The Mercury asked candidates in the 67th District House race to respond to four questions designed to compare and contrast their views on various aspects of state government policy. The candidates are Republican incumbent Tom Phillips and Aaron Estabrook, a Democrat. Here is a synopsized version of their replies.
1. Characterize yourself in terms of fiscal policy and tell me how that approach will inform your votes on fiscal matters. How do you feel you differ from your opponent in that regard?
Phillips: There are certain functions government has to perform to protect and promote public education, welfare, and safety. A budget reflects our public priorities based on the level of funding allocated to meet government responsibilities. My priorities include promoting economic growth and job creation, advocating for quality education at all levels, and supporting a military inclusive community.
Limiting government spending within our means is vital. For me, fiscal policy includes striking a balance between tax policy (revenue) and state budgeting (expenditure). I did not vote for the tax cut plan last session because it creates an imbalance in Kansas’s three principal sources of revenue: income, sales, and property taxes. Creating a fair and balanced tax policy will be important in the upcoming legislative sessions.
My time as mayor, city commissioner, and term in the Kansas House in 2012, shows I have proven experience in creating a government budget. Last session the state budget included a $500 million end of year balance, the first significant carryover in several years.
Estabrook: I believe in fiscal responsibility. I also believe in a fair and balanced tax structure. All that Gov. Brownback’s tax plan accomplishes is slashing the taxes of millionaires while pushing more taxes onto the backs of employees and homeowners.
Tom Phillips voted for a budget that is clearly unsustainable when accounting for the $2.5 billion shortfall in revenue expected over the next six years. He may tout his quiet dissidence for the Brownback Tax Plan but in reality he complicated the problem by voting for a budget that’s beyond our means. This to me is equivalent to sending soldiers into battle without ammunition.
I will be a strong and certain voice to repeal the Brownback Tax plan and seek to restore balance to our tax structure. I believe it is in the best interest of Kansas to evenly shoulder the burden and I deeply resent the assault of increased taxation on those most vulnerable Kansans while the wealthiest receive income tax exemptions.
2. Characterize yourself in terms of social policy and tell me how that approach will inform your votes on social policy. How do you differ from your opponent in that regard?
Phillips: State government has a responsibility to help our citizens who find themselves in poverty, disabled, or frail. I support state funding to address assistance in health care, mental health, infant care, and housing (to name a few). At the same time, these programs should be providing a pathway allowing people that are physically able to work.
I do believe in individual responsibility and people should work to improve their lot in life and not depend on government programs. Education is critical to eliminating government dependence. This is why it is essential to provide a quality public education and instilling individual and system accountability in our schools. I also support infant and early childhood programs and their positive impact on early development. State expenditures made in education from infant to post-secondary education are wise investments that can enable individuals to break a cycle of dependence.
Since the Roe vs. Wade decision of nearly 40 years ago, citizens have had polarizing opinions and beliefs on the role of government on the issue of abortion. My personal belief and values supports a pro-life position with exceptions for rape or incest. I respect the law of the land and will evaluate each piece of legislation coming before the House by listening to all sides of the debate and make what I believe to be reasonable and fair.
Estabrook: Growing up on a small Kansas farm imparted in me a strong understanding of respect and responsibility. Through scholarships, I was afforded the opportunity to study in Israel, Cyprus, and Egypt while at K-State. Those months also broadened my understanding of humanity and the lack of appreciation we often have for own way of life.
My experience in the military showed me another side to social policy. Especially while spending a year in Afghanistan essentially nation building (in-between firefights) provided me with a level of understanding about social progress and the results of unchecked ideological power that will never be forgotten. The young girls of Afghanistan are full of curiosity but as they become women are held in a hostage-like environment where education is all but extinct.
Tom Phillips mixes religious doctrine with state government. In his short time in office he repeatedly voted to limit women’s reproductive rights, and even supported legislation that would open the door to discrimination based on sexual orientation. I do not support such intolerance!
