Under the dome
With the wrap-up session set to start Wednesday, Former Lt. Gov. Shelby Smith, of Wichita, now a lobbyist, reminded legislative leaders there was a way to stop the legislative sessions from getting longer and longer -- a proposed constitutional amendment that is collecting dust in the legislative hopper would limit sessions to 88 days. "The Kansas Constitution defines legislative sessions in calendar days. Nationally, citizen legislatures are defined in calendar days. See you on day 108," he said.
In its zeal to sell off vehicles, the Kansas Wildlife and Parks Department sold 24 vehicles that had been purchased with federal dollars. That was a no-no. So Gov. Kathleen Sebelius has asked for a budget amendment to transfer $42,960 (which is what the high-mileage cars fetched) from the state's general tax fund back to the parks agency fee fund to square the books. Republicans were not happy about the mistake.
Just a coincidence?
Under the budget approved by the Legislature, state employees, including legislators, will get a 3 percent pay raise. The raise takes effect July 1, the first day of the new fiscal year, except for legislators, who will see their per diem increase Jan. 2, 2005, which just happens to be after the November elections. Lawmakers now receive $78.75 per day when they are on official state business. That will increase to $81.11.
Lobbyists were busy providing hospitality to lawmakers in the month of March in the form of meals, drinks and gifts. The total amount of lobbyist expenses for March was $130,189, which brought the three-month total starting in January to $355,059, according to reports made by lobbyists to the Governmental Ethics Commission.
The top three recipients of lobbyist largesse were Reps. Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, $543.35; Melvin Neufeld, R-Ingalls, $507.74; and House Speaker Doug Mays, R-Topeka, $499.15.
Here are the totals spent by lobbyists on Lawrence-area legislators for the month of March: Rep. Barbara Ballard, D-Lawrence, $136.14; Rep. Rob Boyer, R-Olathe, $56.17; Sen. Mark Buhler, R-Lawrence, $358.13; Rep. Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, $334.90; Rep. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin, $45.14; Sen. Bob Lyon, R-Winchester, $33.83; Rep. Tom Sloan, R-Lawrence, $103.58; and Rep. Lee Tafanelli, R-Ozawkie, $124.44.
No news is good news
State revenue forecasters make a preliminary revenue estimate in November and a final one in April for the fiscal year that starts July 1. For the past five years, they have had to reduce the April estimate from the preliminary November numbers, forcing lawmakers to cut the state budget during the wrap-up session. And in recent years, as the economy soured, those adjustments were significant.
Last year, the revenue estimate was cut $227 million; the year before, $254 million, and the year before that, $186 million.
This year, however, the estimate was increased by $40 million, though the forecasters were quick to point out that that money could evaporate quickly because of proposed changes by the federal government on tax laws and Medicaid payments to the states.
School administrators were polite but clearly frustrated last week after a meeting with U.S. Department of Education officials on No Child Left Behind, which requires improvements in the performance of all students. The federal officials told the educators to try new methods of getting better test results, such as holding pep rallies and hiring consultants. But the administrators told the federal officials that the government wasn't providing enough money to get the job done. "We know how to move our children forward. We have to have the funding to do it," said Mike Mathes, superintendent of the Seaman School District in Shawnee County.
Things to watch
- Senate Ways and Means, 10 a.m. today, Room 123, work on omnibus budget bill.
- Senate Ways and Means, 9 a.m. Tuesday, Room 123, work on omnibus budget bill.
- House Economic Development, 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, Room 526, hearing on SB 395, concerning payment sources of sales tax revenue bonds.
- The House and Senate start the wrap-up session at 10 a.m. Wednesday.
- Kansas Families United for Education rally, noon Wednesday, Capitol.
- Governor's Wind and Prairie Task Force public hearing, 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday in Manhattan, and 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday in El Dorado.
- Gov. Kathleen Sebelius news conference, 11 a.m. Friday, 2nd floor ceremonial office in the Capitol. Sebelius' news conferences can be heard live online at www.ksgovernor.org.