Local politicians discuss funding state agencies (The Mercury)

Stage agencies and services are still recovering from funding deficits caused by the 2012 tax cuts, area legislators told constituents Saturday morning.

Kansas Rep. Sydney Carlin, Rep. Tom Phillips and Sen. Tom Hawk spoke at a legislative coffee Saturday morning at Sunset Zoo in Manhattan. They said the state is still searching for ways to fund education, mental health services, infrastructure and more.

All three said the process of restoring money in many of these areas will be a long one. However, with the tax cut repealed in 2017, the legislature is slowly returning money to departments across the state.

“It’s unusual we’ve had money to start the year to play with to fund things,” Carlin said.

Both K-12 and higher education have seen sharp cuts in recent years, resulting in a legal battle that is still not resolved. Phillips pointed out that the legislature passed a new school funding formula last year in hopes of speeding that process. He said every department in the state is still recovering from budget shortfalls.

“They all suffered,” Phillips said. “They will all require a new way of operating or additional revenue.”

Hawk said that while he wishes the cuts had been repealed earlier, he thinks revenue will to continue to be up to help alleviate some of these budget cuts.

“We got better numbers from the Department of Revenue,” Hawk said. “Gov. (Laura) Kelly has set the right path.”

Carlin said the passage of a bill to institute a sales tax on online purchases would bring in revenue to help reinstating some of the cut services. Phillips mentioned another bill has been introduced to apply a motor fuel tax and that he would support it if it came to a vote, as did Carlin.

He said that money would go to the highway fund. Hawk said he also viewed that tax as a stable source of funding to maintain roads.

Carlin said removing some sales tax exemptions could bring in new revenue, which Hawk, who is the ranking minority member on the Senate Ways and Means committee, said it is a delicate balance when determining which ones to remove and which ones to keep.

“Every time we tried to take one away we had new ones put in,” Hawk said.

Phillips said the best way to move forward in that area is sales tax rebates for low income people, who would be able to apply to the state for that rebate.

The delegation also addressed the crisis in the state’s foster care system, which lost dozens of children in the system under previous leadership. Hawk and Carlin said Kelly’s budget asks for more social workers in addition to more students working in internships in the hopes of recruiting them after they graduate.

“We don’t have many people in the pipeline, so we have to get people in the program,” Carlin said.

Phillips said a significant change would probably be reliant on Kelly hiring the right people to run the system.

“It’s a said situation in our state,” he said. “These are our most vulnerable citizens. We need to make sure they can be successful.”

Medicaid expansion could be an important issue this year, the group said. Carlin said it was difficult to get some other members to discuss the issue and Phillips said the House’s move further to the political right could be one reason.

“The leadership is more conservative,” he said. “The challenge is going to be getting it onto the floor for debate.”


This article was originally published on The Mercury website, here.