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State legislative update

Help may be available for county population drop

Rep., District 70

The sesquicentennial year for Kansas began this past weekend. Saturday was Kansas Day. I hope you become active in some event this year focusing on, emphasizing, and promoting Kansas’ past, present or future. We all ought to celebrate big.

In his State of the State address, Gov. Brownback talked about establishing a Rural Opportunity Zone for counties with a population loss of more than 10 percent. There are 40 counties with losses that exceed 10 percent, and Marion County is one of them.

According to the census figures, Chase County lost 7.7 percent of its population, Butler County gained 7.7 percent, and Marion County lost 10.3 percent. Whether those percentages might be modified if adjustments are made to the official census, I don’t know. So, folks, dispel the myth that areas with large population losses are all in far western Kansas.

Five counties losing more than 10 percent populations are east of U.S. 81, and a sixth county has U.S. 81 running through it. The Governor’s plan has to do with a 10-year tax break for people who move and stay in those counties; I do not yet know all the aspects of the plan. I encourage you to follow the plan’s development to learn about its various aspects, whether it is adopted by the legislature, and what its potential impact might be for us in the 70th District.

Another hot topic relates to passenger trains. As you may know, the historic Santa Fe train, the Super Chief, became the Southwest Chief when Amtrak took over passenger trains. It passes through the 70th District, going through Peabody, Florence, and Strong City, on its way to Topeka or Newton, with its only nearby stop in Newton.

There is a lot of talk and work going into the establishment of a train dubbed the Northern Flyer, coming up from Dallas to Oklahoma City, to Wichita and Newton, then turning northeast and following the Southwest Chief’s route on the Burlington Northern Santa Fe track to Kansas City.

Even with the predicted cost of the total project taken into account, planners believe it will bring three times its cost in revenue to the three states that are involved, not to mention the potential convenience in travel if daytime travel is established. Two clear advantages to our area include access to Amtrak that could take passengers to Chicago, Kansas City, Dallas, Wichita, and other places at a reasonable cost; and there’s the prospect of it stopping in Peabody, Florence, or Strong City. With the attraction of the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve only a couple of miles from Strong City, and with other historic possibilities in Florence and Peabody, it could easily develop into an important improvement for this area.

The legislature “greased the wheels” for the project last year with a resolution to encourage planning and a bill putting service by rail in the transportation plan. Time will tell how and if this develops.

If you have any interest in this topic, contact the Chase County Chamber of Commerce or call Matt with the Northern Flyer Alliance at (620) 343-4250.

The House Tax Committee will be holding hearings this week on repeal of the 1-cent sales tax adopted last year. Its repeal would create an additional hole in the budget of about $350 million per year, in addition to the current gap of about $550 million. I hold to the thought that if you’re in a hole, the first thing to do is to stop digging.

Constituents already know why I believe the 1-cent tax (.6 of which will sunset June 2013) was the best choice for us last year; and Gov. Brownback has now said he does not want it repealed. Its repeal would also stop state roadwork dead in its tracks and prevent the Governor from transferring $200 million from that fund — unexpected savings already gained in the road plan — to balance his 2012 budget.

I don’t know whether the bill will ever pass out of committee or if we will vote on it on the House floor; time will tell. I will oppose it if it comes to a vote. I have no interest in digging a larger hole or embarrassing the Governor.

You may contact me at Brookens70@sbcglobal.net or write me at 201 Meadow Lane, Marion KS 66861 or at Kansas State Capitol Building, 300 SW 10th St, Topeka KS 66612; or call me at (620) 382-2133. My phone number during the session, through about May 15, is (785) 296-7636. If coming to Topeka, let me know; my office is now in the Capitol.

Last modified Feb. 2, 2011

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