Budget fixes dominate NEJC legislators’ discussion of upcoming session in Kansas

Kansas Sen. Kay Wolf speaking at the Northeast Johnson County legislative preview breakfast this morning sponsored by the NEJC Chamber of Commerce.
Kansas Sen. Kay Wolf speaking at the Northeast Johnson County legislative preview breakfast this morning sponsored by the NEJC Chamber of Commerce.

Much to be expected, the conversation at the Northeast Johnson County Chamber legislative preview breakfast this morning turned to the state budget. Or, more precisely, Governor Sam Brownback’s recent moves to balance the budget at the end of the current fiscal year.

“Many of us feared that we would be in the position we are in today,” Sen. Kay Wolf told the crowd. “I think we are going to have to revisit tax policy. I don’t really see how we can continue to go down that road.” Wolf reiterated her opposition to the original tax cuts and predicted, “it will be very hard to raise taxes” to fill the gaps. She expressed her disappointment that the governor was shifting more than $40 million in KPERS money to fill the gap “since it was underfunded already,” she said.

“I am not a believer that we have a spending problem,” Rep. Barbara Bollier said, contradicting recent comments from House Speaker Ray Merrick about the nature of the budget problem. “A budget crisis is what we are facing,” Rep. Stephanie Clayton said. Rep. Melissa Rooker pointed to the sweep of funds intended for early childhood education, calling it “heart-breaking” at a time when more than half of Kansas children are living in poverty.

Bollier, a retired physician, also said problems have emerged in KanCare, the Medicaid system in Kansas that relies on administration by private insurance companies. All three companies are losing money on the program, Bollier said, and providers are not getting paid on time.

Clayton said her focus will be preserving programs that “need to be saved,” including state economic development incentives. She said planned development at Meadowbrook and along Metcalf could “change the face of the 19th district.”

Sen. Pat Pettey also weighed in on the budget shortfalls, predicting that “schools are going to be on the chopping block.”