We begin Week 3 in the 2016 Kansas Legislature with more committee meetings, bill introductions and visiting with folks from the district as they come to talk about issues important to them.
First, it is an honor to represent you in the Kansas House of Representatives. I do not take the responsibility lightly and continue to research the background of the many issues we are facing and how to influence the decisions made so they will be in the best interests of the 110th District. I wish former Rep. Travis Couture-Lovelady and his new bride, Carly, the best as they start their lives together and in his new position with the National Rifle Association.
The session has begun at a pace which has given me time to study and talk with folks about issues. I will admit there have been a few, having nothing to do with legislation, that have taken up more ink than they should have. That being said, there are a few issues that should be of concern for folks in the 110th.
First is the budget situation. Current revenues are continuing to come in lower than anticipated, so there are some tough decisions that will need to be made. Some still want budget cuts more across the board, but others believe the effects on some vital government services doing real harm to the people of Kansas. Many people under the dome are waiting for the January numbers to come in, and if they are below expectations, there will be more consternation on what should stay or go when it comes to budget dollars.
One reason things have been a little slow going is the review of an efficiency study of state government commissioned by the Legislative Coordinating Council last spring at a cost of $2.6 million. Alvarez and Marsal, the firm which conducted the study, released their findings on the second day of the session in a 266-page report containing 105 recommendations for streamlining government and making it more efficient and cost-effective. Their estimate of the total savings in five years if all of their recommendations were adopted is $2.04 billion. One of the committees I sit on, the General Budget Committee, will be examining many of the specific budgets to see what is working and what is not. Some of the possible potential savings areas in a five-year period include: education, $609 million; Department of Revenue, $382 million; Medicaid, $190 million; risk management and insurance, $177 million; procurement, $142 million; and information technology, $43 million. Will all of the recommendations be implemented? We will see, but it is good to review and be prepared to make changes if needed.
I have received many phone calls and correspondence on House Bill 2504 which was introduced by Rep. John Bradford from Leavenworth County. The bill would realign almost all school districts in the state. While he insists it is not a move toward consolidation, there are many skeptics, especially those of us who represent western Kansas. For background, the bill requires all counties with fewer than 10,000 students to consolidate into a county-wide district. In counties with more than 10,000 students, districts would be consolidated such that no district would have fewer than 1,500 students. The State Board of Education would redraw the lines in 2017 and would then redraw them each subsequent 10 years.
A Legislative Post Audit study five years ago estimated $138 million per year could be saved by consolidation of districts with fewer than 1,600 students. However, the plan would involve the busing of an additional 7,000 students, and thousands more miles of student transit would be the result throughout Kansas. This approach is a non-starter with me, as I believe it should be up to the local patrons to decide the fate of their school districts rather than folks in Topeka. We can look at efficiencies, but closing all the small school districts is not the solution.
The other two committees I serve on are Children and Seniors and Agriculture and Natural Resources. I will share more from these committees in later reports.
Folks stopping by the office included: Laura Moffett, Stockton, and Clarke Nelson, Long Island, with the KARL program; Denis Miller, Phillipsburg, with Kansas CPA Association; Phil Nelson, superintendent, Norton USD 211; and Robert L. Young, superintendent, Ellis USD 388. I also met with many others with ties to the 110th district that no longer live in our area, but still have an interest in what is going on. So it is always good to catch up.
Rep. Ken Rahjes represents the 110th District in the Kansas House.