan said. "It all comes down to money and priorities."
Education was cited as a top priority among the legislators. Discussion touched on an amendment that would have taken $1.2 million from the advertising budget of the Kansas Lottery and shuttled it into scholarships for new teachers.
But legislators said they thought that money for education should come from the state's general fund, leaving lottery money for economic development.
"Schools are a basic function of government and should be funded adequately," Praeger said.
Findley agreed, noting that nearly half of the lottery money earmarked for economic development went to education-related programs. Democrats plan to reintroduce the lottery scholarship amendment, which already was defeated once, next week in the Senate, according to an Associated Press report.
Technical colleges have been inadequately funded, Ballard said.
She said that because technical schools routinely place high percentages of graduates in jobs, they should be more valued.
"If we don't have those positions, we'll lose out," she said.