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Omnibus and first week back in Topeka

I had the opportunity to serve on my first Omnibus session the third week of April. The Appropriations Committee returned to Topeka to review the final budget and make adjustments based on economic forecasts, current revenues and the total amount awarded the state from the tobacco lawsuit settlement.

The forecast and economic revenues are much better. Two years ago, we were $550 million in debt, and now we are predicted to have a $600 million ending balance. It is hard to believe, but even with the aircraft industry layoffs, there have been 22,000 new jobs created in Kansas the past two years.

The tobacco settlement was estimated low, and it came in almost $20 million more than was allocated for the Children's Initiative Fund. The governor is hesitant to put all of the increased revenue back into the fund. I personally will lobby for him to do so. I feel that all the programs the tobacco settlement fund supports are saving the state money in the long run; and it is not taking taxpayers' dollars to maintain them.

What was made very clear in Appropriations was that it was the Supreme Court who gave the furloughs to district judges and clerks -- not the Legislature. Kansas Supreme Court Justice Lawton Nuss announced he is delaying, not canceling, the next two furlough days. We will be done with the budget by then and, hopefully, he then will cancel all the rest of the furlough days.

I attempted to reinstate the market pay package for our state employees, especially those who work in the prison system, and we were voted down 11-8. The announcement of several jail breaks in Kansas has got the governor's attention. He has stated we need to give greater priority to our prison system.

I have visited several prisons in the last two years and realize there are many prisoners that we don't want out on our streets. The key to any well-run business is strong leadership and good employees. The state just can't keep telling our state employees they are not important.

The Legislature reconvened Wednesday. The same items I wrote about in the first column in January are still to be decided: the budget, KPERS, school finance, Medicaid and redistricting. In addition, there are 100 bills that have yet to come out of conference committees.

Add all this up and include an election year for Senate and House members I honestly believe we should not be worried about elections but should be about doing what is best for all of our constituents.

Ward Cassidy, R-St. Francis, represents the 120th District in the Kansas House of Representatives. ward.cassidy@house.ks.gov