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Local Government Day Recap – by Daron Hall

City Manager's Blog, General News

February 8, 2019

One of my duties as City Manager in Pittsburg is to monitor the activities of the Kansas Legislature in order to inform the City Commission about issues that could affect our community. After five years of serving on the board of directors for the League of Kansas Municipalities, I was fortunate to be elected as President for 2019.  In this role, I can continue to impact the legislative agenda, which serves as the guide for how the League will conduct their business as they interact with the legislature.

The 2019 legislative session is underway and I recently had the opportunity to attend Local Government Day, which involved a series of meetings, speaking engagements and finally a reception with leaders from the legislature. The following week I joined Representative Monica Murnan and the Highway 69 contingent in Topeka to meet with the Governor and the Secretary of Transportation to discuss the continuation of this important project.

After returning from Local Government Day, I wanted to provide my observations as these issues have a potential impact on all those living in Pittsburg and southeast Kansas:

  • The property tax lid is a sore spot with local governments because, as one legislator summarized last week, it was passed as an amendment rather than its own bill, which prohibited it from being debated openly by all interested parties. Nevertheless, the legislature is unlikely to repeal it. However, there is discussion about adding additional exemptions and adding a ‘look back’ period of up to seven years. Some local communities are declining to reduce their property tax rate when possible, because the ‘lid’ makes it difficult to increase the property tax when needed. The rollback period would allow a community to increase the tax back to the highest level it had been over the past seven years without being limited to the public vote required under the current law.
  • There is the possibility of a bill supporting medical marijuana in this legislative session, while the larger discussion is about recreational marijuana. The League’s position will be to stay neutral, testify when asked, and support the need for discussions with employers to focus on the impact on employees. Pittsburg should be prepared to be active in the discussion as we have four times the per capita manufacturing than the nation, and the ability to find employees who can pass a drug test could be impacted by both medical and recreational laws.
  • The message from the Secretary of Transportation Julie Lorenz was twofold. The transportation task force, which toured Kansas last year, now has a $16 billion list of projects to consider. Furthermore, the best scenario is that it will be three years before the legislature stops using KDOT funds for things other than transportation projects, so funds are limited. She explained that her focus would be on maintaining what we have and also funding regional priorities around the state when the money is available. The good news is that both Secretary Lorenz and Governor Kelly committed to completing the next two sections of Highway 69, taking it to highway 47 in Crawford County, within the next few years.
  • An internet sales tax bill is being developed and has a good chance of passing. It would require individuals to pay sales tax on internet purchases, something that is not currently done, primarily due to claims that collecting internet sales taxes would be burdensome on retailers.  Retailers will be required to file reports so the IRS can match individual tax records with those reports to ensure that consumers have paid local sales tax on internet purchases.
  • The Governor has formed a task force to look into expanding Medicaid. Some legislative leaders don’t want to spend the money to expand Medicaid while others blame the lack of expansion for the poor state of healthcare in Kansas, including hospitals closing. This will continue to be a difficult discussion.
  • The Governor’s budget included a plan to re-amortize the KPERS payments, which would defer a $115 million payment scheduled for this year. The Senate is currently working a bill that would make the payment rather than deferring it.
  • AT&T does not believe they should be required to enter into franchise agreements for their wireless infrastructure. However, cities and counties see this as unfair to the other carriers who are signing franchise agreements and paying the related fees. Furthermore, local governments have invested in the public right of way to protect infrastructure and your private property. Fees paid to local jurisdictions help our community cover those investments in the right of way and allow us to regulate this important barrier.
  • Companies that rent electric scooters are targeting Kansas as a potential market. Kansas communities are divided on this issue. Some see them as a nuisance while others see them as a preferred alternative to automobiles. Currently, electric scooters are illegal on Kansas roads per the Department of Revenue. The League supports a bill, which would legalize them and treat them like micro-utility vehicles – making them legal but subject to the rules and regulations passed by local communities. As a university town, Pittsburg should expect them in the near future. They seem to be a popular alternative to cars for college students and young people.

There are many other issues being discussed in this session that involve service animals, electricity and social services, and I encourage our citizens to pay close attention to these issues as they will impact your quality of life in the future. We are fortunate to have good representatives in Topeka who advocate on our behalf and I am pleased to be serving alongside them in my new role as League President this year.