Community constituent connection

Rep. Don Schroeder from Hesston addresses the gathering of about 25 people who came to the annual coffee.State budget shortfalls, expand­ing Medicaid and potential cuts to schools were among the themes that surfaced during the annual Cham­ber of Commerce coffee with Rep. Don Schroeder Saturday at Hillsboro City Hall.

Schroeder represents District 74 in the Kansas House, which includes much of the southern half of Marion County, including Hillsboro.

Noting the looming budget gap of $340 million for the 2017 budget year, Schroeder matching revenue and expenditures will be even more challenging for the following year.

Schroeder said fellow lawmakers are looking at borrowing from the state’s unclaimed property fund to use it as collateral for a loan to fill budget gap of about $340 million for 2017.

Schroeder said he was not a fan of that idea.

“Borrowing for a longer term for one-use spending is not good fiscal policy at all,” he said. “But our backs are up against the wall and what else are we going to do? That’s the tough question that we face.”

Schroeder said he expected the Legislature to restore as least some of the taxes that Gov. Sam Brown­back eliminated for some 300,000 limited-liability corporations acrosss the state.

One participant offered that the governor should have never cut those taxes in the first place.

“That is true,” Schroeder said. “That happened in 2012, and I tell people I didn’t vote for that because it was way too much and way too fast. It wasn’t going to work, and I think history has shown that to be true.”

He added that prior to the governor’s tax cut, the state was in decent shop in regard to balancing revenue with expenditures. Schroeder characterized the governor’s decision as “a political ploy.”

Another issue of contention in Topeka is expanding Medicaid, a topic that has spawned “hours and hours of testimony” in Topeka regarding the pros and cons.

Schroeder said rural hospitals are really struggling because the state chose not to expand the Medicaid program.

“It’s all part of the Afford­able Care Act,” Schroeder said. “Some want to expand the program for political reasons, others want it done to help rural hospitals—and the whole thing is that Con­gress is talking from repealing and replacing it.

“Should we make a decision before we know what Washington, D.C. will do?”

One participant said what bothers him the most about not expanding Medicaid is that his taxes are going to Washington, D.C., and none of it comes back to help Kansans because state leaders refused to participate.

Max Heinrichs, USD 410 superintendent, said an initiative to unify the insurance plan for school districts might work for some districts, but in USD 410 such a move would essentially reduce staff salaries because 410 has a better plan than what the state is considering.

Heinrichs also asked about the next school-funding formula.

Schroeder said the block grant initiative that covered the past two years will not be revived. He said a legislator has been assigned to draft a funding plan, but it remains to be seen how it will be structured.

Heinrichs said the almost annual state funding cuts are having a negative effect on student performance.

“We are still good against the national average, but we are sliding,” he said.

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