PITTSBURG — During Friday’s legislative sendoff at Watco, most of the concern was about the future of KanCare — the state’s version of medicaid.
The annual event, sponsored by the Pittsburg Area Chamber of Commerce, allows area state legislators to give their opinion for this year’s session and to hear from constituents. U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, (R-Kan.) also made a surprise visit.
He too, spoke about the future of the Affordable Care Act, which would affect KanCare. Moran said he is confident a repeal of the act would pass the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate.
The two-term U.S. senator said he opposed the act and the new law needs to contain a clause to allow people with pre-existing conditions to still get insured. He was also adamant that the law would need to be phased out over at least two years.
“We do not want to pull the rug out from underneath anyone,” he said of people already enrolled for this year.
The state has missed out on $1.4 billion in federal funds by not expanding KanCare. Under the current plan, many people fall under a cover gap, where they make too much to get a federal subsidy.
Constituent Louann Colyer asked about clearing up the backlog of people eligible for KanCare and not have people waiting “five or six months.”
“The KanCare oversight committee is putting pressure on people to get it right,” State Sen. Jake LaTurner (R-Pittsburg) said.
Incumbents LaTurner and Sen. Caryn Tyson (R-Parker) as well as incumbent House Rep. Adam Lusker (D-Frontenac) and newly-elected Rep. Monica Murnan (D-Pittsburg) also attended the meeting.
Murnan, who succeeds Chuck Smith, said she has a "steep learning curve" and plans to make decisions based on data. She also urged constituents to contact her with concerns.
The legislators all agreed expanding KanCare would be a discussion during the session beginning Jan. 9, but were hesitant to give a definitive answer without knowing what will be done at the federal level.
President-elect Donald Trump has vowed to repeal the ACA and has a Republican majority in Congress to do so.
The state is also facing a $349 million budget deficit for the year ending June 30 and an additional $582 million is projected for the following fiscal year. Additionally, a lawsuit in front of the Kansas Supreme Court could cost the state another $800 toward K-12 — the state is currently spending $4.1 billion.
LaTurner dismissed rumors about continuing K-12 funding under the block grant another year. The block grant froze funding for two years with the promise to rewrite the formula in 2017.
Lusker also agreed the formula would be rewritten, but said the state would not likely be able to fund it or other programs.
“All other things can’t happen until we restore revenue,” Lusker said, adding he thinks the tax breaks for businesses and personal income need to be repealed. The tax break was approved in 2012.
Additionally, discussion steered to restoring funds for the expansion of Highway 69 to four lanes from Pittsburg to Kansas City. LaTurner advocated for the project and the first segment, from Bourbon County line to six miles north, will start in the spring.
Funding to the other 13 mile stretch from Arma to Bourbon County, estimated at $50 million, is on hold.
All of the legislators also recognized the importance of Pittsburg State University to the region. PSU has been cut twice in the past two school years — for roughly $2 million.
Chamber President Blake Benson said the organization’s priorities for this session are KanCare expansion as well as restoring funds to the Highway 69 and PSU.
“We know you have a huge task ahead of you,” Benson said.
— Michael Stavola is a staff writer at The Morning Sun. He can be emailed at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @MichaelStavola1.