PITTSBURG — Area legislators spoke about the beginning of the state legislative session Friday in the basement of Watco Companies.
The legislative briefing was the first of a monthly series hosted by the Pittsburg Area Chamber of Commerce. State Representatives Monica Murnan (D-Pittsburg) and Adam Lusker (D-Frontenac) took part in the briefing and Q&A, as well as Senator Caryn Tyson (R-Parker).
The briefing opened with a special visit from Gov. Jeff Colyer, who praised the Crawford County delegation. He also traded pens with Lusker, and said Lusker was the first democrat to receive a “Gov. Jeff Colyer” pen.
“I never did get one of Gov. Brownback’s pens,” Lusker said. “So this is already a step in the right direction on day two.”
Lusker also said there is opportunity to get some work done this session.
“My brother, who is very conservative, asked me when the governor was inaugurated if it was a good day for Kansas or a bad day for Kansas,” Lusker said. “I told him it’s a new day.”
Murnan said something she was positive about was new agency leadership at the state level.
“We have new heads of DCF — formerly SRS — KDHE and KanCare that actually return phone calls, show their face in the light of day and admit ‘we messed some stuff up, now we’re going to try to fix it,’” she said. “So I don’t want to be too gullible, but I’m really positive about that right now.”
Tyson, who serves as the chair of the Senate Tax Committee, said a bill is being considered right now that would lower sales tax on food. She said the committee is also gaining information on the property tax process, and hopes to begin filling holes in the system.
“It’s a big task,” she said. “We may not get it done this year, but we are at least starting the conversation.”
Crawford County Commissioner Carl Wood cautioned against jumping into property tax, citing that it is the main source of revenue for most counties.
“I’m just wondering where you’re going to cut property taxes from or if you’ll plan to give more money to counties from another source,” he said. “Property tax is where we get most of our revenue, and if it gets cut with no other funding source, we cut programs.”
Tyson said no changes are being talked about at this time in the committee. She said her group is simply reviewing the process and talking to all entities involved to really understand how it works and what can be changed.
“I follow the idea of ‘understand it before you try to change it,’” Tyson said. “And that’s what we are doing.”
Lusker said more revenue will likely be flowing into the state following the removal of a set of 2012 tax cuts last session — part of which took many small businesses off the tax roll.
“We cut off a whole source of revenue in 2012,” he said. “Correcting that is the biggest thing I’ve done in my time in the legislature. Now we are seeing money come in that we can put back into essential state services and eventually highways.”
The state is currently $250 million up on total tax collections over last year — however, Colyer said this could be due to people paying their taxes early because of the new federal tax law.
Pittsburg City Manager Daron Hall encouraged legislators to look at sales tax. The current sales tax rate is 6.5 percent, and Hall said it is crushing to cities — especially on the state line, driving shoppers to Joplin.
“I think it’s interesting to look at property tax over sales tax when we have such a high state rate,” Hall said. “Property tax is how we cities do business, but sales tax is crushing us.”
Murnan and Lusker said in the house, no general actions have been taken on school finance. The work is still being done in committees.
Friday, the house passed a bill lowering the age to receive a concealed carry license to 18, and Pittsburg resident Harry L. Humphries asked about the rationale behind that decision.
“What’s the rationale for lowering concealed carry to 18,” he said. “We have teachers leaving Kansas because of campus carry. So why are we lowering the age on an already terrible policy?”
Lusker said the first days were spent on guns and alcohol in the House, but there were some provisions.
“We spent our first days on guns and booze,” Lusker said. “You can now drink at 6 o’clock in the morning, and you can carry a gun at 18.
“But in that, now everyone carrying on campus is required to have a concealed carry license, so there was a bit of compromise. Any of that could be stripped or amended when the bill hits the Senate, though.”
— Chance Hoener is a staff writer for the Morning Sun. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @ReporterChance.