All week at different forums, Douglas County’s legislators have tried to brace constituents for the tough budget decisions that await them beginning Monday in Topeka.
With an economy in crisis and plummeting revenues, the county’s delegation Thursday night at an American Association of University Women event again told about 40 people at the Dole Institute of Politics they would do their best to prioritize funding as they face an expected $1 billion deficit for the next fiscal year.
Certain cuts in areas such as supporting the bioscience industry or education could harm gains the state has made in recent years, they said. Rep. Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, said K-12 students have made testing gains in recent years since the legislators injected more funds because of a state Supreme Court decision.
“We have to understand that there are going to be consequences, and those numbers are going to go down,” said Davis, the incoming House minority leader.
Others said some budget cuts could end up costing more in the long run if the state had to step in later with additional services.
“What we have to do is look at programs that are long-term investments in the future of Kansas citizens,” said Rep.-elect Tony Brown, D-Baldwin City.
With that said, the delegation also acknowledged that the deep impact of the national economic crisis will force much tightening.
“I think we’re going to be wrestling with this for the considerable future,” said Sen.-elect Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City.
“We’re going to be agonizing over every vote we make, and we’re going to do the best job we can. And you’re still not going to be happy with us,” said Rep. Tom Sloan, R-Lawrence, who left the forum early to attend another meeting.
Later, all of the Democrats blasted Hays-based Sunflower Electric Power Corp.’s plan to build two 700-megawatt coal-fired power plants near Holcomb, and they said the state needed to come up with a comprehensive energy policy relying more on renewable energy.
The coal plant issue dominated the 2008 session after Kansas Department of Health and Environment Secretary Rod Bremby denied air-quality permits. Efforts to override Gov. Kathleen Sebelius’ veto of a bill to allow the plants succeeded in the Senate but failed in the House. Proponents have said they will try again this session.
“The only thing that stopped this last year were 42 warriors in the House, and I don’t think we will have them this year,” said Rep. Ann Mah, D-Topeka, who opposes the plants. “I think it will go through, and it will go through early.”