In a rematch from the 2010 general election, the 66th District House race is a battle of youth versus experience as framed by the candidates. Incumbent Sydney Carlin defeated Republican candidate Lee Modesitt 2,644 to 2,462 margin in their first contest.
Carlin said everything she’s done in her years of public service has been directed toward helping the people she represents. She mentioned education, roads, the airport, and the military specifically. “That’s the kind of work I’ve been doing while he’s been getting acquainted with our wonderful city,” she said.
Modesitt said voters have had the chance to see his commitment to the community, and 10 years is enough time for anybody in Topeka. “A lot of folks are saying maybe it’s time after an entire decade to give some fresh blood an opportunity,” he said.Here is where they stand on the issues.
Starting next year, income taxes will be eliminated for about 191,000 small businesses. The law reduces income taxes from the current three-bracket rates of 3.5, 6.25 and 6.45 percent to 3.0 and 4.9 percent.
Legislative researchers project the tax reforms will create a cumulative shortfall of more than $2.5 billion over five years.
Carlin said it’s not much of a tax cut if people aren’t getting the benefits of certain deductions. She said the food sales tax rebate, child care credit and rental homestead tax credit being eliminated will affect low-income families.
Modesitt said he has reservations about completely eliminating income taxes for businesses when not doing the same for families, and he would prefer a slower drawdown of taxes. However, he said he isn’t sure if revenue will be as bad as projected.
If the state has revenue issues, Modesitt said it starts with prioritizing and finding inefficiencies, possibly changing the way the state budgets.
Modesitt used the Kansas Department of Transportation as an example of where inefficiencies could be found. He told a story during a forum about a friend who works for KDOT saying that some known inefficiencies weren’t pursued because employees were afraid of losing the money.
“Maybe it’s as simple as changing the way we budget and incentivizing our state employees to find savings within the bureaucracy,” he said.
Modesitt said people are fearful of finding savings because they think they might lose their jobs. He said departments can find new places for employees, providing a better service at a lower price.
State agencies have been told by state budget director Steve Anderson to propose 10 percent cuts in their fiscal year 2014 budgets, although it might not happen.
Carlin said the result of this cut would be “decimating state government” that has already cut 25 to 45 percent from departments. Even with those cuts, she said it won’t remedy the problem, and taxes will have to be raised elsewhere to generate revenue should the tax plan remain as is.
Carlin said the revenue choices will be made through leadership coming together and working through the pros and cons. “I feel as a 10-year veteran of the Legislature that I could be a contributor to that effort,” she said.
Carlin said she couldn’t support continuing the portion of the sales tax set to expire or taking more money from the highway plan.
Modesitt said he’s not committed to a position regarding the sales tax and new tax law. He said the Legislature needs to consider “the whole pie and not just a piece of it.”
One of Gov. Sam Brownback’s initiatives that didn’t go through this past session was the reform of the education finance formula. Instead of a new formula, Brownback has developed a school efficiency task force.
Carlin said she agrees with the studying of education from every angle, but the lack of educators on the task force is a problem. She said views from both outside and inside education are needed.
Modesitt said there should be communication with educators while creating policies for them, mentioning No Child Left Behind as an example of differing opinions between legislators and educators. “There are a lot of great teachers with great ideas on what to do about education, but nobody is asking them,” he said.
Carlin said the goal should be to fund the statutory base state aid per pupil of $4,492; the current base is $3,838. She said the current conversation is leaning in the other direction. “What we’re talking about is how to maintain a quality education without spending any money,” she said.
Modesitt said there was a framework for the formula reform, but he would like to see more specifics. He still thinks the current formula doesn’t work because of its complexity and inequity, mentioning how similar-sized school districts can have differences of as much as $1 million in funding.
A state trend has been increasing tuition so that students contribute more money to universities’ operating budgets than the state does. This has been the case for the past two school years at K-State with $194.7 million in tuition versus $166.5 million in state appropriations for fiscal year 2013.
Modesitt said he’s optimistic that that trend can be reversed. He said it comes down to the state prioritizing spending and supporting higher education, which is meeting the needs of Kansas.
“When tuition is covering as a percentage more of the operating costs of K-State than the funding coming from the state, then I have to say our priorities might be a little out of balance,” he said.
Carlin said the current tuition-vs.-funding conditions will continue in the conservative climate. She said the potential for change depends on how people vote. “If people think that what they want is less taxes, then what they get is going to be less government support in every place,” she said.
Modesitt said tax reform will help Kansas become more competitive with neighboring states that have lower tax rates. He said over-taxation or too many regulations lead companies elsewhere.
“We also have all of our neighboring states that have almost equal the resources we do and a lower tax rate than we do, and they’re able to create those jobs,” he said.
Modesitt said recent graduates have been leaving the state, causing other states to reap the benefits of billions of dollars that Kansas invested in all levels of education.
Carlin said quality of life is what brings people to Kansas and keeps them here, and businesses might not like what they see.
“We’re taking so much away from the quality we have that even if we came up with more to recruit businesses, maybe they’ll see us going in the wrong direction and not be too interested,” she said.
Carlin said she is concerned about businesses using the Kansas City area. Some business owners take advantage of the city’s position on the border to create a business that is incorporated in Kansas for tax breaks while their employees live in Missouri.