Dahl, Barnett say county schools should benefit from funding plan

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN ALEEN RATZLAFF
The state’s economic status, healthcare costs and school funding topped a list of issues addressed by State Sen. Jim Barnett and Rep. Don Dahl at Saturday morning’s town meeting in Hillsboro’s City Hall.

About 20 residents attended the “Legislative Coffee” sponsored by the Hillsboro Chamber of Commerce.

The two legislators had appeared at a smiliar meeting in Marion an hour earlier.

“I think we’re moving in the wrong direction with state debt,” Dahl said.

Kansas is 46th among U.S. states in business growth and 41st for income growth, he said.

“State spending is growing three times faster than wages,” he added.

Dahl said despite improvement in Kansas’ economy over the past year, the state’s debt load has increased from $150 to $1,350 per Kansan from 1972 to 2003.

“I think we’re spending beyond our means,” he said.

Since 2004, most of Marion County is part of District 17, represented by Barnett of Emporia.

A physician by profession, Barnett acknowledged his concern about rising healthcare costs for Kansans.

“I think this is one of the biggest issues out there,” Barnett said.

“The cost of healthcare is critically important in communities like Hillsboro because you need hospitals, and you need healthcare that’s affordable.”

Barnett said he’s focused on finding ways to expand prescription and medical coverage for those Kansans who “are uninsured and underinsured.”

Both the Senate and the House are considering bills for school funding.

Barnett said the Senate has proposed increasing school funding by $147 million.

“That’s the biggest increase we’ve seen in funding since the current finance law was passed (in 1992),” Barnett said.

If that amount is passed, Barnett said, area districts would see increases per student, ranging from $279 for Durham-Hillsboro to $323 for Peabody-Burns. Goessel would see $294 per student and Marion-Florence would receive $296.

The difference goes back to the formula based on enrollment, Barnett said.

“Smaller districts get more money than larger districts,” he said.

The Kansas Supreme Court recently mandated that the formula used in funding schools is unconstitutional, and the Legislature must correct it in the current session.

Dahl said the House is looking for ways to address school finances, having proposed $116 million.

“We tried to put in as much money as we could without raising taxes,” Dahl said.

In the past Legislative session, several bills were passed, including the marriage amendment that will appear on the April 5 ballot.

“I know there are very differing opinions on that issue, whether the state should be involved in what how we define marriage,” he said. “But many people in this state wanted to vote on that.”

Another piece of legislation passed-the “Clunker Bill”-repealed the used-car sales tax passed in 2004, which was intended to hinder people from under-reporting the value of vehicles to reduce sales taxes.

Some people, however, have experienced inequities when purchasing cars from private parties, he said.

“We made a mistake, so we corrected that by repealing the law,” Barnett said, adding that the state has set aside refunds that will soon be available.

The Senate also passed a bill that will restrict access to Sudafed and require it be placed behind the pharmacy counter, Barnett said.

Sudafed is one of the ingredients used in making methamphetamine.

This next session, according the Dahl and Barnett, will continue working school finance and healthcare.

“These are huge issues, but the energy is in the Senate; the energy is in the House to do something about it,” Barnett said.

“I can feel it, I can sense it.”

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