By ROBERT PIERCE
• Daily Leader
The next session of the Kansas Legislature starts in January, and with cuts already being made to the state’s budget, lawmakers will likely have a struggle making this year’s numbers balance.
State Senator Jim Barnett recently introduced legislation to help even out the state’s fiscal issue.
The bill would end an automatic escalator that increases the state rate at which legislators are reimbursed in accordance with federal rate increases.
“During this difficult budget time with schools being cut and armories being closed, I felt it was important that the legislature do their part in helping us balance our budget and get through a challenging time,” Barnett said. “I introduced a bill to freeze that automatic escalator for 24 months.”
Kansas faces an unprecedented budget shortfall, and Barnett said lawmakers will be scrutinizing every dime that is spent by the state.
“In our businesses, we all have to live within our means,” he said. “The government has to do the same. Right now, we have tremendous problems in our country with spending more money than we have with large deficits. We need leadership that understands the importance of not spending money that you don’t have and living within our means.”
Barnett said for every day they are in session or attending meetings, legislators are currently paid a $116 a day per diem for expenses and travel. The bill being considered would freeze that for 24 months.
“There is an automatic escalator in our statutes that increases legislators’ reimbursement every year based on a federal rate,” he said.
Barnett said the bill will be assigned to a committee in January.
“This is one small part of how we can help balance our budget,” he said.
As far as how much the freeze will help with the state’s budget problems, Barnett said he is unsure of its benefit.
“I’m in the process of requesting those numbers and that analysis as we speak,” he said. “Every dollar that we don’t spend on politicians can be spent on other parts of the budget.”
Cuts have already been made to the state’s fiscal numbers, and Barnett said those reductions will likely continue, although how much is not known.
“The numbers are unclear at this time and will depend on the revenue stream that continues monthly to come to state government,” he said. “I think it’s highly likely we’re going to have to look at other reductions and efficiencies to balance our budget.”
Barnett said it is likely every area of the state government will be examined for cuts to the budget.
“I think all options should be on the table,” he said. “I think it’s very likely everything will be considered for the budget changes depending on the outcome of the sessions and the state revenues.”