Kansas Democratic statehouse candidates on the issues: K-12 funding and balancing the budget

Johnson County Government this afternoon issued an emergency declaration that will have schools closed through April 3 — though Shawnee Mission says it's preparing for the possibility of closures beyond that date.

Last month, we asked our readers what issues they wanted to hear the candidates running for office address ahead of this summer’s primary elections. Based on the input we received, we developed a five-item questionnaire for Democratic candidates running for seats in the Kansas House.

We’ll be publishing the candidates’ responses to one item per day each day this week. Today we’re publishing the candidates’ responses to item one:

The COVID-19 shutdowns have left a shortfall of hundreds of millions of dollars of expected revenue in Kansas’s budget, leaving a tricky balancing act before the legislature. Would you ever support cuts to K-12 funding as part of a package to balance the budget?

Kansas House District 22

Randen Smith

I do not support cuts in funding for K-12 education. Although Kansas has not recovered from the disastrous Republican Brownback wealthy tax cuts which left the Kansas budget completely broke and insolvent for emergencies. The Kansas legislation still has options before cutting any funding. Moreover, any cuts to education funding would land the State back to the Kansas Supreme Court with Gannon vs Kansas. In addition, Governor Kelly offered a plan of refinancing KPERS which could save 223 million a year in the first fifteen years. Even though this would cause debt in the long run the benefits to allowing time for straightening out the Republican Brownback tax experiment is simply needed now with revenue shortfalls from COVID-19. If KPERS refinancing was implemented, many other good plans at adding revenue for funding could be passed and save on the debt incurred from the KPERS refinance. Such as, funding from Medicaid expansion which would help the budget, hospitals and low income people for medical care. The Eisenhower Legacy Transportation Program would not be hampered in creating jobs and safer roads. Also, Middle class families need to count on their children receiving a stellar education to help prepare their children to compete and become productive adults. So, it is important for better outcome options in the Kansas budget than cutting education.

Lindsay Vaughn

As a proud product of our public schools, I know first-hand the value of our high-quality public education system and will not support K-12 budget cuts. High-quality public schools are essential in creating opportunities for our students, helping them live robust lives, and in attracting new businesses to Kansas. These things are all critical for the long-term health of our economy. Further, the legislature just started constitutionally funding K-12 public schools, and the impact of chronic underfunding is still unfolding. We cannot afford to roll back the progress we’ve made, and we still have work to do. We need to increase teacher pay, fully fund special education, restore due process, and support wraparound and mental health services, just to name a few things.

I support Governor Kelly’s approach to balancing the budget and believe we need to focus on revenue enhancements and returning to a tax policy that sensibly balances income, sales, and property taxes. First and foremost, we need to pass Medicaid Expansion. This will ensure 150,000 more Kansans gain access to the critical healthcare services they need, especially during the pandemic, while also injecting federal funds into our state economy. The legislature has already forfeited an estimated $3 billion in federal funds that could have been used to support Kansans and our economy through COVID-19.

New potential sources of revenue include taxing online purchases the same as in-store purchases (which would also level the playing field for our brick-and-mortar small businesses) and taxing streaming services the same as cable. Legalizing, regulating, and taxing sports wagering and marijuana would also provide new revenue sources.

To return to a balanced tax policy, I support adding a fourth income tax bracket while also reducing food sales taxes and providing property tax relief. Our highest income tax bracket is for individuals making $30,000 a year or more, which places a greater burden on low and middle income earners. Further, our food sales tax is one of the highest in the nation and needs to be reduced, and lower property taxes will lead to more affordable housing options.

Balancing the budget will be critical in the next legislative session. Instead of cutting education funding or other social services that have been shown to be especially critical through COVID-19, we should be looking at ways to enhance our revenue streams and create a more balanced tax policy.

Kansas House District 39

Les Lampe

My K-12 education was obtained at public schools in Kansas. That education paved the way for me to obtain extensive higher education and have a satisfying professional career. I want the same opportunity for the next generation of Kansans. I have reviewed considerable information and discussed the impact of reduced funding with career education professionals. As a result, I would not support cuts to K-12 funding as part of a package to balance the budget. Investment in schools is an investment in the future of our children and the future of our state. The state suffered disastrous cuts to K-12 funding during the eight years prior to the election of Governor Kelly in 2018. Prior to 2010, the ranking of Kansas schools was consistently in the upper third of all states. The ranking fell precipitously during the 2010 to 2016 period, but has now almost completely recovered to the prior high status. We must not allow a regression back to the years when state funding for education was dramatically reduced. Because of the reduced state revenues for the 2020-21 fiscal year due to the impacts of COVID-19, the Governor and State Budget Director recently proposed a revised budget that recognized the reduced revenues while maintaining current levels of funding for K-12 education. I support her proposed budget cuts and continued support for education funding. National rankings of the quality of schools are strongly correlated to the adequacy of state funding, and I certainly support continued full funding of schools at the level recommended in the Governor’s budget. During my campaign, I’ve had the chance to work with several students from Mill Valley High School and help them learn about the political process, particularly the importance of registering to vote and then voting. The talents and energy of these young adults is a tribute to the vitality of our public education system in District 39. We must maintain the current high quality of the public education system in our district.

Michael Bolton

No, because education remains of the upmost importance to Kansas and all Kansans. Despite shortfalls we cannot shortchange our children’s education. It makes no sense. From the moment we hold them we only want the best for them. I would rather we squeeze out fraud and waste before we squeeze a single dime from our children’s future.

This summer we can collectively help close the revenue gap by focusing our spending locally in your city and county. Spending local, will help mend small businesses deemed non-essential and heal our sales tax revenue shortfall. Internet if you must, so we don’t turn our brick and mortar into dust.
We can’t cut our way or tax our way to prosperity. We must plan and grow our way. To stimulate statewide economic growth we need a catalyst to draw hi-tech manufacturing jobs to Kansas. That catalyst is industrial hemp. Imagine bioplastic bottling plants, sustainable paper mills, biofuel refineries and Kansas City auto makers building electric cars with the body made from Kansas grown industrial hemp. According to Henry Ford industrial hemp is 10x’s lighter and 10x’s stronger then steel.

Kansas can lead the nation in the manufacturing of renewables by establishing a new sustainable agricultural manufacturing sector to complement our sustainable wind, solar and geothermal energy sector. This generation of Kansan’s has a unique moment to create thousands of steady paying, hi-tech manufacturing jobs all across the state. In doing so, we will bolster our middle class and set our state on a new path to build a 21st century sustainable economy right alongside the fossil fueled 20th.

Tomorrow we’ll publish the candidates’ responses to item two:

Do you support legalizing marijuana in the state in any capacity? Why or why not?