The Kansas Legislature is set to resume work in mid-January, and two area legislators said Monday evening the outlook isn’t positive for the upcoming session.

Sen. Rick Billinger, R-Goodland, and Rep. Ken Rahjes, R-Agra, addressed the Ellis County Commission at its Monday meeting. Both agreed funding for K-12 education will be a key issue in light of this fall’s Kansas Supreme Court decision that funding continues to fall short.

“I really don’t have a crystal ball. I will tell you that we have many needs in Topeka, many challenges,” Billinger said. “I think probably the biggest unanswered question is going to be whether or not we can find additional funding for K-12 education. In order to do that, we would either have to increase taxes of some sort (or make cuts).”

Billinger said he’s reluctant to support additional tax increases, as he already hears many concerns from his constituents about increasing property tax. The Kansas income tax already increased last session, and the state has the highest sales tax on food nationwide, he said.

The other option — if spending increases — would be to cut spending. But Billinger said he doesn’t see much desire for that either, as he believes several state agencies continue to suffer as a result of previous funding cuts.

“I know the Board of Regents is worried there could be an attempt to do some cuts over on the Board of Regents and our universities, and we just had restored a little of that last year from the prior cuts. So I’m not sure where that’s going to go,” he said. “Our KBI is having a real tough time hiring investigators. We don’t even have investigators to investigate crimes on our children. … It’s the truth. I’m just telling you the way it is.”

He also noted state prisons are short-staffed due to low salaries, and the Kansas Department of Transportation has had difficulty retaining engineers.

Billinger also acknowledged many Kansans are feeling the effects of a lagging oil and agriculture economy.

“There’s so many areas of need that it’s going to be a very, very difficult session again, and I don’t think there’s any easy answers,” Billinger said.

Ellis County Commission chairwoman Barbara Wasinger had a blunt request for the state representatives Monday.

“Please stop taking money from the counties,” she said. “Please. Figure out where you can cut. And don’t take it from the counties. You already have.”

Rahjes said he understood Wasinger’s request and said he thinks “accountability” will be a key theme in the upcoming session. But he echoed Billinger’s statement that he does not expect much desire in the Legislature to increase taxes.

“Chairman Wasinger, I agree. We have to stop, and that’s where the accountability starts,” Rahjes said. “And you’re going to see more transparency, and hopefully folks like me and others continue to spend time in our communities and know exactly what’s impacting them. Will there be cuts? Probably.”

Rahjes said there are positive indications the overall state economy is moving, though maybe not “in your own backyard right now.” State revenues also are improving, but Rahjes said it’s important the Legislature refrains from spending money before it comes in.

“The top priority is going to be K-12, addressing what the court wants to address. I don’t think that’s going to happen until late in the session though, so that will be the cover of everything,” he said. “As I’ve talked with leadership in the House, there are other issues that have not been properly taken care of. And one of those is working relationship with the counties.”