Area legislators discuss priorities with Riley County Commission


From left to right: Sen. Tom Hawk (D-Manhattan), Rep. Ron Highland (R-Wamego), Rep-Elect Mike Dodson (R-Manhattan), Rep. Suzi Carlson (R- Clay Center) and Sydney Carlin (D-Manhattan)

Manhattan area legislators took time Thursday to hear from Riley County Commissioners and departmental staff some of its priorities for the upcoming session.

22nd District Sen. Tom Hawk, of Manhattan, says in terms of the county’s priorities, he supports Commissioner Ron Wells’ idea to ensure the state has a “placemarker” for the local ad valorem tax revenue which the state hasn’t paid in over two decades. He also supports county treasurer Shilo Heger’s proposed treasurer fee bill.

“It may raise some revenue a little bit, but it makes it a lot simpler for the people who are registering their vehicles and tags and certainly keeps the county from having to subsidize the state as our number one tax collector. I still don’t want you to give up that duty, but I think it can be a lot more fair,” he said.

Hawk says because more conservatives were elected this cycle to the Kansas Legislature, some bills that didn’t pass this year are likely to advance in 2021.

“I’m worried about the potential business tax breaks if our state revenues go down and the decoupling, which in theory doesn’t sound like a bad idea, but I think we’re still going to get hit hard in terms of revenue in this next session.

Legislators have not received committee assignments yet, but Hawk anticipates once again being the ranking member on the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

51st District Rep. Ron Highland, of Wamego, says he recently visited with several appraisers as well as the Department of Revenue to learn more about hypothetical leased fee values (also known as the Dark Store Theory) and the burden it places on counties to fairly appraise commercial properties.

Highland says the key issues he sees are the fact that the state has no commercial real estate person on its payroll and there is no guidance for appraisers on valuations of commercial properties.

“I think that’s where the weakness is, it’s in the Department of Revenue. If they need funding for a commercial appraiser that the state has more control over then I think that’s where we need to start looking,” he said.

Highland agrees with Sen. Hawk about revenues and says legislators will have to navigate some tricky waters this next session, simply because of the uncertainty in revenue forecasts.

“Once the funds that have been supporting folks, necessarily so, go away, the sales tax revenue will go down and we are going to have some delicate situations in revenues coming as soon as the first quarter next year,” he said.

Highland says the legislature will also discuss redistricting ahead of 2022, which he says has the potential to profoundly impact his district going forward. Highland’s district currently encompasses the eastern portion of Manhattan in Pottawatomie County as well as St. George and Wamego, as well as Zeandale in Riley County and all of Wabaunsee County. His district also includes rural areas of Lyon and Shawnee counties.

67th District Representative-Elect Mike Dodson, of Manhattan, says he’s focusing heavily on the recovery of local businesses from the pandemic and a long range economic development plan.

“The governor’s budget is coming. She is a little circumspect simply because she doesn’t know what is coming out of the next $900 billion ‘traunch’ that’s coming out of the federal government. That could have quite an impact on that remaining $250 or $300 million deficit that we kind of see on our doorstep right now,” he said.

66th District Representative Syndey Carlin is hoping to pass a bill this session, which would allow private attorneys to sue on the behalf of the State of Kansas when a false claim is filed and the Attorney General has no interest in pursuing it.

“Believe me, it’s not been easy to get the Attorney General (Derek Schmidt) on board with that part, but I think he is on board with it and it would help us to the tune of about $100 million in revenue a year,” she said.

64th District Rep. Suzi Carlson, of Clay Center, who’s district encompasses a small portion of Riley County, praised bipartisan work she did with Sen. Hawk to help in accomplishing roads in Randolph funded.

“So that is going to enable Randolph to get businesses and a housing development hopefully to expand them, which will help Riley County tremendously,” she said.

Carlson says that corridor along Hwy 77, north of Manhattan, has a lot of interest from potential developers.

The 2021 legislative session begins in Topeka on Jan. 11. We will have legislative previews on KMAN’s In Focus the week of Dec. 28 through Dec. 31 with Sen. Hawk, Rep. Highland, Rep. Carlin and Rep.-Elect Dodson.



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Brandon Peoples

KMAN News Director and host of In Focus. Contact Brandon at

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