Although Leawood Chamber events and programming vary throughout the year, they all share a focus on connecting current and prospective members with the people and resources that can help accelerate their business growth and professional development.
From both a networking and learning perspective, the legislative breakfast hosted by the Johnson County Public Policy Council (JCPPC) are of particular importance to anyone interested in what’s happening in their communities, as well as in the state legislature.
The breakfast meeting series kicked off on Jan. 20 at the Overland Park Doubletree Hotel. Hosted by JCPPC, which is made up of the nine Johnson County Chambers, plus the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, the breakfast provides a forum during which area business owners and stakeholders can discuss legislative issues of common importance to businesses in Johnson County. These breakfast gatherings are a great opportunity to talk one-on-one with State elected officials and hear up-to-date information on the deliberations in Topeka. There are three more scheduled during this legislative session. Sign up to attend future meetings.
What follows is my recap of the breakfast. The legislators on Saturday’s panel included Representatives Brim, Koesten, and Parker, plus Senators Sykes and Skubal.
The legislators each provided 3-minute remarks on the topic of their choice. Then, members of the audience were allowed to submit written questions, which were presented to the group by a moderator.
Topics covered included transportation, taxes, school finance, KanCare, judicial funding, the opioid problem in Kansas, repayment of Kansas state income tax withholding to Native Americans, higher education, voter registration, economic development, workforce development & retention and autonomous vehicles.
Representative Parker, the only Democrat on the panel representing the district that includes Corporate Woods, started by discussing how he felt a sense of cooperation among legislators when he first went to Topeka in 2017. He went on to describe his views on the lack of progress made on the many issues facing our state throughout the last session. He attributed much of this to the fact that the Governor vetoed numerous pieces of legislation that were passed by a majority vote of the legislature. The requisite 2/3 vote to override a veto was not always possible, and important legislation was not enacted.
Representative Koesten presented information on the backlog of 10,000 KanCare applications that the state’s privatized Medicaid solution has not been able to handle. This is impacting care for seniors in that no nursing homes with Medicare beds are comfortable taking seniors who have not yet been approved by KanCare, even though their applications are in the system, due to all the uncertainty.
She also reported that Kansas judicial support staff is often payed significantly lower than market rates for this kind of work. Lastly, she reported that opioid and heroin deaths are up significantly in Kansas since 2013.
Representative Brim reported that between 1973 and 2000, Native Americans incorrectly had state income tax withheld and these funds will need to be paid back.
She also discussed how she feels we should start planning now for the infrastructure needed for autonomous vehicles. This will also significantly impact jobs in the trucking industry as truck drivers are replaced with autonomous trucks. Estimates are that by 2035 we’ll see a significant implementation of autonomous vehicles.
Representative Brim also expressed concern about the 20+ T-Works (transportation) projects that were unfunded. This comes as a result of transportation funding moved from the highway fund to fill other state funding gaps in the wake of the 2012 tax cuts.
A priority for Representative Brim is to keep higher education tuition from escalating at the rates we’ve been seeing. She serves on the House Higher Education Budget Committee.
Senator Dinah Sykes discussed the plan of attack in the senate to address the funding deficit that the Kansas Supreme Court ruled on this past year. They have hired a consultant to present a report on March 15 indicating how other states have addressed this issue.
One of Senator Sykes’ priorities is to update Kansas driver’s licenses to be compliant with the RealID system used by the airlines. She estimates this will be completed by 2020.
On the subject of economic development, Senator Sykes posed the idea what we should spend more time examining how we can support industries of the future in our state, compared to continually looking to the industries of the past that may or may not be viable into the future.
Senator Skubal spoke last, commenting that the need for K-12 education funding continues, but that funding amount is currently unknown.
He also discussed legislation being introduced that will jumpstart discussion of a new transportation plan to take the state beyond the current T-Works program. He discussed the entrance ramps to I-70 in Wamego, Kan., that will not accommodate trucks transporting products manufactured at the nearby Caterpillar plant. These are the kinds of projects not anticipated in the T-Works plan and need to be addressed. He also discussed how the intermodal facility in the Gardner/Edgerton area will see its volume triple very soon and the resulting transportation infrastructure needed to address this. He commented that if we had maintained the tax system that existed prior to 2012, there would have been approximately another $1 billion available for funding.
Senator Skubal also discussed the many workforce voids in our state, as well as training and recruitment efforts needed to fill these voids.
Questions from the audience included:
- What impact would a possible change in the Governor have on the session?
- Where would the $600 million in school funding the Governor promised come from?
- How would the additional funds for schools be funded (spending cuts or tax increases)?
- The impact untreated mental illness has on our prisons
- Sources of funds for transportation projects and judicial support salaries
- A possible repeal of the state-imposed property tax lid on local governments
Many of these questions and concerns are likely to remain as discussion topics throughout the year. Stay tuned to our blog for updates during the legislative session. And don’t forget to Sign up for the next legislative breakfast on Feb. 17!