Archive for Thursday, January 8, 2004

Issues: education, gaming, budget

January 8, 2004

Before a new bill becomes law, it faces several hurdles. If it passes through various committees, the wheeling and dealing and if there is enough money, the blueprint boils down to numbers: 63, 21 and 1.

"That's the formula for legislation," state Rep. Ray Cox said.

The Kansas Legislature convenes Monday, Jan. 12.

And you can bet legislators, lobbyists and special interest groups from around the state are rallying to gain the necessary votes in the House and Senate, as well as the governor's signature, for new legislation.

Education funding, gaming and the budget will be the hot-button topics for the legislative sessions, said Cox, R-Bonner Springs, whose 39th District covers Basehor, Bonner Springs and western Shawnee.

He also expects the Legislature to discuss other measures, such as the destination sales tax, which state businesses have voiced opposition against, and the collection of delinquent real estate taxes.

As with other sessions, legislators typically debate the heavy-hitting issues during the final days, Cox said. The tone and pace of the sessions could be shaped in part by Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius' state of the state address Monday night.

Sebelius has said she would reveal a gaming initiative during the legislative sessions. Her gaming commission concluded that gambling would infuse Kansas with much needed revenue currently being lost to casinos in Missouri.

Cox said he supports gaming on this side of the state line.

"I'm not a gambler, but when I see millions going to Missouri, I just think we've got to capture some of that," he said. "It's just common sense."

Cox, who supports a destination casino in Wyandotte County and gaming machines at the Woodlands racetrack, said opening the door to gambling could add between $120 and $150 million into the state's coffers.

Education funding, as with every session, will also be a top priority.

A wrinkle thrown into this year's session is how the decision of Shawnee County District Court Judge Terry Bullock will play out in the legislature.

In December, Bullock issued a preliminary finding that the state's current model for funding schools violates rights of individuals under the Kansas and United States constitutions.

The funding formula fails to provide a suitable education and does not adequately provide for disadvantaged students, the judge ruled in his 104-page order.

Bullock ordered the Kansas Legislature to bring the funding system into compliance by July 1. As a preliminary decision, an appeal cannot be heard until after the deadline.

Cox, a former high school and junior college teacher and an education proponent, said he was pleased the judge's decision brought education to the forefront.

"I was tickled to death he did it because he'll keep it on the front burner even more," the state representative said.

Whether the legislature will attempt to resolve the funding problems detailed in the judge's order during the sessions or let the case play itself out in the judicial system, remains to be seen.

The judge's ruling isn't the only area of concern for education, Cox said.

He's also in favor of rewriting laws, which would essentially allow school districts to provide higher salaries to teachers who have retired from the same district but have been rehired for hard-to-fill teaching positions.

The salary lid for re-hiring teachers from the same district is $15,000. The law is senseless and antiquated, Cox said.

"This is one that would help school districts," he said. "I'd like to see the lid taken off. It would make it possible for teachers to stay in the district and make more money while retired."

Invariably, each measure or proposed new law, will come back to one area -- the state's budget.

"It's all about the budget," Cox said. "You can't get anything done without it."

Commenting has been disabled for this item.