House 21 candidates on the issues: Has Kansas state government overstepped its bounds?

Legislators chat on the floor of the Kansas Senate.
Legislators chat on the floor of the Kansas Senate.

With just days to go before the August 2 primaries, we’re delving into the candidates’ positions on the issues that matter most to Shawnee Mission Post readers. Each day this week we’re running responses from Dorothy Hughes and Neil Melton, the two Republicans in the District 21 House of Representatives primary, to questions submitted by Shawnee Mission Post readers. Today we ask about their views on state government’s relation to local governments:

The Kansas Legislature has passed measures that forced cities to change their gun laws and change their election cycles. New state laws imposed a tax lid on cities and dictated the placement of political signs in public right-of-way. Many cities opposed this legislation and saw it as an intrusion on home rule. What do you think of these actions by the Legislature and how do you view the Legislature’s proper role in its relation to city and county government?

Neil Melton

Neil_melton_16I believe it’s appropriate for the state to have certain laws that are uniform across the board, but certainly not everything should be micromanaged at the state level. There will be ongoing debates about what authority should be at the state level, and what should be at the local level. Typically liquor laws, tobacco laws, and laws related to firearms are uniform throughout any given state. We have extremely low voter turn-out when it comes to local elections, and the season those elections took place in, was likely a contributing factor. I believe that moving elections to a better time of year for voting, and to give candidates a better opportunity to campaign was the right thing to do. When it comes to the property tax “lid”, if property taxes increase above inflation, citizens in Kansas once again have a chance to vote. We had a similar law in place in Kansas until 1999 and seemed to do just fine. When the lobbying efforts of the Kansas League of Municipalities were successful in getting this overturned, property taxes increased dramatically. There are no restrictions on how much a municipality can increase property taxes, as long as they have the consent of the people. We have different levels of government and we all have to work together. The reason why Kansas and other states have sued the federal government in recent years, is because the federal government has imposed certain regulations outside of law, that they don’t necessarily have to authority to enact. There are checks and balances, and the states have won some of these battles in court. In our system of government, a lot of authority is given to the states, but that doesn’t mean we should become central planners. I believe we do a little too much at the state level when it comes to limitations on what local school districts can do in the area of education. Some laws will be uniform, and some ordinances will be decided locally. The debate will go on.

Dorothy Hughes

Dorothy_Hughes_16The state has seriously overstepped in regard to local control. Our cities and counties ought to have the autonomy to do the jobs we elected them to do. I have reached out to our city and county officials to listen and understand how state actions have interfered with local decision making. The tax lid, for example, takes local authority away and does not allow our localities to benefit from economic growth and rising property values. This is particularly detrimental to maintenance of city and county infrastructure. We have great amenities here in Johnson County, and we ought to be building upon those, not endangering them. It does not make sense to me that the state is interfering in city and county budgets when it needs to focus on balancing its own budget.

The changes to gun and election laws at the state level directly contradict what majorities locally wanted, but instead of working to understand the concerns and interests of different communities around the state, the legislature went over their heads. The government closest to the people governs best, and it is disappointing to see the state treating localities the way it says it does not want to be treated by the federal government.

Tomorrow we’ll publish the candidates’ responses to the final questionnaire item:

Do you believe changes need to be made to the current Kansas tax plan to generate more revenue for the state? If so, what changes would you make?