Welcome to our online chat with state Rep. Tom Sloan about legislative issues.
The chat took place on Thursday, January 19, at 1:00 PM and is now closed, but you can read the full transcript on this page.
Moderator: Welcome to this afternoon's Newsmaker Chat with state Rep. Tom Sloan, a Republican from Lawrence.
I'm Dave Toplikar, World Online editor, and I'll be moderating today's chat.
We're doing this chat today from Rep. Sloan's fourth floor office in the Kansas Statehouse in Topeka.
Tom, thanks for being with us today. We have a lot of questions already and I know you're squeezing this in between committee meetings.
So we'll go ahead and get started.
Rep. Tom Sloan: Thank you Dave, I appreciate the opportunity to interact with the people of Lawrence.
Diane, Lawrence: What ideas do you have for adequate funding for the public schools?
Rep. Tom Sloan: State revenues are slightly more than $200 million greater for the current fiscal year. Much of these funds can and likely will be available to support K-12 education.
It is unlikely that any significant tax increases will pass in 2006 to provide additional funds for K-12, higher education, or other desired state programs.
Alex, Lawrence: Do you support in-state tuition for illegal immigrants? Isn't it causing a strain on our education system?
Rep. Tom Sloan: Two or three years ago the Legislature and Governor approved a measure by which undocumented students who graduate from a Kansas high school after at least three years as students in the local school would qualify for in-state tuition rates at higher education institutions.
This was challenged in the courts and the Federal Court ruled that the law measure was reasonable. The LJW recently printed a report showing that less than 30 students are enrolled in higher education institutions in KS under this plan and (I think) 22 are at community colleges. As I recall, 4 students are at KU.
This is not a financial burden to the state and a majority of legislators believe that these children came to Kansas with their parents, will earn degrees and work in Kansas, and generally contribute more to our state's economy as college-educated than otherwise.
Nathan, Lawrence: I read the article in the J-W today about the bank report encouraging privatization of the Turnpike. It seems this would amount to a stealth tax for those of us who rely on that highway. What are your thoughts?
Rep. Tom Sloan: Immediately prior to signing on to this on-line chat, I was in a meeting of committee chairpersons. This matter came up during our discussion and there is not strong support for the proposal.
I currently do not support the sale of the Turnpike to private interests. The Turnpike Authority could accept the bankers' proposal, but are not likely to do so without strong support from legislators and the Governor.
Ryan also asked about this issue, so my response is to both sets of questions.
John, Lawrence: Tom, what can Kansas do to alleviate the energy problem--with solar, wind, and especially hydrogen? More with ethanol?
Rep. Tom Sloan: John, Dan, and others interested in energy policies - I recently served as Chairman of the Special Joint Committee on Energy. The committee members heard extensive testimony on petroleum, renewable, bio-fuel, energy conservation, and other issues.
We have a report that should be available late Friday (tomorrow) that summarizes our deliberations and provides information on our policy recommendations.
Briefly, we examined how do we promote greater production of existing KS energy sources (oil, gas); promote renewable energy (wind, biomass); promote biofuels (ethanol, biodiesel); promote energy conservation and efficiency investments; and promote the "export" of energy from KS to meet national needs (and create jobs in KS).
We have recommended introduction of almost 20 bills ranging from tax credits for investment by individuals and landlords in energy conservation products (insulation, more efficient furnaces, etc.); to incentives for the private sector to construct one or more unit train (110 identical cars) terminals to transport ethanol and biodiesel fuels to population centers around the country; to incentives for the development of community wind projects in support of schools.
The full report will be available soon, but the committee members worked very hard to create a structure and process for long term energy planning, as well as to offer specific legislative proposals to assist energy production in KS.
Kathy - Lawrence: State employees have not had salary step increases for almost 5 years. Moral is low and what little increase in salary has not kept pace with inflation. When are state employees going to get a decent salary increase like schools are giving to teachers and administrators?
Rep. Tom Sloan: Kathy,
State employees frequently are not a high priority for many legislators because there are so few living in their legislative districts.
As you may know, last year the legislature approved a bill allowing KU state classified employees to convert to University classified service. That bill came through the Higher Education Committee that I chair and was the collaborative offering of KU's classified employee organization and the university. The objective was to permit the university to supplement state wage dollars with other money (just as they can do for faculty and unclassified employees).
I understand that increasing wages and reducing the restrictions on reclassifying employee jobs will make employment more rewarding and attractive.
If this experiment works, it may well serve as a model for discussing how other classified state employees can be more appropriately rewarded. It is not commonly noted, but no state services are provided without state classified employees and those folks need to be appropriately compensated.
