Topeka — Democratic leaders on Tuesday proposed modifying Kansas’ 2007 gambling laws to help expand state programs to train unemployed workers, repair infrastructure and help small business.
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, of Topeka, and House Minority Leader Paul Davis, of Lawrence, said the state could create new jobs by changing existing gambling laws to encourage development of a southeastern Kansas casino and slot machines at three race tracks.
Called Kansas Jobs First, the 14-bill package looks to retrain workers who need new skills. It also would share some gambling money with cities and counties for local infrastructure projects. The package would cost the state $11.1 million in fiscal year 2013 beginning July 1, 2012.
“There’s no more important issue, we believe, for the Legislature to spend its time than the issue of creating jobs for the people of Kansas,” Hensley said. “Families are still struggling to keep a roof over their head, to pay for their child’s doctor bills, to keep their gas tank full. Kansas workers are still hurting.”
The state Department of Labor said Tuesday that the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in Kansas was 6.5 percent in November, down from 6.7 percent in October. More than 91,000 were residents out of work.
Kansas allows for four state-owned casinos under the 2007 law, which also authorized slot machines at three dog racing tracks. One casino is open in Dodge City and another, the Kansas Star, opens the day after Christmas. A third will open in early 2012 in Wyandotte County.
Democrats want to spur development of the fourth zone in southeastern Kansas by lowering the current $200 million investment threshold to $100 million to encourage investors. In addition, Democrats would modify the percentage of revenues that racetrack owners would collect to encourage them to reopen closed facilities.
Democrats would like to use a portion of the gambling revenue to address a backlog of maintenance projects at Kansas universities. The repairs to buildings and other infrastructure are estimated to be close to $900 million, Hensley said.
Republican Gov. Sam Brownback said legislators would be busy enough this session without reopening the often thorny issue of gambling.
“We welcome all ideas on how to create jobs in Kansas and look forward to working with all Kansas legislators in the coming session to move our great state forward,” Brownback said Tuesday. “Our focus is on the full agenda already proposed with KPERS reform, pro-growth tax policy, Medicaid reform, school finance and water conservation.”
Republicans have argued that the state should not rely on gambling revenue to pay its bills and have been reluctant to reopen debate on modifying the law to help southeastern Kansas or the race tracks. Davis said the state should have revisited the issue in 2009 and 2010 when it was trying to close budget gaps caused by the Great Recession.
In 2014 the package would generate $5.4 million for the state primarily through new revenue from the racetracks, Democrats said. That amount increases to $15.4 million in 2015 when a new casino would likely open in the southeastern zone, either in Cherokee or Crawford counties.