Discussion at a forum for the 22nd Senate District candidates Friday at the Riley County Seniors’ Service Center focused as it has most of the campaign on government spending and taxes.
Both Republican Bob Reader and Democrat Tom Hawk sharply criticized Gov. Sam Brownback’s controversial 2012 income tax bill, which cut taxes for about 191,000 limited liability corporations, subchapter S corporations and sole proprietorships.
Reader called the bill irresponsible, saying it would result in deficits of $800,000 in 2014 and $2.5 billion in five years as well as complete and total exemptions to the wealthiest Kansans.
Hawk said he would vote to repeal the bill. He said supporters touted the bill as a job-creator, but contended the businesses given tax breaks are not job-creators. “(The bill) will take us into bankruptcy,” he said. “We have to get rid of it.”
Hawk said that under Brownback, there has been “plain bad philosophy in this zeal to cut taxes,” telling the crowd that he would vote to reinstate taxes to get Kansas out of the hole.
Reader reiterated that he differs with Brownback and other conservative groups on the issue of taxes. “The Kansas Chamber of Commerce couldn’t be more mad at me than anybody,” he said. Reader has previously said he refused to sign a “no new taxes” pledge like the Chamber and others wanted, though he has called himself “the low-tax candidate.”
Hawk said he believes government exists to create an infrastructure in which everyone has opportunity. “I believe there is no free lunch,” he said, adding that there are certain services citizens cannot do on their own.
He said a good infrastructure results in good schools and communities and that should not suffer because of government stinginess.
Reader pledged not to cut K-12 funding and said his philosophy is one of “comparative taxation.” He said Kansas’ tax rates should not be higher than those of neighboring states.
The candidates also discussed their positions on funding for the arts, with Hawk expressing his distaste for Brownback’s decision to cut funding for the Kansas Arts Commission while Reader suggested that private funding could be the answer.
Hawk said Brownback’s decision to cut funding has hurt communities across the state and has cut local jobs. Reader said Brownback’s line-item veto on the issue was a mistake but that he would probably have approved cuts in the arts had he been in the legislature. He told the audience that there is a willful, private philanthropy present for the arts.
The candidates were also asked about the imminent launch of KanCare, Brownback’s plan to move Kansas Medicaid enrollees into managed care plans provided by three private companies. The plan is to take effect Jan. 1, 2013.
Brownback has said the plan will save $1 billion for the state and federal governments in the next five years.
Reader said he was skeptical of the plan, calling its impact a “big mystery.” Hawk said it could result in disaster for the most needy.
The candidates were asked whether they support the continuation of the practice of using committees to nominate candidates for the judiciary, the governor appointing one of the nominees.
Brownback has suggested that judges should be selected by the governor and approved by the Senate.
Hawk said he believes the present process is working, while Reader said that he supports a merit-based hybrid model.
Reader also the used the opportunity to announce that he has been endorsed by Atty. Gen. Derek Schmidt, while Hawk noted he had been endorsed by the Traditional Republicans committee.