May 15, 2009

Dear Friends,

The Kansas Legislature wrapped up the 2009 session just before 3 a.m. last Saturday morning (it always seems that it’s the middle of the night when we gavel out for the year). As expected, the state’s declining economy and balancing the budget dominated our work -- affecting nearly every other decision we made. We ended with much the same news as when we left for our 3 week break with revenue numbers down and projections weak.

Since 2002, State General Fund (SGF) tax receipts have increased almost $2 billion; this is an increase of 38%. As tax revenues grew since 2002, state spending kept right along with it. SGF spending increased 48% from 2004 to 2008 while inflation during the same time was only 13% and the population is increasing less than ½ of 1% a year. As you can see, spending is the simple fact that the state is now out of money. We are facing a situation where spending has outpaced receipts and we have not put any money “in the bank” to help us weather this type of financial storm. I recently learned Kansas is one of only four states without a “rainy day fund”. I fear I sound like a broken record but this is very bad money management and I will continue to work and support a savings or reserve type bill which hasn’t managed to pass the legislature in the past years. One bill, house bill #2320, is making progress though the system and will continue to be “alive” next year of the 2 yr session cycle that addresses this problem.

It certainly has been a different process this year “working” the budget then the last two years. We were asked to vote on a motion to concur with the Senate budget. This motion was successful and eliminated any House ideas and my vote for District #107. A trailer tax bill followed with the same type of motion to fill the gap and again was a motion to agree with the Senate and passed. With the passage of these two bills - to state it simply - we don’t have a enough of a cushion and next year’s budget will be bleak if we aren’t called back earlier for a special session due to the state running out of dollars. We ended the year with only $17,000.00 in the state’s checkbook. This budget bill was nearly 1” thick and as I worried there are flaws popping up now. It included a “mistake” of funding left out for the Kansas court system of nearly $10M which may result in furloughs for court employees and delayed court dates for the entire state. The budget reduces the state funding to schools by 2.75% and eliminates the “slider payment” to counties which is the promised machinery & equipment tax refund. The slider rebate (property tax refund) is not only a reduction in the amount of funds to our counties but also to Cloud County Community College. It also cuts spending to mentally and physically disabled programs just under $10M. Normally there is a compromised bill passed out of a conference committee (3 senators-3 house members) which is made up of two budget versions (one House and one Senate) - what comes out is usually a bill the majority of the 165 legislators can agree upon. With the motion of concurring – it took my vote as a house member out of the picture. Let me say this: I am your Representative not your Senator – so when my vote is taken away with a procedural vote like this, it is unfair to all of us as you have two of us in Topeka (Senator Mark Taddiken and myself) to represent you.
The other big headline – the Legislature and the Governor finally overcame their nearly two-year impasse on a comprehensive state energy plan. Sunflower Electric reached a settlement earlier with the new governor to build a new coal plant near Holcomb. The compromise allows the electric coop to build one 895 megawatt plant instead of the original request to build two plants. Among its commitments, Sunflower also will build 179 Megawatts of wind energy facilities; develop two 345 Kilovolts transmission lines to meet the western energy grid; and develop a bio-digester to capture methane and an algae reactor. This is great news for our state because it means new 1500 construction jobs and hundreds of permanent jobs plus re-establishes regulatory certainty and fairness in Kansas. All of these are part of Sunflower’s original plan that you can read more about at http://www.holcombstation.coop/.
There were approximately 200 less bills voted on in the House this year than last however two of those were ours! House bill #2324 changed the population count from the last US Census number to a yearly “soft number” that the Secretary of State’s office uses. Dr. Randall at Tall grass Veterinary Hospital brought this to my attention – the law was flawed as far as we were concerned. I introduced the bill in the House and Senator Mark carried it through in the Senate where it passed. The Tire Recycling program ran by Kansas Health and Environment (KHDE) which provides grants to purchase playground cover to schools, city and county parks was to expire this year. Champlin Tire along with four other recycling businesses and Kansas jobs would’ve disappeared if a bill wasn’t reintroduced this year. The recycling program not only reduces the amount of tires in our landfills but the ground-up tires makes the play areas safer for our kids. It was a good program all away around – good policy as we say in Topeka. Senator Mark ran the bill on the Senate side first and then sent it over to the House where I made a motion to agree with the Senate bill. It passed 105-20 votes in the house. Both of these bills where signed in to law last week.

Mrs. Gerard’s Senior Government Class from Concordia visited one day during this last week of session – we even had time to step on the house floor before the full House gathered in the morning. School visits are very important to me as I think every student should have a chance to climb the 296 steps to the top or sit above the chambers to watch the House or Senate work - government in action. I do have a file started for future pages (ages 10-18) for next year if you know of students who would like the opportunity to work in the capital for a day with me.

This will be the last article for the 2009 year as session will begin on January 11th, 2010 for the final year of the 09-10 term. Please continue to call me over the summer at 243-3325 or 243-4256 if I can help in any way or if you have suggestions or questions for me. My mailing address is: 1326 N. 150th Road, Concordia, KS 66901. Thank you again for the opportunity to serve as your Representative.

Rep. Elaine Bowers