No new taxes, legislators vow
De Soto's two representatives to the Kansas Legislature easily identified the state's budget crunch as the dominant issue in the coming legislative session.
"It's going to be about managing our priorities," said Rep. John Ballou, R-Gardner. "We're going to set our highest priorities about want to fund."
Sen. Kay O'Connor, R-Olathe, agreed money will be the topic but refused to buy into the talk of a budget crunch.
"I personally see it as a result of overspending the past few years," she said. "When spending for general expenses outstrips inflation for the past few years, you have a spending problem."
The session will start with Gov. Bill Graves' State of the State Address Jan. 14. After learning state revenue was less than expected, Graves released but doesn't support a balanced budget last month that made $426 million in cuts to the 2003 budget that will hit social and elderly programs, corrections, transportation and education.
Should that budget be approved, local school district would receive $158 less in per-pupil aid from the state. That would wipe out the gains they have received during the past three years.
Ballou and O'Connor differ in how they think the Legislature should manage the budget shortfall, but they agreed there is no possibility of a tax increase they said the public doesn't support.
"Outside of somebody with the school districts or someone working for the schools, no one has asked me to increase taxes," Ballou said. "That's probably because of the area I represent. Gardner (school district) has the highest mill levy in the state, De Soto has the second highest and Spring Hill is in the top 10."
O'Connor echoed Ballou's comments nearly word for word.
"The only people asking me to increase their taxes are those working for school districts," she said.
Ballou said he expected the Legislature to pass a recision bill that will cut the current fiscal year 2002 budget to soften the blow on 2003. He also predicted the changes to the statute requiring the state to end each fiscal year with a 7.5 percent ending balance. That number will either be reduced or a different bookkeeping method developed that frees up more revenue, he said.
Moreover, Gov. Bill Graves is expected to call for state agencies to start charging or increase fees for services in his Jan. 14 State of the State Address, Ballou said. Although Ballou said he would support fee increases, O'Connor said they are hidden tax hikes.
"I don't buy that one either," she said. "If it smells like a tax, it's a tax.
"Fees are just a way of getting citizens' money government is so hungry for."
O'Connor suggested the state raise money through the sale or lease of buildings, equipment or property.
"Government is too big," she said. "If you downsize property, you downsize government. If we get a private entity to take over a state asset, you not only get the money from the sale or lease but it becomes productive tax source."
Ballou and O'Connor also differ in opinion on expanding gambling as a potential source of state revenue. O'Connor said she would not support any attempt to extend casino-type gambling.
Despite the determined opposition of O'Connor and other legislators, Ballou said at least two bills proposing the expanded use of slot machines would be introduced. One of the measures would limit the machines at the state's three paramutual race tracks and two special event tracks, while the other would allow fraternal, church and veteran organizations to place machines in their halls or clubs.
Both proposals would require approval of county voters, Ballou said. Given the opposition to gambling, Ballou said, the Legislature would only seriously consider either bill late in the session when it must face the full consequences the 2003 budget woes.
"It has to be this year," he said. "If a year this short in revenue doesn't do it, it will never open up."