State legislators gathered for a legislative send-off last weekend to discuss position statements for the upcoming session. Pittsburg State University hosted the send-off at the Alumni & Constituents Relations Building in partner with the Pittsburg Chamber of Commerce.
The send-off featured invocation speakers District 2 Kansas House Representative Ken Collins, District 3 Kansas House Representative Monica Murnan, District 7 Kansas House Representative Rich Proehl, and Kansas Senator Richard Hilderbrand. These legislators discussed the legislative’s three priorities for the upcoming session, which included a Transportation Statement, KanCare Expansion, and Restoration of cuts to Pittsburg State University.
The chamber has joined the Highway 69 Association to support a new transportation plan that will allow the Highway 69 project reach its completion. Medicaid expansion is another priority, and the chamber supports a “common sense compromise” that will assist in controlling health care costs and support wellness initiatives. Regarding higher education, the chamber supports the Kansas Board of Regents’ $85 million restoration due to previous funding cuts as well as the board’s $25 million request for based aid.
Each legislator received the opportunity to speak to the room of Pittsburg locals of varying professions and address each issue. Legislators found both similarities and differences discussed between the three priorities. Senator Hilderbrand is focused on repaying debts with extra revenue.
“… We’ve robbed from KDOT over a billion over the last couple years, so we’ve got to get that stopped,” said Hilderbrand. “KPERS we’ve robbed over $355 million, we need to get that paid back. So, with this extra revenue ending balance of over $900 million, I really want to see us use that money to pay off our debts before we spend it on anything new.”
Hilderbrand said he is “looking forward” to this legislative session. In regards to how local businesses may be affected this session, he also discussed Rural Opportunity Zones (ROZ) in Pittsburg.
“…We talked about the ROZ for Crawford County, that would be a big draw for Pittsburg businesses for what it could bring for economic development of people being able to move in,” said Hilderbrand. “… They can get five years of Kansas income tax relief and they get to stay right here. … If you graduate from Pitt State, then you go to work here in Crawford County … you can have some of your student debt relieved—up to $15,000 over five years. So, I think those are really good tools for Crawford County and the city of Pittsburg.”
Representative Collins showed support toward Hilderbrand’s ROZ discussion in the effects local businesses may see.
“Well, I’d like to see good budget for the state, something that keeps everybody in mind—you know, something reasonable,” said Collins. “… Senator Hilderbrand is introducing a bill to make Crawford County a real opportunity zone and that will … open things up for some things that Pittsburg and Crawford County are not eligible for now.”
Representative Murnan looks toward finalizing K-12 discussion in this session.
“I hope that we are able to restore some of the services and programing that have been so greatly damaged over the last eight years, to bring them back up to minimal standards,” said Murnan. “And I also hope that we are able to seriously look at putting the K-12 court decision to bed this year.”
Murnan mentioned that local businesses may see an affect this session due to food sales tax, but that she wants to keep communication open.
“… I think it’s really critical that when we’re making decisions that we look at all aspects, and that’s what I really try to do,” she said. “… I always want to hear from local business because sometimes their perspectives I’m just not really familiar with and I want to hear from them because it does impact them.”
Representative Proehl, like Murnan, hopes to see a K-12 decision. Along with the legislative priorities, Proehl foresees tax and budget discussions.
“Initially we need to take care of what we’re going to do with K-12 education,” said Proehl. “Next, for me, will be the transportation taskforce that we just completed, and their recommendations will be to everybody in the legislature before the end of January and there will be some legislation that will need to be passed, and so we will work to get that done. … I sit on appropriations, so we’re going to be looking at all the budgets. I sit on tax, and so we’ll be trying to figure out what we do as far as tax go …”
Proehl emphasized that citizens reach out to their legislators during the legislative session.
“If anybody has any questions over the period of the legislative session, please get ahold of your legislator, your senator, your house representative member,” he said. “Talk to them, let them know what your thoughts are and what your concerns are.”