Mar 04, 2024

Ellis County legislators: Tax relief needed, plan up in air

Posted Mar 04, 2024 11:01 AM
Sen. Rick Billinger, R-Goodland, and Reps. Ken Rahjes, R-Agra, and Barb Wasigner, R-Hays, at a legislative coffee on Saturday at the Hays Public Library. Cristina Janney/Hays Post
Sen. Rick Billinger, R-Goodland, and Reps. Ken Rahjes, R-Agra, and Barb Wasigner, R-Hays, at a legislative coffee on Saturday at the Hays Public Library. Cristina Janney/Hays Post

Hays Post

The state legislators representing Ellis County discussed the need for tax relief for Kansas taxpayers but said they are waiting for legislative leadership to bring forth a plan.

A legislative coffee was facilitated Saturday at the Hays Public Library by the Chamber in Hays.

Early in the session, the Kansas Legislature passed a tax plan that included a flat tax and eliminated the tax on social security.

The governor vetoed that legislation.

Rep. Ken Rahjes, R-Agra, 110th district, said the legislative leadership seems to be stuck on the flat tax and the governor opposes the flat tax, which has left Topeka in a stalmate.

Dean Stramel, local resident, asked about the flat tax and expressed stern opposition to the plan, which he said would benefit the rich.

"Are you kidding me? Do you think that is just for the rich?" Rahjes said.

Rahjes said there were other things in the tax bill, but the media and the governor made it about the flat tax.

"I'm doing whatever it takes to bring tax relief back," he said. "I'm guessing the next tax plan won't have [a flat tax] in it, but that was the plan we had at the time."

Rep. Barb Wasinger, R-Hays, serves on the House Taxation Committee. She said the highest income tax rate in Kansas is 5.77 percent. The flat tax would have dropped that to 5.25 percent. She said the lowest-earning Kansans would have paid no tax.

"I have a problem with people thinking the rich will get all of it. There are an awful lot of better deductions. I think you'll like that," she said.

Sen. Rick Billinger, R-Goodland, said he supported property tax relief.

Medicaid expansion

The legislators said there will be a hearing on Medicaid expansion.

Wasinger said she was not in favor of Medicaid expansion because she thinks spending on Medicaid would crowd out higher education funding.

She said a study of other states indicated every dollar increase in  Medicaid spending reduces higher education spending by $2.44. She said that study also said Medicaid expansion crowded out spending on children by $500 per child.

She said it would not prevent the closure of small, rural hospitals.

Kansas is among only 10 states that have not expanded Medicaid in line with the 2010 federal Affordable Care Act, which promises federal funds to cover 90 percent of the new costs, according to the Associated Press.

Gov. Kelly's plan would increase the cost of the Kansas Medicaid program by 31 percent, about $1.35 billion a year. However, federal funds would cover all but $135 million, with the state imposing fees on hospitals and large private health insurance companies for most of the rest, an Associated Press story said.

According to the Associated Press, the expansion would cover an estimated 150,000 Kansans.

Billinger said he did not think the legislation would pass this session, but he thinks legislation that would increase reimbursements to doctors might.

Rahjes said he thought the higher reimbursement rates will help the rural hospitals.

Funding for Fort Hays State University

The legislators said Fort Hays State University should receive more funding in the upcoming budget year.

That includes funding for a new nursing building on the FHSU campus, additional funding for operations, and additional funding for certification for mental health professionals.

Wasinger said all funding for higher education had been stripped and left for the final omnibus bill because legislators did not want any funding going to diversity and inclusion measures.

Billinger said on the Senate side, Fort Hays is in the budget with more funding than the governor recommended.

Anti-abortion, anti-transgender bills

The legislators were asked why they continue spending taxpayer dollars on anti-abortion and anti-transgender bills that target minority communities and go against agreed-upon scientific research and medical best practices.

"I don't think it's a waste of time protecting children," Wasinger said. ..."To get children born who need to be here, to make sure we protect women, to make sure we do the very best for humanity. 

"Pope Francis just said the most dangerous ideology in the country and the world is gender ideology, so I don't think it's wasting money."

Billinger said he believes there are two sexes — men and women.