Expanded Gaming, Deferred Maintenance Main Stories for the 2007 Legislative Session
Unlike recent sessions that have been focused almost exclusively on K-12 education, there was not a single overriding issue dominating the 2007 Kansas legislative session. The 2007 session tackled a variety of issues, with the biggest being expanded gaming and deferred maintenance.
A bill officially giving Kansans the opportunity to vote for expanded gaming in their communities was by far the most-hotly debated issue this session. Senate Bill 66, which was passed by the House and Senate in the final days of the 2007 regular session and signed into law by Governor Sebelius last month, will allow Wyandotte County, Crawford and Cherokee counties, Sedgwick and Sumner counties, and Ford County to vote whether they want a destination casino. Additional locations throughout the state will also get to vote whether to allow slot machines at currently-operated race tracks. When casinos and slots are in full operation, the State of Kansas should receive approximately $225 million per year in additional revenue. Two percent of the revenue generated from gaming, nearly $17 million per year, will be devoted to funding addiction programs.
The other big story was the deferred maintenance backlog for the Regents universities. The House and Senate approved a multi-year plan to provide $410 million for repairs and upkeep to the state’s universities, community colleges, vocational and technical schools and Washburn University. The plan also puts into place new accountability measures to prevent future maintenance backlogs. Funding for the repairs will come from a combination of newly allocated state funds, tax credits, and state-issued bonds.
There were other notable accomplishments for the 2007 session as well. With regards to taxes, the Legislature passed a package of homestead property tax relief and state income tax cuts that will benefit senior citizens and low-income working families. Unemployment benefits were improved for working families struggling with transitions between jobs. In addition, several thousand Kansas businesses will benefit from significant cuts to the unemployment tax and the gradual phase-out of the franchise tax.
The FY 2008 budget attends to the needs of seniors and the disabled who need in-home services and attempts to increase the wages paid to direct care workers who care for the disabled. Nearly $10 million has been to reduce waiting lists presently existing for home health services for older Kansans and those with disabilities. These services help the neediest Kansans stay in their own homes instead of assisted living homes. Independent Living Centers were also allocated an additional $450,000 to help Kansas senior citizens. Greater attention will also be paid to early childhood development and services for victims of sexual and domestic violence in underserved parts of the state.
Some encouraging gains were also made in the area of health coverage. During the veto session, members of the legislature were finally able to consider a number of health care items that had been put off the entire session. The new health reform policy puts into motion several initiatives to help provide affordable health coverage to all Kansans. A Small Business Association Assistance Plan provides seed money to small businesses to form associations that provide quality health care plans. This assistance will give small businesses owners a tool to work together to create health insurance pools to lower risk and costs. Another initiative, the Premium Assistance Program, rewards working Kansans struggling to afford needed health coverage. Eligible Kansans will receive private insurance for both parents and children, and the program will help families access health care services through a “medical home.” In the first 2 years of the program, a family of four with an annual income of $10,325 or less will be eligible. In year 3, eligibility will extend to families with incomes up to 75 percent of the federal poverty level, equivalent to an annual income of $15,488 or less for a family of 4. In year four, eligibility will extend to families with incomes up to 100 percent of the federal poverty level, equivalent to an annual income of $20,650 for a family of four.
All in all, the 2007 legislative session saw a number of advancements on several fronts. One significant downside to the FY 2008 budget, however, was the fact that state spending will exceed revenues by approximately half a billion dollars. A big challenge for the 2008 legislative session will be to ensure that the state does not end up in the same precarious financial position back in 2002.
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