In his seven years serving in the Kansas Legislature, Rep. Paul Davis, (D-Lawrence) cannot remember the two chambers being so far apart.
“When it comes to the budget, there are 250 separate items we disagree on,” he said of the Senate and House of Representatives.
Davis serves as House minority leader, where he represents an almost disappearing Democratic Party.
Last election seated 35 new members in the chamber; of those, 33 were Republicans. Today, 74 percent of the 125 members of the House are Republicans. Of the 40 seats in the Senate, 80 percent are held by Republicans.
But even with their supermajority, the Republicans are having a difficult time coming to terms with a balanced budget, Davis said.
BALANCING the budget isn’t just about numbers, Davis said, but also the end game philosophy about what the future of Kansas will look like.
For example, the Senate’s version of an ending balance of slightly less than $10 million will require significant cuts but leave the state able to provide basic services, Davis said.
Those in the House, however, are eyeing an $850 million ending balance, giving the state a nest egg that Davis fears is in preparation for future tax cuts.
“It makes no sense to feather our bed when we’re still making drastic cuts to vital services,” Davis said “Everybody loves a tax cut. But when we’re in the hole by $105 million, it’s not the responsible thing to do.”
Davis cited specific cuts in the House plan that has him worried, including taking $300,000 from the Meals on Wheels program, a $3 million reduction to general assistance for the disabled, $3 million in cuts to Community Mental Health Centers, the elimination of the Family Centered System of Care program that provides services for children and families with those who suffer severe mental illness, $1 million in cuts to an adoption support program which helps oversee the placement of abused and neglected children into safe homes, $28 million in cuts to foster care programs, $9.9 million from SRS operations, and cuts to the Department on Aging that will result in the elimination of 20 full-time staff felt mostly in nursing home facilities.
Cuts such as these, Davis said, will drastically alter how Kansas serves its people.
AS FOR EDUCATION, Davis said its funding has been sidetracked by the charge to determine what is a “suitable” education.
“It’s an exercise in giving the state an excuse to not adequately fund our schools,” he said.
Davis contends that making school districts rely on local funds makes “the divide even wider between the haves and have-nots.”
The real danger to not adequately funding all Kansas schools is the slow but steady decline in students’ ability to match up not only with their peers across the country, but especially the world, he said.
Balancing the budget “is a balancing act,” Davis said. “You don’t want to have a tax structure that keeps business away, but you also need to see that schools, roads and cultural institutions keep a heartbeat.”
As for the retirement plan for state employees, Davis said, “The state has to inject more money into the system, plain and simple.”
Davis has proposed adding gaming revenues to the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System. The casino at Dodge City now brings in about $25 million annually. When the casinos in Wyandotte and Sumner County go online, an estimated $300 million will be brought in, he said.