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State legislature update

Freeze bill passes

State Rep. 70th District

Since I wrote my last column, we have voted on a couple of matters that warrant comment.

First is the rescission bill, also referred to this year as the freeze bill, since it is designed to freeze spending. As you are aware, we’re trying to fill a huge financial hole just to finish this fiscal year. For the balance of this fiscal year, which ends June 30, funds for education are to be cut based on $75 per pupil base state aid.

Most school districts in our area braced for this possibility by taking advantage of a law passed last year by the legislature; the new provision allowed schools this one time to transfer funds from certain other areas to their contingency reserve fund, just in case the state had a budget hole in fiscal year 2011; and most of the school districts around here moved all they were allowed to.

Curiously, the Kansas Center for Policy “revealed” that schools had more contingency funds than in 2010, suggesting our schools were overflowing in money and should therefore be cut, but the director of that outfit failed to mention the new law or its purpose. Well, of course, schools ended up with greater balances in reserve. The legislature let school districts use money they had never been allowed to use as just-in-case money.

It isn’t an “a-ha” moment, nor was it an evil act on the schools’ part, but simply good planning. The real problem for schools hits when we get to the 2012 budget, not finishing this year.

Another aspect of the freeze bill is the House proposal to cut state salaries 7.5 percent for elected officials, agency heads, and those who earn more than $100,000. This sounds great on the face, but it creates a dilemma: College professors and doctors are in that bunch. This includes professors engaged in cutting-edge cancer and bioscience research, physician-professors teaching our future doctors, researchers connected to the National Bio-and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF) in Manhattan, not to mention surgeons at the KU Hospital and Medical Center brought to here to handle certain specialties.

The argument from our appropriations committee? We’re in a recession and all Kansas employees with good salaries should “feel the pain.” While that may sound plausible, it holds little weight if it thwarts a central function of the state–grow the economy out of a recession. Kansas worked hard to recruit high quality professors, researchers, and doctors to Kansas for specific purposes; if we get punitive so they can share the pain, we can also watch them leave as easily as they came.

The University of Kansas Medical Center is on the verge of being designated a national cancer center, NBAF will be a huge boon to Kansas (if we leave the researchers alone), and the KU School of Medicine is planning to expand its Wichita branch to train larger groups of family medicine students and establish a new Salina branch — if we don’t shoo the professors away.

I’m not interested in these folks moving away because the legislature sees them as expendable. For this reason, I voted “no” on the budget rescission bill. Gov. Brownback did not request this cut. He understands how important these folks are to Kansas’ economic recovery and future; we don’t need the legislature blowing it.

The other big vote of the week was the proposed amendment to the Kansas Constitution objecting to the federal health care mandate. This could permit all Kansans to vote on the issue. I have two problems with the amendment, but voted yes in spite of them.

First issue: The amendment’s language could violate the U.S. Constitution, and if so, an election would waste money and would do a “vain thing.”

Secondly, Kansas entered the lawsuit asking the federal health care act to be declared unconstitutional, and until that case is determined, any action we take is premature. On the other hand, the November election was as much about health care as it was any other subject, and was the focal point for many folks. Hence, my vote. The final House vote on the amendment was 92-27.

What are your thoughts? Please contact me at brookens70@sbcglobal.net or write me at Kansas State Capitol Building, 300 SW 10th St, Topeka KS 66612; or call (620) 382-2133 or my Topeka number during the session (through about May 15) (785) 296-7636.

Last modified Feb. 16, 2011

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