Steve, Lawrence: What energy-related legislation do you think has a good chance to be passed during the current Legislative session?
Rep. Tom Sloan: Steve, Michelle, and others asking energy policy questions:
I expect the legislature will pass legislation increasing incentives for the production of biofuels to increase farm incomes, reduce the need for taxpayer dollars to support rural schools, and to reduce the need for imported oil.
At another time we can discuss global issues like the effect that increasing demand from China and India for oil place on prices that we pay.
We should also pass legislation that provides incentives for refineries in KS to expand, improve incentives for the production of electricity using wind power, increased funding for KU research efforts to increase production of oil from existing wells, provide tax credits for installing more efficient heating systems in homes and apt. dwellings, and more.
Jackson; Lawrence: You speak of advancing the "....state's economy..." but you make no mention of a decent and honorable wage for the working person. When will you support a meaningful pay raise for State workers that is not a spit in the face? Teachers get a 8% pay raise frequently and get all the attention. Why don't you support State workers?
Yes, you supported a 1.5% "increase" but that doesn't even keep up with inflation. Aren't you really a member of the "good ole' boy club", which includes KU, whose classified staff can now get raises exclusive of regular civil servants because you are owned by the KU Lobby.
Have you given consideration to quitting and letting a person who represents the common working person actually have a shot at being in the legislature or are you too arrogant to realize you've been bought and sold?
Rep. Tom Sloan: Jackson,
I have regularly supported efforts to increase compensation to state employees. I have offered amendments during budget debates to provide those resources and you may note the response to a previous question about state employee pay.
The budget as proposed by any Governor is essentially passed by the Legislature. We need a Governor who will make state employees a higher priority - again because no state programs operate without state employees.
Richard H., Eudora: Hello Tom:
I can see so many schools have their problem with money tight budget every years. My kids were complaint that school have to cut some sport events.
I visited several states and noticed that states have the casinos to support the schools money fund. It is big help!
In Kansas, I am understand that Kansas didn't like that idea about gambling and school money don't mix. In other states, they said "High Property Tax and Public Schools don't work out that way!"
I don't understand why Kansas didn't pass the gambling bill every years, then our Kansas people still coming to Kansas City or Colorado or Iowa to play the casinos. How much money do our Kansas people spend a year? That is a lot of money than earn from our Kansas people pay the property tax.
What do you think? If you believe that property tax should increase, then many people will not buy a new house!
Thanks for your time.
Rep. Tom Sloan: Richard and others interested in the gaming issue,
The legislature will again address gaming issues in 2006. The state constitution requires the state to own any gaming activities/facilities. If the state legislature and Governor expand gaming to include casinos, there are two options: 1) contract with an experienced gaming company to operate the casino(s) on our behalf, or 2) expand opportunities for the tribes to operate additional casinos.
At the present time, I do not think that sufficient votes exist in the Legislature to pass a casino bill. I understand that the Senate committee studying this issue continues to struggle with where casinos might be located.
There is a reluctance to fund education using gaming dollars (remember that the lottery money funds economic development investments). With the state's economy improving, there is even less likelihood that gaming will pass in 2006.
Edward, Lawrence: What can the state do about our reservoirs filling with sediment and becoming useless over time ?
Rep. Tom Sloan: Edward,
I have worked over several years to develop and fund a program to address siltation/sedimentation in our state's lakes. The silt effectively reduces flood control, drinking water supply, and recreation opportunities.
We now have a program to address lake restoration and preservation for the state's small lakes. This is a cost-share program between the state and the local government.
I have now turned my attention to the Corps. of Engineer reservoirs (e.g., Clinton). I was successful in December in securing support from the Council of State Governments for a resolution calling upon the Corps. of Engineers to work with states on this problem.
As you may know, KS has committed to purchasing the water and reservoirs form the Corps. My efforts are directed toward securing Corps. acceptance of a policy that state investments in preserving the reservoirs will count as payments toward the purchase price.
The discussion process is only starting, but I believe that addressing the state's long term water supply is one of the most important issues facing us.
Moderator: That will be our last question for today. I'd like to thank our readers for their many questions today.
And Tom, thanks for taking time our of your legislative schedule to fit this in today.
Rep. Tom Sloan: I appreciate the opportunity to respond to questions. I regret that my need to rush to another Committee meeting means that I cannot respond to all the questions.
My state email address is firstname.lastname@example.org
Perhaps later this session we can again discuss energy, water, tax, school funding, and other issues important to our community and state.