Archive for Monday, April 29, 2002

Special session draws ire of north-central Kansans

April 29, 2002


— At this town's small grocery store, manager Bette Latham worked the counter and talked about the Legislature between customers.

She wasn't happy with the news coming 190 miles away from the Statehouse to her hometown, a farming community of about 300 residents along U.S. Highway 36 in Phillips County. What upset her one recent evening was the idea that Gov. Bill Graves might call legislators back into special session in June.

Earlier this month, Graves said there was a good chance he would have to call the first special session since December 1989 to get a budget he is willing to sign.

"I think they haven't done their job," Latham said of legislators. "I think they knew finances were a problem, and they could've settled it."

Melanie Molzahn pushed a cart to the counter and joined the conversation. Molzahn, 28, lives on a farm north of town and teaches computers and technology to middle-schoolers in the Eastern Heights school district.

"It would be nice if something were decided," she said. "I wouldn't mind if I knew they were going to do something worthwhile, rather than pay the Legislature and bureaucrats."

The Legislature is scheduled to reconvene Wednesday to wrap up business for the year. It's already been in session for 90 days, the number set in the Kansas Constitution.

Lawmakers must eliminate a projected $700 million budget shortfall, and Graves has said he doesn't believe enough of them were ready to approve the tax increases necessary to finance a budget he deems reasonable. That led him to speculate about calling a special session.

Some northwest and north-central Kansas residents don't like the idea. It would cost taxpayers at least $50,000 for every day legislators remain in Topeka.

In Hays, about 200 miles west of the Statehouse and 60 miles south of Latham's grocery store in Agra, Virginia Jacobs, 66, a retired nurse, said she can't understand why legislators would need more time to balance the budget.

"It don't take a person that's real smart to figure out a budget," said Jacobs, who lives on $600 a month. "If you got a poor drip like me that can learn to budget, they shouldn't need more time."

In Washington, at Kier's Thriftway, cashier Peggy Owens, 40, said she couldn't understand paying lawmakers more money to cut services to taxpayers something they've had to consider to eliminate the budget shortfall.

"They definitely don't need a special session just to cut our budgets," she said. "That's going to cost us a lot."

At the courthouse in Russell, County Treasurer Judy Corley said legislators should do whatever they must to get a budget that works for the state even if that job requires a special session.

"If the alternative is to have nothing, we ought to do it," Corley said. "If they concentrate on the budget instead of auxiliary issues, they can do it without a special session."

Corley added that withholding legislators' pay might make them finish more quickly.

Legislative pay also was on Everett Braun's mind as he sat behind his desk at the Victoria Lumber Co., in Victoria, which the 60-year-old owns.

"I'd love to get paid for every minute I put in I don't," he said. "There is a point and time that people are taking advantage of the situation."

In Wilson, Al Steinert also was angry about legislative pay. The 61-year-old owner of Al's Bar and Grill said legislators shouldn't be paid if they return for a special session.

"If we didn't do a job right the first time out here, we'd have to swallow the cost and do it again," Steinert said. "They need to do it in 90 days after that no pay."

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