Archive for Thursday, January 5, 2006

Education, gambling top issues

January 5, 2006

Education and gaming -- those two old thorns in the side of Kansas politics -- once again are expected to take center stage during the 2006 legislative session.

The Legislature convenes Monday in Topeka. The session typically draws to a close at the end of April.

While education funding and casino gambling historically are hot-button issues between parties, local politico Ray Cox, R-Bonner Springs, said it's no secret how he'll lean on either issue. Cox, the seven-term representative of the 39th District, which covers Basehor, Bonner Springs and parts of Shawnee, is blunt in his support of both.

"I think (education) is one of Kansas' great economic driving factors," said Cox on the eve of the session's kickoff. "It's important in getting good people and good companies into Kansas."

And on gaming: "I'm not a gambler, but I just can't stand to see all of our money going across the river."

In recent reports, some high-ranking GOP members have stated they believe this year's session may have a lighter agenda than years past. While Cox doesn't necessarily disagree with this notion, his experience tells him one thing: It's hard to predict the load before the session begins.

"Sometimes you think it's going to be lighter, but it never ends up like that," he said.

An announcement at the end of this week is expected to greatly influence this year's session. On Friday, a post audit committee is expected to release its comprehensive analysis on education funding. In short, Cox said the report will underlie "what the true cost of education is."

At the insistence of the Kansas Supreme Court, last year's Legislature approved $290 million in additional education funding. Whether further financial remedies will be made hinges on the audit report.

"That is going to be a big deal to the start of the session," he said. "I'm anxious to see it, and everybody else is, too.

"It's going to guide us through the session, as far as money goes."

Cox, a former teacher who now represents three school districts, said lobbying efforts by local administrators have been light leading up to Monday -- and for good reason. They know they have an ally.

"All three know where I stand and how I'll vote," he said.

Gaming also is of particular interest to Cox, a moderate member of the GOP, and to his home of 43 years, Wyandotte County. Under consideration by state representatives is allowing a casino inside the Village West entertainment and tourism district and another in southeast Kansas.

"Kansans are gaming anyway, and they're doing it in Missouri," he said. "We aren't keeping the problems away. ... We still have the problems, we're just not getting any of the money to help fight it."

Other topics Cox expects to receive legislative attention include debates on health care, retirement, transportation and social programs, as well as stemming the disturbing trend of "credit card politics" representatives have employed in trying to balance the budget in recent years.

"This is probably the best cash situation we've had in several years," he said.

Cox is also working on a proposal to broaden and strengthen laws pertaining to crimes such as identity theft.

The issues the Legislature will deal with throughout the sessions do not have clear-cut, right or wrong answers, Cox said. The representative said he'll use the same common-sense approach to solving problems as he has in the past.

"You do what you think is right, and only time will tell if it was the right thing to do," he said.

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