GUEST COLUMN, Shannon Francis, State Representative
On Monday, the House convened for the start of the 2022 session. A key responsibility of the Legislature this year is redistricting of the House, Senate, State Board of Education and Congressional District maps. Redistricting information can be found at the Kansas Legislative Research Department’s website and on the House Committee on Redistricting’s webpage.
I am beginning my eighth year in the Legislature. In that time, the state has not been in the position of having a real budget surplus. For some in Topeka, that comes with the temptation to spend more instead of proceeding in a fiscally responsible way. I believe part of this surplus is a result of the huge amount of federal deficit spending the last two years. My concerns about the future include the inflation that is already raging through the economy and rising interest rates causing a recession. Since the Governor’s State of the State seems to get most of the press, this week I wanted to share the Republican Plan for the budget with you.
When House Speaker Ryckman delivered the Republican response to the Governor’s State of the State this year, he outlined Republican priorities for the 2022 session, which include a three-pronged approach to dealing with the current state surplus:
• Ratcheting down the sales tax responsibly on not only food, but also on other purchases our families need.
• Stabilizing the KPERS retirement fund, so that it will be there for our teachers, our firefighters, and other public employees when they need it.
• Securing the Rainy Day Fund, so that our families will not be on the hook for higher taxes as the economy ebbs and flows.
Additional priorities include:
• Taking a “save more” instead of “spend more” approach, resisting the urge to overspend one-time federal stimulus dollars.
• Continuing to invest in mental health so our children, our veterans, and our families can access services when and where they need them.
• Protecting access to safe, reliable water sources for our families and our farmers by addressing the water table and uranium contamination issues.
• Preserving the Kansas culture of life, so that common sense protections like parental notification and safety requirements remain in place.
• Making smart economic decisions that do not drive up debt.
• Keeping businesses and good-paying jobs in our communities, not forcing them to close.
The Governor’s State of the State address advocated for some of the same budget priorities as the Legislature. As the Governor’s budget works its way through the legislative process the discussion will focus on where we differ. As I mentioned above, the Legislature is taking a “save more” instead of “spend more” approach, resisting the urge to overspend one-time federal stimulus dollars. At the end of the day, I believe there will be some sales and food sales tax relief, we will pay down our KPERS liabilities, make investments in Kansas and secure the Rainy Day Fund. But, the devil will be in the details.
State of the Judiciary
Tuesday afternoon, Chief Justice Marla Luckert delivered the State of the Judiciary report to a joint session of the Legislature and Executive Branch attendees. Chief Justice Luckert praised the resiliency of judicial branch employees and judges for their work during the pandemic. She highlighted judicial branch activities, including the upcoming Mental Health Summit (April 13 and 14), Protection Order Portal, an Adoption Tracker app, and the effectiveness of Specialty Courts.
Chief Justice Luckert also presented three budget priorities: (1) shifting the reliance on court fee funds to total utilization of the State General Fund for the Judicial budget; (2) funding 13 new district judge positions and support staff, along with 10 new district magistrate judges; and (3) funding the second year of salary increases, with focus on both judges and low-paid court employees.