Renovated Capitol a sight to see

After 13 years of fences, construction zones and dust, the crane has come down and the doors have opened to the newly renovated Kansas State Capitol. As we celebrated Kansas' 153rd birthday, Gov. Sam Brownback dedicated the restored state Capitol featuring the newest addition, the Visitors Center.

As the gateway to the Capitol building, the Visitors Center now is the central hub for guests. It features a number of amenities, including a larger Capitol Gift Store, a classroom, auditorium, tour desk and a number of exhibits. The center is a great place for school children and families to engage in interactive learning about our state's history and the people who have worked tirelessly to continue to make Kansas a great state. As Brownback said in his dedication speech, "This is a monument to the people of the state who made it to the stars through difficulty."

The renovations are breath-taking, and it is my hope every Kansan will make the trip to see this spectacular landmark. As you make plans to visit Topeka, feel free to contact my office to assist in arrangements for tours at the Capitol building. We now feature eight different one-hour tours focusing on various aspects of the building, so I encourage you to learn all you can about our state's unique history -- and enjoy this beautiful symbol of our ongoing legacy.

Aside from celebrating our Kansas history, the Senate continued to focus on a number of items being vetted in committees. One notable piece of legislation introduced this week was SB 305, which shifts capital improvement dollars, approved by local voters, for bond issues into the state's equalization assistance for local option budgets. Shifting the state funds for buildings into the LOB equalization would focus less on building construction and more on classroom instruction. School districts will continue to receive state assistance to repay bonds; however, bonds approved after July 1, 2014, no longer will be eligible for similar state aid. LOB also provides local communities with the opportunity to lower property taxes by adding these state dollars to the fund.

Hearings also began this week on SB 298 in Senate Assessment and Taxation Committee. The measure would eliminate the Kansas mortgage registration fee. Why is this important? The fee cost real estate buyers seeking financing through local financial institutions millions of dollars each year. The mortgage taxed by counties far exceeds the county's costs for recording the mortgage. Proponents of the bill said the mortgage registration fee puts home and business buyers who have to finance their purchases at an unfair disadvantage to cash buyers who don't use traditional mortgages, as well as those using Farm Credit services. County officials, opponents of the bill, said the registration fee provides approximately $47 million in revenue to their general budget, and therefore triggers property tax increases to replace the county revenue. A general theme amongst counties blames the state for its high property taxes. Representatives from the Kansas Association of Realtors, however, offered testimony noting local governments have raised property taxes at an average of 7.11 percent per year during the last 11 years -- far outpacing this, or any other, state tax increases.

As the tax committee continues to debate, and as SB 298 moves through the process, I'll keep you updated on its status.

An important issue for rural Kansans, the governor this week announced action to minimize effects of a propane shortage. As propane levels in the Midwest are at record lows, more than 1,400 Kansans are at risk of going without their primary heating source. In response, the governor has taken several actions to protect Kansans. For a full description, visit governor.ks.gov or call (785) 368-8500. The Senate Utilities Committee also will have an information hearing on the availability and prices of the gas as the costs have spiked in the past two months, rising 28 percent nationally, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. If you or someone you know is in danger as a result of this evolving crisis, make me aware, and I will be happy to assist in seeking relief.

Sen. Ralph Ostmeyer, R-Grinnell, represents the 40th District.

ralph.ostmeyer@senate.ks.gov