Legislation aims at revenue shortfall

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Opinion column

by Murrel Bland

Taking one-time money from the long-term investment funds should solve the immediate cash flow problem of about $290 million for the state of Kansas fiscal year that ends June 30, 2017.

That was the view of State Rep. Kathy Wolfe Moore, D-36th Dist., who was a member of a legislative panel at a coffee held Saturday, April 8, at the West Wyandotte Library. The League of Women Voters of Johnson County, the NAACP of Kansas City, Kansas, and the Kansas City, Kansas, Public libraries sponsored the event. About 20 persons attended.

Rep. Moore said this would be a short-term solution and would not address the $1 billion shortfall predicted through 2019. This short-term proposal has passed both houses of the Kansas Legislature and awaits Gov. Sam Brownback’s signature.

State Sen. Steve Fitzgerald, R-Fifth Dist., said that state government spending is at an all-time high. Major industries in Kansas, including gas and oil and agriculture, are suffering and therefore producing less tax revenue. However, the state has not made necessary cuts in spending, Sen. Fitzgerald said.

The panel agreed that, even though Kansas is facing fiscal problems, it is not as severe as in those states such as Oklahoma, Wyoming or Alaska that are highly dependent on tax revenue from gas and oil or coal, or both.

Sen. Fitzgerald said there is a need for more funds for the Kansas Department of Transportation. There have been proposals to increase the gas tax to fund road work.

There was discussion about the “Uncork Kansas” legislation that would let grocery stores sell Kansas strong beer. This proposal has been before the legislature for the past several years. Apparently a compromise has been reached among liquor store owners and grocery stores. The liquor stores would be able to sell other items such as ice and party supplies. Presently grocery stores can sell only 3.2 beer. The Alcohol Beverage Control agency would handle the details of how the grocery store personnel would sell strong beer.

State Rep. Stan Frownfelter, D-37th Dist., said despite this compromise, he predicted it would hurt the existing Kansas liquor stores; all are individually owned. He said he has contacted every liquor store in Wyandotte County.

A man in the audience said he was concerned because of a 20-percent increase in the valuation of his home. He said he is retired and living on a fixed income and fears a substantial property tax increase.

Sen. Fitzgerald said valuations are set by the Unified Government. He suggested that the man might want to appeal his valuation to the Kansas Board of Tax Appeals.

When asked if there might be another attempt to override Gov. Brownback’s veto of a bill that would attract more federal Medicaid funds, Rep. Moore said she did not expect it. Various health care professional organizations, including the Kansas Hospital Association, have urged passage of the bill. Those opposed to it have said it would cost the state too much money long-term; besides, opponents said it is uncertain how long the funding source, the federal Affordable Care Act, will be in effect because of opposition from Congress and President Donald Trump.

Murrel Bland is the former editor of The Wyandotte West and The Piper Press. He is the executive director of Business West.

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