Topeka — Facing huge budget deficits, things look pretty dark right now for state government.
But state Rep. Tom Sloan, a 14-year Republican legislative veteran from Lawrence, said that while Kansas struggles through the current economic downturn, officials need to remain attentive to long-term challenges — such as water quality and health care delivery.
That will be Sloan’s job during the legislative session that starts Jan. 12. House Republican leaders recently formed the Vision 2020 Committee and named Sloan its chairman.
The House committee is supposed to help identify issues on the horizon that will need to be worked on incrementally over a long period of time. “We don’t want to miss the forest for the trees,” said Wade Hopgood, a House Republican leadership staff member.
Much of the buildup to the session has focused on the recession’s effect on the state budget.
Lawmakers face an immediate $140 million revenue shortfall, and upwards of $1 billion in the next fiscal year.
But Sloan said, “This fiscal problem will end at some point, and we have some major issues we have to continue looking on.”
One of those is the sustainability of the state’s water reservoirs — an issue that Sloan has been working on for some time.
Many of Kansas’ lakes used for drinking water and recreation are quickly losing capacity because of accumulation of sediment.
Another issue is increasing the delivery of health care through telemedicine, providing video links between doctor’s offices and hospitals.
Sloan said that while many of these issues would fall under the umbrella of other legislative committees, most legislative committees deal with more immediate problems and challenges.
“The goal is when the state comes out of the economic downturn, we’re not starting over again, but we continue making progress,” Sloan said.