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Senate talk in candidate forum centered on spending

By Katherine Wartell

At the Senate portion of the Chamber’s candidate forum, Republican and Democratic challengers jostled over their support for extension of a 2009 sales tax increase, a portion of which is expiring. They also debated their views on overall spending levels.

Democratic candidate Tom Hawk, who represented the 67th House District when the 2009 sales tax was approved, said he supported the measure that year out of a belief that it was needed for state funding. But he said he would not support an extension of the six-tenths of a cent portion of that tax that expires this year until every other option has been exhausted. That, he said, includes repealing parts of Governor Sam Brownback’s controversial 2012 tax bill.

Republican candidate Bob Reader has also criticized Brownback’s tax bill, guaranteeing that he will help fix it if elected.

Reader and Hawk are competing for the seat held by Republican Roger Reitz, who was ousted by Reader in the August Republican primary. Reitz has endorsed Hawk.

Reader said he has not promised that he would not support new taxes, but he described himself as against sales taxes in general because of their disproportionate impact on the poor.

On the issue of general state funding, both candidates agreed that certain state services cannot be cut, including funding for mentally disabled Kansans. Both also called for a stabilization in cuts.

Reader said he pledged not to support any budget that does not keep the K-12 budget at least flat, while Hawk said cuts need to precise. He said the current government has made cuts with a sledgehammer.

Reader said he would fight for the university, while Hawk emphasized the need for making autism a priority, saying that 1 in 88 students are diagnosed as autistic.

The candidates also discussed state and federal mandates Monday.

Reader once again denounced President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, saying “Obamacare” is putting hope in the government, not in the people. He said it should not be a federal mandate and criticized Hawk for his vote while in the House not to let Kansas join a lawsuit challenging the act.

Hawk said he did not want to vote for a frivolous lawsuit that could cost Kansas money. He said he supports provisions in the act, such as not denying coverage for people with pre-existing conditions and young people being able to stay on their parents insurance until they are 26, though he said the act needs tweaking.

Reader also argued that federal mandates are strangling businesses more than state mandates, which, he said, are harming schools more than anything. He said local governments should be in charge of area schools, not the state or federal government.

Hawk, citing his 33 years of experience in Manhattan-Ogden public schools, argued he has more experience than Reader, who, he said, offers only political promises.

Hawk joked that as a businessman he grouses about mandates as much as the next person, but he said government brings civility and the luxuries to which people are accustomed.

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