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liberalfirstlongoriginal
Tuesday
March 26th, 2019

shannon and carolyn quillinSeward County Farm Bureau Board President Carolyn Quillin, right, listens to some of the presentation from Kansas 125th House District Representative Shannon Francis Thursday at Memorial Library. L&T photo/Robert PierceROBERT PIERCE • Leader & Times

 

The Kansas Legislature is scheduled to kick off its 2019 session later this month, and 125th House District Representative Shannon Francis was in Liberal Thursday to talk to local constituents about some of the issues coming up in that session.

Francis made two stops, the first being at Liberal Memorial Library in a meeting hosted by Seward County Farm Bureau. 

Francis began his discussion by talking about how in prior years, the legislature has tried to find funding for basic government services.

“Now, we really have to kind of make sure we don’t spend money we don’t have,” he said. “Before, we were just trying to find money to pay for what we had to have. Kansas historically has switched from a Republican administration to a Democratic administration.”

The new legislature will be accompanied by a Democratic governor, Laura Kelly, and with a majority of state lawmakers coming from the GOP, this could prove difficult to get legislation passed and signed into law.

Francis said, though, he learned something from former 125th Representative Carl Holmes that could make the relationship between Kelly and lawmakers easier.

“He said, ‘Sometimes it’s a little bit easier for a guy like me to get what I want through in a situation like this because the Democratic administration knows they have to work with the Republicans to get anything done,’” he said. “When you have a Republican governor, he said, ‘They just expect when they say ‘jump,’ how high?’”

As expected, Francis said the country as a whole is more partisan than it has ever been in the past, and the hope is that under Kelly, that trend will start going in the other direction.

“We all are tribal, and your teams up there,” he said. “I hope it doesn’t fall into that.”

Francis said because of changes in the legislature, there is a new majority leader in the Kansas House. He added that with Kelly being more of a moderate, the legislature has swung more conservative.

Francis later addressed issues of ag producers, namely the decreasing population, which he said is partly due to the higher cost of equipment.

“The problems aren’t easy to solve because farmers have bigger tractors,” he said. “They can farm more ground than before. That’s what’s driving de-population of rural Kansas.”

Francis then talked about water problems in the state, and he said while many think water is an agricultural issue, he believes it is not.

“The Ogallala Aquifer is the most important thing to many of us out in Western Kansas, especially Southwest Kansas,” he said. “Across the state, we have reservoirs filling up with sedimentation. Some of that is caused by poor practices that we need to address in a cost effective way and a smart way.”

Francis also talked about the issue of rural broadband, saying it is a huge problem throughout the Sunflower State.

“We think of it that way, but broadband is a huge issue in the state of Kansas,” he said. “Liberal, regardless of what we think, really hasn’t had the broadband issues in town that some of the state has.”

For many years now, school funding has been a large problem in the state, and Francis said the problem will once again take center stage in this year’s session.

“The Supreme Court ruled, I think in July, that while our plan to adequately fund schools was good, we kind of left out five years worth of inflation, which we had,” he said. “We don’t know what that’s going to take. We have to deal with the political realities of if we thumb our nose at the courts, they really can shut schools down.”

Changes to both federal and state tax laws were another focus of Francis’ talk at the library.

“Because of the changes in the federal tax plan, we’re going to have a bill early on to vote,” he said. “When the feds changed their tax plan, they changed the amount of the personal deduction, but they also did away with a bunch of deductions. They capped the amount that a person could have state and local tax deduction. They capped some interest expenses.”

Francis said historically, the state has followed the federal government with tax deductions.

“Kansas has always taken the tact that if you can itemize on your federal tax return, you can itemize on your state tax return,” he said. “If you can’t itemize on your federal tax return, you can’t itemize on your state tax return. The feds increased that deduction and the other changes in there. The estimate is that increases revenue to the state government anywhere from $65 million to $135 million depending on which number you want to use.”

Francis said some changes at the federal level could have a positive impact on Kansas, particularly when dealing with a significant budget deficit.

“As part of the federal tax changes, they started to tax the profits of foreign companies to encourage them to return back to the United States,” he said. “Under Kansas tax law, those are considered tax dividends.”

With new highways seemingly always in need, Francis later addressed the estimated $560 million lawmakers cut out of the Kansas Department of Transportation. He said this is sales tax money taken out of the state’s general fund.

“That’s the reason we can’t do our maintenance,” he said. “The reason we had to do the sweep was the tax cuts we implemented in 2012 and also because of the increase in funding through the Supreme Court rulings. There’s almost enough money to get back to the point where we can do that maintenance. We’ve got to take care of our infrastructure. We have got to maintain our roads.”

Francis said likewise the state needs to take care of some prior commitments in the transportation realm.

“We promised people across the state that we were going to do a certain number of projects in T-WORKS,” he said. “We need to complete those projects. There’s about $580 million worth of projects that still haven’t been completed. Two of them are in our district.”

Francis said this includes taking a step from neighboring Oklahoma where passing lanes are a huge part of Oklahoma Highway 3.

“I think our best path forward to improve the highways in Western Kansas is to focus on continuous passing lanes,” he said. “If we do that, I think we’re going to increase the safety and the speed.”

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