In a meeting with state legislators from Wyandotte County tonight, Unified Government lobbyist Mike Taylor said the UG’s top legislative priority will be protecting the revenues it receives from the state government.
“The Kansas Legislature should not continue solving its budget shortfalls by taking revenues belonging to or legally obligated to city and county governments,” Taylor said.
It also should not place more of the burden of funding vital services on local taxpayers, he said.
He specifically said he was concerned about the local alcoholic liquor funds, special city-county highway fund, motor fuel taxes, community mental health funds, and community corrections funding as being in need of protection.
He said that $19.5 million in local government funds is allocated through the state for 2015. The biggest part of that is the city-county street and highway fund at $6.6 million, he said.
The state faces a shortfall of $279 million in fiscal year 2015, Taylor said. The governor has proposed 4 percent budget cuts to state agencies, $280 million in cuts, a $40 million reduction to state retirement contributions, and a $95.7 million transfer from the state highway fund. There is a projected $648 million revenue shortfall in the state for fiscal 2016.
While state transportation projects for 2015 and 2016 would be completed, it is a 10-year plan, so state transportation projects in future years may be in jeopardy, he said.
The UG is concerned with a state solution that would shift more work and cost burdens to local governments. The state besides making cuts or eliminating services, also could consider slowing the income tax cuts, eliminating sales tax exemptions and changing the way agricultural land is taxed, he said.
Taylor said during the past several years, the UG had to cut budgets and furlough employees, partly because of the recession, and also because of cuts in state funding.
According to Taylor, those cuts in state funding in the recent years included the elimination of the mortgage registration fee, which cost the UG $500,000 in fiscal year 2015 and is anticipated to cost $1.8 million annual in five years; the repeal of the machinery and equipment tax since 2006 has cost the UG $10 million annually and caused a $130 million drop in assessed value; the reduction of the delinquent tax interest rate by 2 percent, from 6 percent to 4 percent, is estimated to cost the UG about $300,000 annually in penalty interest and may encourage nonpayment of taxes; suspension of local ad valorem tax reduction fund in 2003, is an estimated loss to the UG of about $3 million annually with a cumulative loss of $36 million.
As an example of state work that had been shifted to the UG, Taylor mentioned the motor vehicle department’s computer system that was redone at the state level, that caused the UG to hire four new people at a cost of $200,000, and even more workers hired later, because of title work shifted down to the county level that the state formerly did.
The UG’s top legislative priorities for 2015 include abandoned housing, to streamline the process for local government to deal with abandoned housing; city elections, the UG and other municipalities oppose a movement to move spring city elections to the fall; law enforcement mutual aid to allow law enforcement agencies to cooperate on both sides of the state line in a critical incident; Medicaid expansion, which would help urban residents and hospitals, as well as rural hospitals; and urban opportunity zones, which might be a way to help rebuild some urban neighborhoods.
Other UG legislative issues are unclaimed checks, which are suggested to be returned to the UG treasury if the amount is less than $20 and it had not been cashed in about two years; delinquent tax interest rate, proposed to return to its former level; and broadband restrictions, opposing a bill that would prevent local governments to do broadband.
This year, several state legislators attended the UG’s legislative platform presentation at City Hall.
Mayor Mark Holland said the Wyandotte County delegation has worked hard to prevent difficult or bad legislation from Topeka. When Wyandotte County has been hit hard financially, it is not because of the Wyandotte County delegation, which works in support of the county, he said.
Because the UG meeting started just two hours after Wyandotte County senators were supposed to be in Topeka for a meeting of Democratic senators, Sen. David Haley, D-4th Dist., was unable to be at the UG meeting because he planned to attend the meeting in Topeka, and Sen. Pat Pettey participated by phone to the Topeka meeting and arrived late at the UG meeting.