Local legislators say state needs a turnaround

ForumBarnettDahlP3170929.JPGDahl, Barnett say growth of state government works against private-sector growth

The state legislators representing voters in Marion County said Saturday that the Republi?can leadership in Topeka is making some progress during the current session in controlling state-spending increases.

State Rep. Don Dahl and Sen. Jim Barnett told the dozen or so
constituents who showed up for an 8 a.m. legislative forum at Hillsboro
city hall that the state continues to have a ?very serious problem?
with its economic direction.

Dahl, who is in his first term as speaker pro tem in the Kansas House,
said the high rate of growth in state government, combined with a lack
of growth in private-sector income and jobs, continues to be the
biggest threat to prosperity in Kansas.

Dahl said legislators generally favor one of two approaches to the
economic challenge: to raise taxes to pay for new services, or to
reduce taxes. He said he and most fellow Republicans favor the latter

ForumBarnettBennettP3170937.JPGSen. Jim Barnett (left) listens to the perspective of Marion resident Harry Bennett on energy issues following the formal presentation.

He called the House?s approval on Friday of a $5.9 billion budget ?a
postcard day? because it kept the increase in state spending roughly
equal to the general rate of inflation at 4.5 percent.

Dahl flashed several pages of proposed amendments that were offered
last week to increase funding for various programs, but he said he and
a core of other ?realistic? Republicans bit the bullet on ?some very
good programs? in order to try to control the budget?s bottom line.

?Most of these are programs that I love and I agree with?Tiny K, Head
Start, the frail and elderly,? he said. ?They want to put more money in
there, but every time you add $2 million here and another $5 million
there?with 39 amendments times $5 million it turns into, as people say,
?real money.?

?A bunch of us people in the House decided we?re going to vote no on all of these, we?re going to draw a line in the sand.?

Dahl said it was a postcard day because he and his fellow conservatives
would be criticized for voting against important programs.

?But that?s what has gotten out of control in Topeka, and the same in Washington, D.C.,? he said.

Dahl said he heard legislators say the Republican leadership was giving
all kinds of tax breaks for business, but doing nothing for the workers
of Kansas.

?I felt like (saying), ?We?re giving them jobs?with benefits,?? he
said. ?What don?t you understand? We?re driving businesses out of the
state. They don?t come to a high-tax state.?

Dahl listed as House accomplishments the reduction of some business
taxes, including the elimination of the state?s franchise tax and a 40
percent reduction in the amount of money a business must pay in for
unemployment insurance.

Dahl also hailed the passage of a bill that would make Social Security payments exempt from state income tax for individuals.

?Hopefully, that gives money back to some of these people who are
living on fixed incomes, people who do need the money,? he said. ?It?s
already been taxed once already, so why should it be taxed again??

Barnett and health care

When he took his turn to speak, Barnett affirmed progress made in
school funding and the use of natural resources and technology, but
focused his remarks on the challenge of having 300,000 Kansans who do
not have health insurance.

Among the uninsured are about 46,000 are children, about 71 percent of
whom would qualify for existing programs; 54 percent of the state?s
uninsured are between the ages of 18 and 34.

forumdahlp3170927.jpgRep. Don Dahl distributes a booklet titled ?Keeping Kansas Competitive? at the start of his presentation. The booklet describes in more detail how the state rates with its neighbors in regard to private and government growth

The Emporia physician and 2006 candidate for governor said part of the
debate in Topeka is whether to require all Kansans to have health
insurance?much in the same way all vehicles are required to be insured.

He said hospital emergency rooms are required by law to provide care
for all who come in, so the question is how to ensure that those who
are treated are covered by health insurance so the public doesn?t have
to cover the entire expense.

One idea being considered is to have individuals own their
health-insurance policy, rather than have it owned by an employer?much
in the same way an individual owns policies for vehicles and homes.

Private ownership could reduce the number of people who become uninsured when they change jobs, Barnett said.

Other ideas being explored include being able to purchase health
insurance with pre-taxed dollars, and developing a ?defined
contribution system? that would allow working couples to take advantage
of polices offered by their respective places of employment rather than
the current practice of having to choose one policy over another.

Barnett said he is also hoping Kansas will make significant health-care
reforms that will enable families to better afford their premiums
through a private-public combination of contributions from their own
pocket, from employers and from the federal government.

Constituent questions

During a time for questions, constituents raised topics such as
ensuring background checks for potential real estate agents, the full
reinstatement of state funding for municipalities, the status of Kan-Ed
funding for local hospitals and schools, the wisdom of building more
coal-fire plants in Kansas to generate electricity instead of promoting
renewable energy sources and conservation, and the pros and cons of
smoking bans in public places..

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