PITTSBURG — Transportation, education, health care funding and dealing with Medicaid, tax relief and balancing a state budget are all issues on the minds of Southeast Kansas legislators.
Area lawmakers took time Friday to brief local officials and business leaders on their expectations for the 2016 edition of the Kansas Legislature which is scheduled to begin Monday.
Speakers at the noon session hosted by the Pittsburg Area Chamber of Commerce included District 13 State Sen. Jake LaTurner; District 2 State Rep. Adam Lusker; District 7 State Rep. Rich Proehl; and District 12 State Sen. Caryn Tyson.
All of the group said they plan to make a focus on getting U.S. 69 improvements a priority in Topeka.
"We're going to make sure 69 is a top priority," LaTurner said of the long-standing push to get the highway widened to four lanes from Southeast Kansas to Kansas City.
He said he plans to introduce a bill calling for a state constitutional amendment that would put a halt to efforts that come up nearly every legislative session to divert money from the Kansas Department of Transportation to take care of general revenue shortfalls and other areas needing additional funding.
LaTurner said because KDOT has one of the most stable revenue bases in state operations, its funds are often diverted.
"I plan to introduce a constitutional amendment that would stops these raids on KDOT," LaTurner said. That diversion of funds has made it hard for projects like the widening of U.S. 69 to get the funding necessary.
Lusker said he expected the diversion of highway funds to continue until state lawmakers come up with other reliable sources of revenue.
"We've robbed and pillaged KDOT over and over — it's a self-inflicted wound on our tax structure," Lusker said.
Among the challenges state lawmakers have faced in recent sessions has been that revenue projections for the state have been severely off target. That issue was mentioned by both LaTurner and Tyson.
"The revenue estimate we get has been wrong since I've been in the Senate," LaTurner said. "That's what we base spending on and it gets pretty frustrating when you can't count on the figure you're given."
Lusker told the audience his expectations for a productive session were not high.
"I don't think too much good will come out of this session," Lusker said. "It's an election year and I expect the session to be mild."
The lawmakers also spoke favorably about helping to get funding for Pittsburg State University's plans for a new school of transportation. The university recently hosted officials on a tour of facilities and highlighted plans to develop a focus on meeting the needs of the transportation and logistics industries.
— Mike Elswick is a staff writer for The Morning Sun. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.