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My Two Cents of Common Sense
"Northwest Kansas holds some truly inspiring scenery, contains a wealth of Old West history, possesses some of the finest educational institutions, promotes an entrepreneurial spirit, and is home to some of the most hard-working, genuine people I've ever met!"    ~ Adam Smith
1970 RD 3 Weskan, KS 67762
785-821-2568 (Cell)
300 SW 10th St, Suite 512N Topeka, KS  66612
785-296-0715 (Office)

Local Groups visit Statehouse

One of my absolute favorite parts of this job in Topeka is when I have the opportunity to welcome folks from northwest Kansas to the Capitol! This week, I had the pleasure of hosting the eighth grade class and sponsors from Oberlin and a leadership group from Wallace County.

These groups typically have packed schedules as they make the most of their Topeka trip, so I am honored to spend time with them as it fits both of our schedules. The highlight for me is getting special permission to give a personal night tour of the Capitol - something many people never get to see as the building is closed after hours. The rare opportunity to view the majestic Capitol when it is hauntingly dark and eerily silent will leave an impression on nearly everyone that has that chance. A few students from Oberlin even had the unique chance to sit at a piano in the Capitol Rotunda and hear their music resonating throughout the Capitol, lofting from the 1st floor to the top of the dome that night! Time and schedules also allowed me a moment to officially recognize and welcome the Wallace County group at the beginning of the chamber proceedings - another rare opportunity I was privileged to have!

Thank you to both of these local groups, and thank you to their sponsors that allowed them the chance to make these special trips!
I was honored to present the 2018 Leadership Wallace County group before the House of Representatives on Thursday. Click here to view the archived video.
Although hard to see in the dark, the Oberlin 8th grade class is all huddled around the rotunda rail on the second floor of the Capitol during their night tour.

Off to the Races... or not?

If you thought school finance was the only contentious issue in Kansas government this year, allow me to introduce you to House Bill 2545 – commonly called the racing and gaming bill.

To demonstrate the complexity of this proposal, the actual bill is 24 pages but the summary explaining the bill is 18 pages! Typically, bill summaries are only one or two pages.

Before I dive into HB 2545, here is a brief history of racing and gaming in Kansas. In 1986, the voters of Kansas approved a constitutional amendment to allow the state to regulate horse and dog racing and pari-mutuel gaming. A few years later, the Woodlands racetrack in Kansas City and Wichita Greyhound Park opened. In 1995, a third racetrack, Camptown Greyhound Park, was opened but the facility closed after just six months of operation due to losses. The other tracks in Kansas City and Wichita also struggled to operate with revenue from the racing alone. Efforts arose to allow slot machines at these facilities, which would operate at a much higher margin than racing commissions. While some local efforts succeed, statewide attempts to further amend the constitution continued to fail. The Attorney General argued that local approvals are unconstitutional, therefore no slot machines were ever installed. For over a decade, the racetracks closed, reopened, and changed ownership in attempts to both attract patrons and operate more efficiently to improve their bottom line.

Then, in 2007, the legislature passed the Kansas Expanded Lottery Act (KELA). This allowed a “destination casino resort” in each of four newly defined gaming zones. These zones were northeast, southeast, south-central, and southwest and consisted of either a single county or two counties together. There were never any areas in northwest or north-central Kansas. Also, state casinos are not operated by state employees. Each casino is run by a gaming facility manager, or operator, which had to apply to be competitively awarded the contract by the Kansas Racing and Gaming commission. Each operator also had to pay an initial privilege fee for operating their new casino – remember this part, it becomes very important in a few paragraphs.

The legislative victory for the racing and gaming industry was short-lived, though. Although the new law passed at the state level, it included provisions that the local voters in each zone had the final say in approving gaming expansion. The same contention over gambling that reared-up decades before once again became an obstacle, as most voters did not approve of ballot measures to expand gaming in their area initially.

Fast-forward ahead, and each zone now has a voter-approved casino. The racetracks, however, were never able to negotiate terms they felt would allow for profitable operation. Both the Woodlands and the Wichita Greyhound Park closed shortly after the KELA was approved. The reason why, and the key issue in the legislation we are considering right now, is the discrepancy between the tax rate for slot machines for the casinos and the racetracks. Since 2007, the state receives 22% of the casino’s revenue. However, any racetrack must remit 40% of their net gaming income from slot machines to the state.

Herein lies the main issue and the reason the racetracks claim they cannot reopen. As history has shown, racetracks struggle to survive only on racing revenues. Adding slot machines does them no good if they have to pay 40% tax to the state as opposed to 22%. They believe that retaining the additional 18% would be sufficient to reopen and profitably operate the racetrack locations once again.

However, it’s not as simple as changing the rate. The privilege fee already paid by the casino operators was to be the only gaming in that zone. If Kansas approves a rate change, the casinos could sue the state for breach of contract which would cost $61 million in repayment of privilege fees back to the casino operators. The racetrack’s owner has offered to escrow the funds necessary to repay the privilege fees if a court case is lost, however the racetracks would eventually recover that expense by retaining half of the new 22% rate for a period of years. No tax dollars would ever be required to directly repay a settlement, but it could require additional litigation costs which come from State General Fund.

The primary opposition to HB 2545, other than the casinos, are from animal rights advocates, claiming inhumane treatment of animals. Proponents of the measure, other than the racetracks, are largely from the agricultural industry and economic development, claiming increased demand for agricultural products and services and creation of jobs at the racetracks.

While this article is certainly not a comprehensive explanation of the legislation we are considering, I’ve attempted to provide a history of the issue in Kansas as well as a brief synopsis of the 18 page summary. If you have a strong opinion on this issue, I would appreciate hearing from you!
Joe and Rebecca Vyzourek from Atwood were this year's existing Small Business of the year for our region! They were presented with their award for their radio station KYVZ 106.1 FM!

Amusement Ride Bill Update

I testified before the House Federal and State Affairs Committee Tuesday morning regarding the amendments to the Amusement Ride Act from last year. These amendments make important changes to the existing law that will be beneficial to our local hometown carnivals. Following the hearing, the committee will debate the bill, probably next week sometime, and decide further action on the bill. It must pass the committee and then come to the chamber floor for final passage yet. If further amendments are made in the House, it must go back over to the Senate for final approval.
I strive to create and maintain constituent relationships through good communication. Two-way communication is essential to my effectiveness as a legislator in promoting successful solutions for Northwest Kansas! Please consider subscribing to my contact list or send me an email and I will add you.
Copyright © 2018 Smith For Kansas, All rights reserved.

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