Archive for Wednesday, January 9, 2008

De Soto issues on senator’s mind as session nears

January 9, 2008

De Soto was much on Sen. Julia Lynn's mind during a trip Monday to Topeka to prepare for the 2008 legislative session.

On her to-do list was to find where proposed legislation to tweak the state's tax credit economic development incentive stands and to secure a copy of legislation passed the past two years that created riverfront authorities in Topeka and Fort Scott.

Both issues are key to De Soto and among priorities the Olathe Republican has set for herself as she looks toward her second legislative session. The 90-day legislative session starts Monday.

The tax credit legislation has garnered a lot of attention since De Soto Mayor Dave Anderson and representatives from Huhtamaki Americas testified to an interim committee in October, Lynn said.

Huhtamaki officials said one roadblock to that expansion was the ineffectiveness of the state's tax credit incentive, which allows companies to write off taxes if certain benchmarks are reached. Testimony revealed by and large the tax credits weren't being used because companies weren't qualifying for them.

There is now widespread interest in changing tax credit legislation to ensure they work not only for Huhtamaki but all of Kansas, Lynn said.

"I credit Dave Anderson and his relationship with Huhtamaki," she said. "I think we were the ones who really brought this to the forefront.

"My thinking is they are really aware we needed to make changes but there wasn't a passionate voice with a story to tell about how urgent this is."

Tax credits also would be a consideration in an issue that she said would dominate the first days of the session - an effort from Republican leaders in the House and Senate to reverse Kansas Department of Health and Environment Secretary Roderick Bromby's denial of permits for two 700-megawatt power plants in Holcomb because of health and environmental concerns from carbon dioxide emissions. The plants would have emitted 11 million tons of CO2 annually, and 85 percent of the electric power would have been sold out-of-state

"We talked about that in a Senate caucus in Wichita a couple of months ago," she said. "There will be an attempt to override the decision on behalf of both houses. I'm not sure how it will be done. I do know it is a top priority for the Republican caucus.

"That's a major economic development issue with a big impact on western Kansas and all the way to Johnson County."

As of the other De Soto issue Lynn has made her own, a riverfront authority, the senator said she had plans to bring a developer to the city to view the potential of the Kansas River frontage for development and meet with city officials.

"I've got quite a vision in mind," she said. "I'd like to raise the bar on what could happen on that riverfront."

The visit would also give her a chance to visit with Anderson and City Administrator Pat Guilfoyle about what should be in the bill authorizing a riverfront authority, Lynn said.

The 2008 session will be conducted in an election year environment, Lynn said. As such, she foresaw efforts to provide some tax relief but little success for any new big-spending proposals in a year the Legislature would be stressed to ensure funding was there from past promises.

"We've got ourselves in a position where we are spending more than we are projected to take in," she said. "We've been living on a credit card for many years."

For example, the state has deferred paying off bonds that paid for the current transportation program through re-financing several times, Lynn said. It was time the Legislature got serious about repaying that debt while finishing the project promised in the 10-year program that ends this year.

To help small business, Lynn said she would introduce a bill called the Small Business Enhancement Act. It would define what small businesses are and require economic impact analysis to determine if proposed regulations would harm small businesses, she said.

"It would make sure small businesses don't have to jump through hoops like large businesses while being regulated," she said. "We have to create an environment where they can thrive.'

The cautious election-year spending approach made Lynn doubtful the Legislature would mandate all-day kindergarten this year. That is welcome news for De Soto USD 232, which would face a space crunch if the Legislature funded the change.

"That's an issue that isn't going away," the senator said. "I don't think there is any question the general consensus is that it ought to be done. The problem is where the money is coming from, especially this year. That's something that will be taken up in '09 unless a miracle happens and we can find money somewhere."

Lynn said she expected the Legislature to approve education funding for two years out so that districts could plan better. That was a compromise to the request she heard when she visited the De Soto school board earlier this year for a three-year budget cycle, she said.

Another change that would benefit the De Soto district would be legislation allowing for a second enrollment count. Currently enrollments for state funding are set at the start of the third week in September.

"That would help fast-growing district like De Soto who have a lot of students enroll after that date," Lynn said.

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