By Andra Bryan Stefanoni
PITTSBURG, Kan. —
State Rep. Paul Davis, the House Democratic leader who represents the House district that covers eastern Lawrence, began a statewide listening tour Tuesday with several stops in Pittsburg.
His meetings included Southeast Kansas school superintendents and city officials from five counties, and the public.
“We’re making decisions that affect lots of different parts of the state, and I want to hear from all of them,” he said.
The meeting with city officials, held at the Pittsburg Area Chamber of Commerce, drew city managers from Iola, Chanute, Coffeyville, Parsons and Pittsburg. Also on hand were Pittsburg State University President Steve Scott, incoming Pittsburg Mayor Michael Gray, Chamber of Commerce President Blake Benson, and Rep. Julie Menghini, D-Pittsburg.
“There is more at stake for local government this year than any other,” Davis told the group. He said one measure in particular, which would change how businesses are taxed on machinery and equipment, could leave county, city and school officials scrambling to make up potential losses to their budgets in other ways.
To shore up statewide budget shortfalls, the House has proposed cutting 4 percent of state funding to higher education for fiscal 2014, which begins July 1, while the Senate has proposed a 2 percent reduction. Gov. Sam Brownback’s budget proposal would keep higher education funding at its current level.
Scott said such cuts, when combined with other reductions such as salary caps, could equate to as much as 8 percent of the PSU budget. At 4 percent, it would mean a loss of $1.4 million.
He said it would put pressure on the university to make up the difference, most likely in the form of a tuition increase, although how much won’t be known until legislative action is final and the university knows what the budget will be for the fall.
“We just really worry about the momentum that we’ve had and whether it would be shut down,” Scott said. “If you look at the scale of the cut — $60 million — that’s basically the allocation to Pittsburg State and Emporia, or Pittsburg State and Fort Hays. It would in essence take out two regents institutions and deny access to 12,000 students.”
The group also discussed measures before the House and Senate that would move local elections, including school board races, from April to November so they could be held in conjunction with national elections. Davis and the rest of those in attendance said they were opposed to such measures, primarily because a few forms would mandate that candidates declare a partisan label.
If the measure with partisan labels passed, those serving in the military would not be eligible to run for office. Those in attendance pointed to Pittsburg City Commissioner Rudy Draper, whose term ended Tuesday night because he did not seek re-election, as an example. Draper serves as a sergeant in the Army.
Davis said he is against such a measure, because in some areas of the state, adding a “D” or an “R” behind a name virtually assures that a candidate will not be elected.
REP. PAUL DAVIS also will make stops in Wichita, Salina, Kansas City, Leavenworth, Manhattan and Ottawa. The legislative session is on break until May 8, when the wrap-up session will begin. By state statute, the session must end by May 23.