Legislators get an earful Town hall meeting filled with criticism, concern

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March 24, 2014 - 12:00 AM

“It’s dead,” Kansas Sen. Caryn Tyson said here Saturday morning of Senate Bill 411, which would have changed the way consolidated Extension districts are funded.
That was a sea change for Tyson, Republican whose 12th District includes Allen County, and sponsor of the bill.
Tyson joined Kent Thompson, 9th District state representative, and U.S. Congresswoman Lynn Jenkins at a legislative forum sponsored by Allen County Farm Bureau.
Senate Bill 411 would have returned taxing authority from an elected board for Extension districts to county commissioners. In 2010, Allen and Neosho counties formed the Southwind Extension District; the next year Bourbon County joined in.
Pressed by Iolan Jerry Dreher, long a 4-H leader and local banker, Tyson said she seized on the bill because of “constituent concerns,” including lack of budget oversight by county commissioners.

THE MORNING forum also gave vent to public concerns.
“I’m frustrated with Washington,” said Ken McGuffin, a former elementary school principal and now trustee at Allen Community College. “I’m tired of the vitriol and finger-pointing, including that of this morning.”
He referred to when Nancy Kassebaum and Bob Dole were in the U.S. Senate and how they were able to form relationships and compromise with Democrats.
“I want you to vote for what’s right, not always toe the party line,” McGuffin said. “Please have the courage to cross the aisle.”
“We’re frustrated, too,” Jenkins replied, blaming lack of positive action on “people not willing to find common ground, which is different than compromise.”
Jenkins said she was a member of a small bipartisan group of House and Senate members that meets “to find things we can agree on.” She said 12 bills had come from the group, though none was a newsmaker.
McGuffin also had advice for Tyson and Thompson, saying he found confrontations between the Legislature and judicial branch distressing. That was in reference to attempts to change the way judges are appointed to office and the legislators’ contention that setting a figure for school funding was their responsibility alone.
McGuffin reminded legislators that previous dollar amounts for K-12 schools came from studies “commissioned by the Legislature,” and which they have since chosen to ignore.
Tyson’s retort was that the Legislature had increased funding for the judicial branch in 2013 and again this year by $10 million, $2 million from the general fund and $8 in increased fees.
“We’re trying to rebuild relationships and trying to work with” the judicial, she said.
In typical criticism of the Affordable Care Act — ObamaCare — Jenkins said she is co-sponsor of recent legislation to overturn the healthcare act. This is the 51st time over four years Republicans have attempted such legislation.
Jenkins said her bill addresses “out-of-control spending and increase (healthcare) competitiveness across state lines,” with insurance.
She gave no specifics of how the legislation would improve current law, other than to recommend a read of what “Dr. Roe would do to improve healthcare access.”
Here in a nutshell is what Roe, a Tennessee Republican congressman, has proposed:
— Fully repeal ACA.
— Lower health care costs through competition.
— Reform medical malpractice laws.
— Provide tax reform to allow families and individuals to deduct health care costs.
— Expand health savings accounts.
— Safeguard individuals with pre-existing conditions.
— Protect the unborn by ensuring no federal funding for abortions.
No definitive comments arose when Georgia Masterson, a Thrive Allen County volunteer, passionately spoke about the Medicaid Gap, brought about by Gov. Sam Brownback and legislators refusing Medicaid money that left an estimated 80,000 poor Kansans without ACA coverage or Medicaid assistance for healthcare.
Tyson said accepting federal assistance “would have had strings attached,” without being specific.
What the federal government offered was to pay 100 percent of Medicaid costs for three years, and then fund 90 percent.
“We have to do something,” said Dr. Brian Wolfe, saying it was immoral for the state to not provide insurance and consequently limit access to healthcare.
“If you earn less than $10,000 you have no options,” he said. “It’s dreadful. I see people who die because of this.”
Jenkins said Medicaid assistance “held people back” by “being given in the wrong way,” again without being specific, and then, with little transition, morphed into a commentary on taxing business and losing jobs off-shore.

TYSON AND Thompson both said leaders in their houses were moving to find funding for the local option budget phase of school finance equalization that came from the Kansas Supreme Court decision.
To fully fund state aid for LOBs is expected to cost about $130 million, Thompson said.
Beyond that, neither had any new information.
LOBs are a means districts have to supplement general fund budgets. They are limited to about 30 percent of a district’s general fund and were more fully funded by state aid — thus the Supreme Court order — before the recession and income tax cuts resulted in reductions in state aid to schools.
Thompson reiterated that the chasm between urban and rural legislators likely would frustrate negotiations.
General state aid for education is funded in large measure by a 20-mill statewide levy. Naturally, a substantial portion of that property tax revenue comes from populous and wealthy counties, such as Johnson, Sedgwick, Shawnee, Douglas and Wyandotte.
Consequently, districts in counties such as Allen benefit. They generate little of the revenue that returns to their districts, but reap state aid in the same proportions, creating an equal educational environment for all Kansas students.
Only about 10 percent of the state aid for USD 257’s budget, for example, comes from property taxes generated in the district.
“The problem,” Thompson said of the urban-rural split, “is equalization is good for rural counties,” but not nearly as much so for urban. And, “the urbans don’t like it.”

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