This week, Kansas legislators passed the sales tax increase to make up for a nearly $312 million budget shortfall. This was big news. Yet despite the worst budget problems and largest tax increases in state history, Kansas legislators quietly authorized $36 million in new bonds to complete the $286 million renovation job on the Kansas Statehouse. While times are tough for thousands of Kansas residents struggling to stay in their homes, Legislators are busy spending tens of millions in nonexistent tax dollars so they can make luxurious improvements to their workplace.
Budget cuts have been made in the areas of school funding, public and social services, yet strangely enough, the cuts have escaped Statehouse renovations. The renovations are supposed to be completed by July 2012. Democrat Governor Mark Parkinson is expected to sign off on the budget at the end of this month, endorsing the multi-million dollar renovations.
When renovations were first approved in 2000, the estimated cost was between $90 and $120 million. However, costs have steadily increased, as lawmakers added an underground parking garage, new offices, and a visitor center. "The visitors' center is the real crown jewel of the project," said Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley (D-Topeka).
Justifying the continued renovation spending, Sen. Chris Steineger (D-Kansas City), said that "It's too late to turn back now. We're three-quarters of the way across the river." Steineger has opposed renovations in the past.
Proponents of the renovations claim that the Statehouse had not undergone work in over 80 years. The electrical, HVAC systems, and plumbing were all out of date. However, instead of merely replacing only what needed fixing in tough economic times, state legislators also wanted updated committee rooms and offices. Yet, postponing the renovation's progress now was estimated to cost an additional $11 million later on down the road.
While legislators appropriate millions to continue Statehouse renovations, the Kansas City, Kansas School District, of which the Argentine Neighborhood is a part, will have to suffer $14.6 million in cuts. Prior to the close of the legislative session, some school districts lobbied Kansas lawmakers for greater authority to raise funding from local sources. The local funding initiative died in committee. Kansas City, Kansas school officials opposed local funding initiatives, arguing that while the initiative would raise an estimated $12 million in Johnson County, none of the money raised in wealthier districts would be spread out among the most poverty-stricken districts unable to raise local funding.