by Murrel Bland
State Sen. David Haley, D-4th Dist., said people often ask him what he can do to reopen The Woodlands. He made this comment Thursday, Jan. 5, at a pre-legislative public hearing held at the West Wyandotte Library.
Other members of the Wyandotte County Legislative Delegation who attended were State Reps. Tom Burroughs, 33rd Dist.; Pam Horton Curtis, 32nd Dist.; Stan Frownfelter, 37th Dist.; Kathy Wolfe Moore, 36th Dist.; Luis Ruiz, 31st Dist.; and State Sen. Pat Pettey, Sixth Dist. All are Democrats. About 50 persons attended the meeting.
Mike Taylor, the lobbyist for the Unified Government, said the UG’s position on The Woodlands has changed from opposing the reopening to favoring it as long as The Woodlands provides benefits to the local community. The Woodlands was sold in 2015 to Phil Ruffin, a Las Vegas casino owner who wants to reopen The Woodlands for horse racing. A bill that would grant more favorable revenue from wagering passed the Kansas Senate in 2015, but did not pass the Kansas House.
Taylor listed the UG’s priority issues. At the top of the list was Medicaid expansion. He said the refusal of the state to expand Medicaid has increased the burden of providing health care for the poor on local governments. Other issues include replacing the election process for the tax lid with a protest petition, streamlining the process for dealing with abandoned properties, letting local government set policies for carrying firearms and changing the tax appeal process so it is balanced and sensible for the taxpayer and county government.
Sister Therese Bangert, a Roman Catholic nun who is social justice coordinator for the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth, also urged legislators to expand Medicaid. She said it was important to protect the Kansas Earned Income Credit; she said this is very important for low-income working parents. She also said it is important for Wyandotte County to continue to be a welcoming community for immigrants.
Mayor John (Tiny) McTaggart of Edwardsville praised the delegation for its support of issues affecting Kansas cities. McTaggart is a member of the Board of Directors of the Kansas League of Municipalities. He said one of the top priorities of the League was to stop the erosion of home rule provisions; he cited the tax lid and the changes in the election process as examples of taking away the authority of local government.
Balancing the Kansas budget in the wake of revenue shortfalls will be a top priority of the legislators. Rep. Moore said one of the first tasks will be replacing about $342 million in the present budget and $582 million in next year’s budget that starts July 1. One possible partial source of this shortfall could be the repeal of the “LLC Law” that allows Kansas small business owners to escape paying income tax.
School finance will be another issue that the legislators will face. The Kansas Supreme Court is expected to rule on that issue soon. Janet Waugh, a member of the Kansas Board of Education who was in the audience at the hearing, said she expected the ruling to come soon. She said she didn’t expect the court to order a specific revenue amount, but rather issue guidelines that would provide adequate funding for K-12 education.
Murrel Bland is the former editor of The Wyandotte West and The Piper Press. He is the executive director of Business West.