Area state lawmakers are well-positioned to fight for and defend local priorities this legislative session, which starts next week. But the state budget shortfall could threaten several of those priorities.
It was disappointing that Rep. Gene Suellentrop, R-Wichita, was replaced as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, and that Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, was not chosen as House minority leader. But new House committee assignments place local lawmakers in key positions.
South-central Kansas lawmakers are chairing about a dozen House committees, including Commerce (Rep. Mark Hutton, R-Wichita), Federal and State Affairs (Rep. Steve Brunk, R-Wichita), Utilities (Rep. Joe Seiwert, Pretty Prairie) and Energy and Environment (Rep. Dennis Hedke, R-Wichita). In addition, Suellentrop is vice-chairman of the House Taxation Committee, and area lawmakers are ranking minority members on several committees.
Senate committees are mostly unchanged from last session. Area lawmakers will be chairing several influential committees, including Ways and Means (Sen. Ty Masterson, R-Andover), Taxation (Sen. Les Donovan, R-Wichita) and Education (Sen. Steve Abrams, R-Arkansas City).
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Area lawmakers also will be in leadership positions. Rep. Mario Goico, R-Wichita, is the new House assistant majority leader, and Rep. Brandon Whipple, D-Wichita, is the Democrats’ new agenda chairman in the House. Sen. Terry Bruce, R-Hutchinson, continues as Senate majority leader.
And, of course, the key delegation member is Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, who has the power to start or stop action on legislation.
Area lawmakers will receive an overview of local needs and priorities at a legislative forum Thursday afternoon. They will hear reports from officials with Wichita State University, Wichita public schools, Wichita Area Technical College, the Regional Economic Area Partnership, Sedgwick County and the city of Wichita. Tuesday evening, lawmakers hosted a public forum.
Though they disagree on many issues, area lawmakers have, by and large, been effective at working together on local needs, including funding for the Affordable Airfares program, the National Center for Aviation Training and the National Institute for Aviation Research. But they will face a big challenge this coming session defending such funding.
The state is facing a budget shortfall this fiscal year and next of about $1 billion – which doesn’t count the ruling last week by a three-judge panel that the state is underfunding K-12 education by more than $500 million. The Legislature will be looking to cut spending wherever possible – including education and transportation projects.
That will make it even more important that local lawmakers work together and leverage their positions of power.
For the editorial board, Phillip Brownlee