Archive for Saturday, January 7, 2006

Lawmakers weigh session priorities

January 7, 2006


— Lawrence legislators are predicting this year's session will produce more funding for public schools but without a tax increase.

And they are unanimous in opposing a proposed constitutional amendment limiting spending and taxes, saying it would usurp the Legislature's role while hamstringing it in the event emergency spending was needed.

Over the years, the delegation, more than others from across the state, has been united in support of more spending for public schools, even if that meant a tax increase.

The legislators, a mixture of veterans and relative newcomers, said the funding debate would revolve around the results of a school cost study scheduled for release Monday, the first day of the legislative session.

Each member talked about the need to improve economic development and help higher education, too.


State Sen. Marci Francisco, a Lawrence Democrat, has been in the Senate since 2005.

As the ranking Democrat on the Elections and Local Government Committee, Francisco said she hoped to revisit bills requiring disclosure of who is behind sometimes-anonymous political postcards.

She thinks the state also needs to look at its tax structure to determine if it has kept up with changes in the economy and changes in the federal tax structure.

She also is interested in energy issues and increasing opportunities for wind generation.

But education likely will be the centerpiece of the session, she said.

"I'd like to focus on managing government efficiently and not worry about managing other people's lives."


Sen. Roger Pine, a Republican in the Senate since 2005, said he supported more funding for K-12 schools but also would like to focus on other issues, including higher education.

A member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Pine also expects to deal a lot with eminent domain issues before the Legislature.

Any legislation dealing with the powers of government to condemn land must be "carefully crafted" to ensure property rights but also allow needed development to occur, said Pine, who owns a farm north of Lawrence.

He also would like to work on increasing opportunities for alternative sources of energy, including ethanol, biodiesel and wind.

Pine said the state needed to address the issue of placing sexual offenders once they have been released from prison.

"This may be wishful thinking, but I'm hopeful to address the issues with the necessary changes without having to add to the cost to taxpayers, but at the same time being able to enhance the opportunities for greater economic development," he said.


Rep. Barbara Ballard, a Democrat in the House since 1993, is a member of the Appropriations Committee and chair of the House Democratic Caucus.

With education and Medicaid expenses increasing, she said the state should consider increased gambling to produce more revenue.

She also said the state needs a plan to take care of deferred building maintenance problems at universities.

"The longer you neglect them, the more expensive they become," said Ballard, a Kansas University administrator.

Ballard said after last year's raucous regular and special sessions, she hoped "civility would reign" this year.

Another hope: "If we could all agree that education is the No. 1 priority in this state, that we would find a way to put aside our differences and just go on and fund it," she said.


Rep. Paul Davis, a Lawrence Democrat in the House since 2003, plans to push for legislation providing evaluations of judges so voters are better informed during retention elections.

But he said he would fight attempts by fellow lawmakers to rein in the judiciary. Some legislators are upset with the Kansas Supreme Court's order last year for increase school spending.

"I hope that we can continue to make some progress on education funding without causing irreparable harm to the court system," Davis said.

He also is part of a bipartisan group in the House seeking more campaign finance disclosure.


Rep. Tom Holland of Baldwin, in the House since 2003, is ranking Democrat on the House Health and Human Services Committee.

He hopes to work on making heath care more accessible.

He also has introduced a bill dealing with eminent domain, and is pushing for legislation that would increase penalties against companies that classify laborers as contract labor instead of employees to avoid paying taxes.

He said he hoped the Legislature could agree on school funding and would like to explore reducing property taxes for senior citizens.

"I would hope that the parties could work in a more bipartisan spirit than occurred in the 2005 session and address the people's concerns," Holland said. "I hope that we come to a common agreement on school finance and we are able to put a multiyear funding plan for schools."


Rep. Tom Sloan, a Lawrence Republican in the House since 1995, is chairman of the House Higher Education Committee and a leading official on wind energy.

As chairman, he said, "we need to address how the universities provide value and how does the investment that the taxpayers make in universities give back to the people of Kansas."

He said he would work on electrical transmission, funding to address siltation of lakes and increased marketing of alternative fuels and energy sources.

"I'd like to see us continue looking at ways to advance the state's economy, and address how do we at the state level stimulate markets for biofuels and research at universities," he said.


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