Tuesday, January 25, 2011
Budget banter fills Farm Bureau talk
By ANNE KAZMIERCZAK
Newly minted state senator Jeff King and other local politicians were on hand Monday night for an Allen County Farm Bureau Association board of directors legislative update.
King, an Independence attorney in private practice, was joined by County Commissioners Rob Francis and Gary McIntosh and Rep. Bill Otto for the informal talk.
King was appointed Dec. 11 to fill the remainder of the term vacated when Sen. Derek Schmidt was elected attorney general. He moves over from the House of Representatives.
King said past Kansas legislatures erroneously “bragged about balancing the budget without passing taxes, but what we did was pass expenses on to cities and counties.” Unfortunately, with the current economic crisis, he said, budgets will get no better this year.
“Gov. Brownback’s budget came out Thursday,” King observed, “but I haven’t been able to see it yet to see if we’ve put a stop to taking money from cities and counties — or if there just isn’t anything left to take.”
King noted federal highway funds and state liquor taxes are about the only revenue pots the state has not yet dipped its fingers into.
On the county level, Francis said “everyone should realize their ditches probably won’t get mowed again this year.” The cutback last year to mowing just intersections along county roads saved Allen County $163,000 in fuel and labor costs, he said.
“We’re looking into using a retardant” to control vegetative growth along roads instead, McIntosh added.
An added expense facing the county will be replacing older road signs, commissioners said.
REGARDING EDUCATION, King warned that base funding for per pupil K-12 will be cut further.
King, like others, noted the state did not seek means to replace federal stimulus dollars used to prop up education the past two years.
Although state revenue collection is up “$240 million above where it was the year before,” the loss of $500 million in federal dollars equates to a $260 million loss for the state, King said.
That, coupled with enrollments having risen statewide, will mean less money for individual schools, King said.
King did vow to try to make the cuts “as small as we can and as smart as we can.”
King also noted deep flaws in the budget of the Kansas Public Employee Retirement System, calling it “the second-worst situation” facing public retirement systems in the country.
He said, “We’ll pay your KPERS. It’s a contractual obligation.” But he promised cuts to the program in 2013.
And, he reminded those present, “If you don’t like something I do, you don’t have to vote for me next time.”
King said he does plan to run for the office in 2012.
Other questions the panel faced included the new governor’s view on environmental policy and economic development. No firm commitment was made on any topic, other than to try to “push government down to the local level as far as you can,” King said.