Lawmakers brace for 2016 session



December 16, 2015 - 12:00 AM

Adam Lusker, a Democrat who represents the eastern third of Allen County in the Kansas House, warned efforts to increase farm land values still was on the mind of Sen. Jeff Melcher, R-Leawood, who proposed the change last session.
“He’s still working on it,” Lusker said, during a session of the Allen County Commission, which he, Rep. Kent Thompson and Sen. Caryn Tyson attended Tuesday morning.
The bill Melcher introduced would have substantially increased the amount farmers and ranchers paid for property taxes. He claimed his proposal would make property taxes fair across the board, by appraising farm land by an “average of gross cash rental income.”
As it, farm land is valued through a use-value formula on a rolling eight-year average that takes into account commodity prices. Consequently, values increased in recent years when prices rose, and have remained higher in the past year when prices dropped, Thompson observed.
Tyson, who has agricultural interests in Linn County, said a significant concern was a rural-urban chasm in Topeka that could give more traction to such legislation as Melcher introduced.
“There are 26 representatives from Johnson County and six senators,” she noted, giving the populous county a strong — and urban — presence in the Legislature.
Another issue “close to my heart,” Tyson said, was talk that surfaced now and again about removing sales tax exemption from the sale of farm equipment. If that were to occur in Allen County, cost of a new combine costing $300,000 would soar by $25,000 when sales tax was added.
Thompson said a fear with increased sales tax — including the measure that did so effective July 1 this year to fill a budget shortfall — was slippage, or Kansans living near enough to state lines to buy in another states to save on taxes.
Medicaid expansion may get more attention this year, Thompson said, if for no other reason than many hospitals, including Allen County Regional Hospital, would benefit from not having to write off so many bad debts incurred by the indigent.
Though the “governor and leadership said ‘no’” last session to its expansion, Thompson said they might be more receptive this coming session, which begins Jan. 11. “The governor did say a while back it may need another look.”
By virtue of the Affordable Care Act, the federal government would have picked up 90 percent of expanded Medicaid costs. Gov. Sam Brownback turned down the offer.
Tyson said she would be willing to look into some of the possibilities for Kansas, perhaps with what was done in Utah and Indiana as models (which she didn’t expand on), but with it being a political hotbed, “I’d have to do what was best for my district and also for Kansas.”
“We need to be open-minded,” she said, “and see what numbers we can afford. I think we (the state) have accepted a lot of federal dollars we didn’t need to accept.
“Kansas is not in great shape, but the sky is not falling.”

LUSKER’S time with commissioners was limited by a commitment elsewhere in his large geographical district, which includes part of four counties.
He recognizes problems at the local level, he said, pointing out that what is done with the state budget “affects local government at some point. “
However, he added, “legislation can be changed and we have to be patient,” in regard to laws, such as one that soon may limit tax levy increases at the local level without a successful referendum.
Otherwise, all three legislators spent much time talking about the mechanics of the Legislature.
Oftentimes, “it’s a game,” Thompson said of everyday machinations.

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