Government & Politics

Unprecedented crunch means Kansas lawmakers have to say 'no'

Kansas is facing unprecedented times in the legislative session that starts Monday, state Sen. Dick Kelsey, R-Goddard, said Saturday in a legislative agenda meeting.

The state is going into the third year of reduced revenue — the longest stretch it has faced, he said.

The state has cut nearly $1 billion from a $6 billion budget. It also faces a nearly $400 million shortfall for the fiscal year that begins July 1 and as much as an $800 million shortfall for the following year.

"We have never plowed this ground before," Kelsey told members of the Sedgwick County Association of Cities who met at the CityArts building in Old Town. "It's going to be a challenging session."

Rep. Nile Dillmore, D-Wichita, warned that legislators will have to practice saying "no" during the session.

"Those words are going to have to be... part of our vocabulary," he said.

At the same time, the Legislature will work hard on behalf of the state, he said.

Revenue shortfalls will force the Legislature to examine what it's doing and still meet the needs of the "most vulnerable," Kelsey said.

Still, Kansas will hang in there through the downturn and come out well in the end, he said.

In a discussion about issues, Valley Center City Council member Lou Cicirello said that restricting cell phone use while driving is important.

This year, a bill to outlaw texting and restrict the use of cell phones while driving is likely to have more traction in the Legislature, Dillmore told him.

City of Wichita lobbyist Dale Goter said that the city realizes these are "tough times."

The city's legislative agenda was approved by the City Council in October. It includes:

* A fifth year of funding for an affordable airfare program

* Continued investment in the National Institute for Aviation Research and technical training at the National Center for Aviation Training

* Funding for Equus Beds aquifer storage and recharging

* Support for faculty and research staff for physician residency programs

* Funding for the Kansas Center of Innovation for Biomaterials in Orthopaedic Research in south-central Kansas.

It also supports restoring unintended cuts to the historic tax credits program that happened during the last days of the 2009 session.

The credits are important in the renovation of the downtown Broadview Hotel, the city said.