Archive for Thursday, January 18, 2001

Legislators ready to deal with lottery, education issues as session begins

January 18, 2001

As Rep. John Ballou sees it, two of the biggest issues before the Kansas Legislature this year are related.

As they started their 90-day session last week, state lawmakers faced the need to come up with additional K-12 educational dollars and to reauthorize the Kansas Lottery.

In his State of the State Address, Gov. Bill Graves said state schools need more than the $2.7 billion he has proposed for fiscal year 2002. The governor said more money was needed to fund competitive teachers' salaries, all-day kindergarten and the local school districts' special education costs.

While he didn't call for a tax increase to fund his educational initiatives, Graves said he would sign a tax increase if one passed the Legislature.

Neither Ballou, R-Gardner, nor Sen. Kay O'Connor, R-Olathe, believes the Legislature will make that demand on Graves.

"I would not vote for a tax increase," O'Connor said. "I would vote for another tax cut. I don't see one coming. People in positions of leadership aren't supporting tax cuts."

O'Connor insisted most of the state's school districts don't need more money.

"They need better management of the funds they have," she said. "What do cathedral ceilings have to do with good academics? And we have schools with cathedral ceilings."

She said the Shawnee Mission school district offered an example of poor management. Because of its budget woes, the district is considering closing three schools to save money, O'Connor said.

"They have 64 employees making more than $75,000 a year," she said. "Second to that is the Kansas City, Kan., district with 19. Wichita, the largest district in the state, has 10.

"If I was a voter in the Shawnee Mission district, I could think of a better way to save $2 million than closing schools."

Another report to the Legislature recommended the state stretch its educational dollars through consolidation of rural districts. Ballou and O'Connor said for the effort will only be successful if its emphasis is on consolidating administrative staffs and not the closing of attendance centers.

Ballou said a possible source of educational dollars could be the tie to another issue before the Legislature this year the re-authorization of the Kansas Lottery. Nearly all the $60 million in revenue the state earns from the Lottery is now set aside for economic development.

But, Ballou said there is a proposal that would tie the renewal of the Lottery to a measure allowing slot machines at the state's paramutual race tracks. That would raise the money needed to help fund the educational initiatives the governor proposed, he said.

O'Connor said she thinks there are enough votes to renew the Lottery, but doubts any expansion will be approved.

"There are a number of people totally opposed to gambling on religious grounds, and others think it should be expanded," she said. "I think the most popular opinion is that what we have is fine, but no more."

With so many conflicting opinions, it will be late in the session before the Lottery's fate is decided, Ballou said.

"It's not going to be easy to renew," he said. "That Lottery bill is going to be like the credit card commercial. They pull on it and stretch on it every which way. It's going to be one of the last things the Legislature does before the end of the session."

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