As a State Representative from Manhattan, home of Kansas State University, I advocate for the students, faculty and staff. I believe in Higher Education as the opportunity for individuals to learn how to succeed in this ever-changing global society. It is imperative that we avail ourselves of every chance to study and grow even as we are in the work world.
A healthy university is the #1 economic driver in my District. I have been concerned about declining enrollment and its impact on classes and educational programs. To attract professors and support staff we need to work to create the best educational environment. Higher Education has been a target for the Ultra Conservatives in the legislature, threatening the opportunity for higher education to be available for all.
Our Universities were cut in $17 million in 2016 and $34 million in 2017. In 2018 we were able to restore $11 million and in 2019 we added another $15.9 million. The Regents schools are still trying to recover. As a member of the House Appropriations Committee I have supported Governor Kelly’s budgets for increased funding of our Regents institutions and major construction projects on our campuses. I will continue to work to restore our universities and open them up once again to our students.
The framers of the U. S. Constitution and the State of Kansas Constitution felt it was vitally important to have three separate branches of government to protect the people from our government. Still today it is vital that the Legislative, the Judicial, and the Executive Branches of the Government remain separate and independent.
In recent years the Republican conservatives in the legislature have attacked the Courts, cut Judicial budgets and threatened to entirely defund the courts. Justices, of course, cannot defend themselves publicly and cannot campaign for re-election. I have supported appropriate funding for our Judicial Branch as well as the Executive and Legislative branches.
EDUCATION & THE COURTS
The state’s K-12 school formula has been debated, tweaked and abolished over the past decade. After years of legislative and courtroom battles in the Montoy vs. Kansas decision, we finally managed to pass and fund a fair and equitable budget for K-12 Education that met the approval of our courts.
At the same time, recognizing the hardships the state has endured under the severe tax cuts of 2013-2017, the Court is allowing us time to get our revenues back up before imposing any new requirements. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, we were able to meet this education funding level. I advocate that we find a way to maintain the funding plan for schools.
I support the right to a high-quality, free, public education for the Citizens of Kansas. The ever-changing, technology-based economy of this century requires changes in equipment and training for our educators and must be supported by the state. And now, with the current crisis in education brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic schools and families need support for broadband internet service in order to provide enough bandwidth for everyone in the family to use computers at the same time. Budgets can always be trimmed and made more efficient, constant cutting of public education has had a very negative impact in Kansas. Our educators and school board members have worked tirelessly to minimize this impact and I applaud those efforts.
Many school districts have begun Pre-K and all-day kindergarten classes for every child. The investment of $1 in pre-school education returns $7 to our economy.
Communication skills, not just technology skills, are very important in society. The legislature can provide adequate space for learning, remove the cap on school building projects, and provide qualified teachers, social workers and academic counselors. Governor Kelly initiated a focus on emotional and social growth of students providing funding for more social workers and crisis mental health centers. Monitoring graduation rates and post-graduation outcomes of students can provide tremendous resources for curriculum and academic program development.
TAX POLICY ---- HISTORY
The state budget was upside down after the previous administration pushed through a drastic tax cut in 2012, dramatically reducing income to the State General Fund – by about $900 million per year.
The state survived only by draining every dollar in the state savings accounts, raiding the state highway fund of $1 million per day until it was exhausted. Highway projects which were promised to every county in the state under the T-Works where cancelled. But in 2017, I was one of the leaders of the moderate coalition that developed the new tax plan which did away with tax loopholes for the wealthy and LLCs. It eliminated the tax on the poor, and brought back child care and medical expense deductions for families, relieving families from carrying such a huge portion of the state’s financial burden.
FUTURE TAX POLICY ---- DO NO HARM
I support a fair and balanced revenue policy that derives its funds from three major sources; income, sales and property ownership. These three sources ensure that everyone who benefits from the services of the state are paying their fair share of the costs.
Manhattan residents are paying close to 10% sales tax on all purchases. The state tax on sales is 6.5%. Sales tax is the quickest source of revenue in times of economic stress and the easiest to change when conditions warrant. I believe it would benefit the citizens and the economy to reduce the state sales tax at the first opportunity. Doing this would automatically reduce the tax on food and expensive purchases such as appliances and vehicles and alleviate stress on family budgets. It would also give our businesses a boost, especially those near state borders.
The U.S. Supreme Court decided in the South Dakota internet sales tax decision that states could collect sales tax on internet purchases. Once Governor Kelly took office the Kansas Department of Revenue gave notice that it would start collecting tax on internet sales – except for 3rd party sales (i.e. on Ebay). It has been a tremendous boost to state income by about $40-50 million per year or more, and certainly has helped to stabilize state finances and level the playing field for local and Kansas owned businesses. This is not the time to make more changes in tax policy.
STATE REVENUE UP in First half of 2020 – declining in Second half.
Following about two years of job growth the legislature gave pay raises to mental health nurses, prison guards, educators and state employees. This year we continued to give raises in other areas and made every effort to fairly compensate state employees throughout the system, including the Courts and court employees.
As of August 2020, state revenues are down about $4 million reflecting the costs of the pandemic shutdown in all but essential businesses. People have been laid off and are being supported by State and Federal legislation which has extended Unemployment Insurance benefits by 10 weeks and added $600 per week to the 2/3 salary that is normally available for Unemployment Insurance benefits. The $600 per week has just expired, and as I write this Congress is negotiating a new agreement on whether to continue the extra pay or not.
