Candidates for three area seats in the Kansas House did a lot of agreeing during a forum Friday afternoon at the Riley County Seniors Center.
The forum brought together Republican Ron Highland and Democrat Richard Pikul, seeking the 51st District seat; incumbent Democrat Sydney Carlin and Republican Lee Modesitt in the 66th District; and incumbent Republican Tom Phillips and Democrat Aaron Estabrook in the 67th District.
Despite the party differences, the candidates largely found common ground on the status of KanCare, the tax law and the state legislature getting the job done in 90 days.
Their differences largely involved matters of detail. Here’s a synopsis.
The candidates all mentioned the vagueness surrounding the issue of KanCare, the restructured system for Medicaid. The plan moves the state’s facilities into three integrated care companies.
Carlin said “the disabled community has been unhappy with this plan from the get go,” and she shares that concern.
Carlin criticized the idea of three different companies running the system, saying they will run it like a business. That, she said, means money given to caregivers could be the first thing cut in pursuit of profit.
Modesitt said he understands the need to find efficiencies, but he shares concerns he finds expressed by both parties. “My concern is are we going to sacrifice the quality of care,” he asked.
Estabrook said there hasn’t been much communication between the plan developers and the affected population. “That’s not the type of leadership you need in the executive branch,” he said.
Phillips, who served on the House health and human services committee, said those who rely on Medicaid services worried more about transportation, housing and job opportunity than the care itself.
Starting next year, income taxes will be eliminated for about 191,000 small businesses. The law also 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.
The candidates agreed they disliked at least certain portions of the plan, although some wanted a full repeal while others advocated only modifications.
Estabrook said the plan affects low-income families and education, which is why he entered the race. “My daughter is in seventh grade,” he said. “By the time she’s a senior, we’ll have a $2.5 billion shortfall.” He called it “ridiculous” for Kansas to join Alabama and Mississippi in eliminating the food sales tax rebate to low-income families.
Phillips said he voted against the tax plan and would like to modify it. He said the $2.5 billion projected shortfall by July 2018 can be avoided. “There’s plenty of time for us as a state to provide leadership and make sure that doesn’t happen,” he said.
Pikul said he would repeal the law. He said the state needs revenue and as things stand budgets may have to be cut 10 percent next fiscal year.
Highland said the plan was passed rashly. But, he added, “we have to see what revenues come in” before deciding what to do. At the same time, he said, “we have to look as a state we can cut some expenses.”
Carlin said she voted against the law and would vote to repeal it. “It was not well thought out,” she said.
Modesitt said he was a fan of Gov. Sam Brownback’s original plan, which called for a slower drawdown of taxes as the revenue came in to the state.
“Unfortunately, the Senate decided they didn’t want to play ball and pushed forward a pretty aggressive tax plan,” he said. The House then passed it and Brownback signed it into law.
Modesitt said he’s willing to make changes. “I’ll entertain the issue … to make sure that we are doing what we need to do as a state,” he said.
The candidates were asked their stance on both the rising cost of tuition and illegal immigrants in Kansas paying in-state fees. Kansas State students now contribute more money to the university than the state.
Pikul said a new approach could be taken. He mentioned a sliding-scale in which tuition was higher for those who could afford it, and putting more taxpayer in a needs-based assistance program.
Highland said it’s important to ask where the money is going in universities. “Who’s paying for what and why are students having to pay that much more?” he asked.
The other candidates took on the illegal immigrant question.
Carlin said students impacted by the bill needed to be “encouraged in Kansas rather than discouraged.”
Modesitt said most of the affected students “aren’t here because they chose to be here. Their parents brought them here.” He said he doesn’t want to punish these students, but he doesn’t want to offend the out-of-state and international students paying higher fees and their families who do the right thing.
Estabrook said the state “needs to come in and do their obligation to make a way to have affordable higher education.” He said the focus of discussion related to tuition for illegal immigrants shouldn’t be on paying more or less, but on making it easy for those young students here already to gain citizenship.
Phillips said illegal immigrants have to be on the pathway to citizenship in order to gain in-state tuition. “Children should not be punished for the decision their parents made,” he said.