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SPOTLIGHT
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Legislative progress slow, disappointing

Published on -5/6/2012, 2:05 PM

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Progress continued to move at a sluggish pace last week, as legislators attempt to wrap up the 2012 legislative session.

Legislators have agreed on a $14 billion state budget needed to keep vital state services afloat this fiscal year, including a $1.4 million appropriation to keep our judicial branch open this summer. As well as a school funding plan that will restore base state aid per pupil by $74 next school year.

But dozens of other bills remain undecided.

Legislators still must agree on a plan to fund a $7.7 billion gap between anticipated revenues and benefits promised to our KPERS system. If long-term underfunding isn't addressed, more than 150,000 KPERS beneficiaries risk losing their retirement.

We must find a way to pay for a massive five-year income tax plan negotiators agreed to last week. The plan, which I opposed, could cost the state $3 billion, dramatically reduce our current $460 million surplus, and send the state back into the red for years to come.

While we can all agree that our taxes need to be reduced in a fair and fiscally responsible way, the fiscal note on this bill continues to be in flux. Until more is known, this debate will continue.

And we must find a way to reverse the damaging vote on redistricting made by the Senate earlier this week.

As you may recall, every 10 years the Kansas Legislature is statutorily required to redraw each of the state's congressional, Senate, House, and State Board of Education districts to reflect changes in population.

Despite the continued protest from rural legislators, including myself, the Kansas Senate on Wednesday passed a map that will collapse a western Kansas senate district and send it to northeast Kansas. Western Kansas paid the price 10 years ago with the collapse of a district. We shouldn't have to pay the price again.

I strongly opposed this plan and directly fought on the floor of the Senate. I conveyed my concerns that reducing the number of districts in western Kansas will irrevocably hurt our ability to revitalize our communities, support aging residents, maintain our quality rural schools, and grow the local agricultural economy.

This decision reduces our representation in committees and in the senate chamber for the next decade.

Luckily, the Kansas House voted down this plan and passed their own Senate map.

As this prolonged redistricting debate carries on, I will continue to fight for adequate representation in western Kansas. If we are going to preserve the tradition and legacy of rural Kansas, it's vital that the state's new redistricting plan acknowledge these needs.

Especially when we can accommodate population changes by adjusting district lines, instead of collapsing our district -- or any rural district.

Each of these issues deserved thoughtful consideration, sincere debate, and thorough scrutiny. Instead, the most critical concerns have been postponed until the waning hours of session -- leading to unnecessary delay, quick decision making, and disastrous results.

The time for procrastination is over. If we are going to prevent this session from being the worst in recent memory, it's time for legislators to set their priorities straight and start putting the people of Kansas first.

Allen Schmidt, D-Hays, is state senator for the 36th District. allen.schmidt@senate.ks.gov

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