It is important that citizens get what they vote for when they elect a statewide leader. Recently our constituents have asked us about State Government transparency. I personally send an email newsletter each week to advise people of upcoming and current topics for discussions and votes in the House. This allows me to receive feedback about important matters from my district and schedule testimonies of my constituents on many important matters being debated in committees.
Sometimes it is difficult to find out what is going on even when working in the Capitol, especially if there are no recordings of the committee meetings. Transparency – or the lack thereof – impacts every issue we address in all branches of state government. It is imperative that the public have access to information. It is amazing how much support we derive from the media on behalf of the public. As a journalism and mass communications student at KSU, I realize the importance of an unbiased media, knowing of course, that there are many possible viewpoints to present on any subject.
Live streaming of committee meetings by audio only. We are working to make the legislative process more accessible by eliminating anonymous bills, recording all votes, and limiting other maneuvers used to avoid transparency.
We must require transparency in our agencies, too. For example, when a person is in state custody the state is responsible for their care. If there is mistreatment, injury, abuse or death, accurate information needs to be available to the public to serve justice. Besides prisons, this includes any agency such as the foster care system and our mental health facilities.
I have a record of working to improve the economy of Kansas and Manhattan. For example, as Mayor of Manhattan I purchased the Technology Park at the Manhattan Regional Airport. Having the park enabled us to bring businesses to our community and create jobs.
As a former business owner of “The Color Center”, “Carlin & Jones Career Associates, Inc.”, and “Kansas City Dental Care, Inc.”, I understand the needs of businesses and employees. I serve on the Manhattan Workforce Advisory Board which works to solve community job-related issues.
For the first 5-6 years in the House of Representatives I served on the Economic Development Committee. We created growth in Kansas jobs through the Economic Growth Act and the Kansas Bio Science Authority, as well as funding various projects through the Department of Commerce. We approved the development of STAR Bonds and that the decisions must be made through the Department of Commerce. One of the bills I offered as a beginning legislator was to prohibit the use of Eminent Domain for economic development projects. The bill required negotiations and fair payments be made when properties are being purchased by a developer for someone else’s personal financial gain.
When the Federal Government passed the Affordable Care Act one of the elements was State Medicaid Expansion. This was written into the act to provide medical coverage to the millions of Americans who earn too much to be eligible for Medicaid ($6000 year) because they work at one or more low paying jobs in order to provide for their families. There is a gap in the plan that the Federal Government planned to fill by providing Medicaid coverage to those families. In Kansas we believe the number is about 150,000. However, when the money came to Kansas in 2010, Governor Brownback refused to accept the payment and sent it back to the federal government. He also got his friends in the legislature to pass a bill to require legislative approval in the future – to expand Medicaid services, leaving our Kansas citizens out of insurance coverage. This was unfathomable to me. I was shocked.
To protect the Governor’s position, he asked for and received legislation that would require a vote of the Legislature in favor of accepting the expansion money before a governor could accept it. In 2017, both the House and Senate passed legislation to require the Governor to expand Medicaid, but Governor Brownback vetoed it. Efforts to override the veto failed by one vote. In 2019, the Kansas House of Representatives again passed a bill to put Medicaid Expansion in place, but the Senate President refused to bring it to a vote, knowing that with 21 co-sponsors, the bill had the votes to pass.
In August 2020, a Medicaid Expansion referendum in Missouri passed; it passed by referendum in Oklahoma, Nebraska and is in place in Colorado. This makes Kansas the lone holdout in this region. We will lose population because of this. Attempts to vote on Medicaid expansion have been blocked by procedural moves in both the House and the Senate at every turn. I am working to find a solution and I support Medicaid expansion.
After the 2012 tax plan took effect social services suffered drastically. Osawatomie State Mental Hospital lost its Federal Accreditation because it was not maintained to appropriate codes, and lost financial support (60 beds have since been re-certified). Employees bailed out of jobs in Prisons, at the Larned Corrections Facility, and Highway Patrol to take jobs in the private sector.
Ultra Conservative legislators have been in control of the majority party in Kansas for too long. TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families) also known as welfare, was cut from 5 years/60 months lifetime benefit, to 24 months lifetime benefit. Ultra conservative legislators even tried to pass a bill that would require a woman receiving TANF to return to work 24 hours after delivering a newborn child. Higher Education was forced to increase tuition and cut programs and staff just to keep the doors open. Many students are being forced out of public college education. I see education as a path out of poverty and believe we should provide our Kansas students with the best.
The citizens of Kansas have had enough of this and spoke loud and clear in the last election two elections (2016 and 2018) to turn Kansas in a more progressive direction. Talks of privatization of the prisons and the mental health hospitals are being rejected by the current legislature. Plans are being developed to improve our performance in all areas and recognize the contributions of our state employees.
After the 2017 repeal of the tax cuts we were able to offer pay increases to our state employees and work to recruit them back to their jobs. These efforts have been largely successful. As a member of the Corrections & Juvenile Justice Interim Committee, I was instrumental in passing a recommendation to increase pay for prison guards by 15% to bring them up to national pay standards. Later during the session, the Appropriations committee on which I serve, passed that recommendation into law and passed the governor’s request to add social workers and social work interns to the Department of Children and Families after so many had been relieved of their jobs under Governor Brownback. These significant actions are part of the positive change that the citizens have asked for and helps us manage the prison system and the foster care system. There are over 7000 children in Foster Care in Kansas. These children were being passed from home to home and some were even lost in the system. Under new leadership, DCF is working to remedy this situation and provide more oversight for children in State care.