I have a deep Christian foundation and truly honor the founders’ intentions of a clear separation between religion and state. I may personally hold convictions that are based in faith but do not see it necessary or appropriate for those convictions to manifest into Kansas legislation or policy. Furthermore, I do embrace the values of religious doctrine that teach to care for thy neighbor and to give much to those with little.
3.Characterize yourself in terms of education-related issues – both K-12 and higher) and say how that approach will inform your voters on education matters. How do you feel you differ from your opponent in this regard?
Phillips: We have to acknowledge that schools and teachers are being asked and expected to perform many new and expanded roles.
Parents have to be engaged in their children’s education; if they fail to do so, then schools and their teachers should not be penalized, and consequences have to be established at the student level. All school districts have to perform a critical analysis and identify ways to lower costs. Top-down federal initiatives, such as No Child Left Behind, need to be eliminated. Instead, we should use a bottom-up approach that allows teachers and school districts to work with state educational officials to devise programs, policies, and practices that best serve the needs of Kansas students. I believe we need to design a compensation system that rewards productivity and better results.
I will move slowly and with prudence on efforts to change the formula for school finance that result in increased reliance on local property taxes. We are 20 years removed from the 1992 decision to reduce local property taxes paid for education and shift to an increased reliance on state income taxes to create equity in our children’s education. I am concerned we may forget lessons learned from history.
The state cannot forgo its responsibility to fund post-secondary education. KSU and MATC provide the youth of Kansas a pathway to a better future and lead to an improved pro-growth economy.
During my first legislative session the approved state budget increased K-12 public education resources, technical education spending, and added an additional $5 million in funding for necessary support at the KSU College of Veterinary Medicine.
Estabrook: I’m a product of Kansas K-12 public schools and a proud graduate of K-State. Several teachers along the way made huge impacts on me. Our teachers are among the best in country and they have the stats to back them up. In Kansas, our teachers do more with fewer resources than anyone else in the country! Yet extremists continue to cry they are inefficient. I personally know many educators who often pay out of pocket for supplies for their classrooms. They work long hours and get paid not nearly enough.
The cuts in income taxes set to go into effect in January create a lopsided tax burden on working families and property owners to fund Kansas schools.
Quality public education is a Kansas value! We must not allow Gov. Brownback’s dangerous legislative agenda to sacrifice the greatest resource we have: our children’s education. We must immediately restore our commitment to Kansas schools and Kansas kids by following through on the decision handed down by the Kansas Supreme Court to provide adequate funding to our schools.
Tom Phillips and I tend to publically agree on the need to restore funding to our schools.
On the other hand I do not know that his path to funding would not rely heavily on property taxes, as Gov. Brownback’s agenda does.
Our property taxes are already nearly the highest in the country and my plan would be through balanced funding where property tax rates decline and income tax rate exemptions on millionaires are eliminated to restore shortfalls in revenue.
4. Characterize yourself in terms of economic development issues and tell me how that approach will inform your votes on economic development matters. How do you feel you differ from your opponent in that regard?
Phillips: Kansas needs a growing economy in order to support population growth, compete with other states for capital investment, and create an enlarging tax base.
My professional experience in community development, service on the City Commission and Mayor, demonstrates my core principles and approach toward economic development.
Private businesses look for locations where a business-friendly environment exists; they are looking for collaborative relationships between government, universities, business and civic leaders. Economic development also needs an infrastructure capable of supporting industry specific needs. This varies but typically includes transportation (road, rail, and air), high-speed Internet, water and wastewater utilities, and reliable electric/natural gas power sources.
Another factor of economic development is an adequate and well-trained labor supply.
All of these factors illustrate the need for the state to be willing to invest in education, transportation, infrastructure, job training, business retention and recruitment.
NABF is priority one for Manhattan and the State of Kansas. The local benefits are self-evident, but the state will also benefit due to the efforts to enhance the bio-science corridor from Manhattan to Kansas City and attract new businesses. I believe in the power of free-enterprise and the capacity of the individual entrepreneur to grow the economy. My public service as mayor, city commissioner, Manhattan Urban Area Planning Board member, and professional consulting practice demonstrate my knowledge, capabilities, and experience in collaborative strategies for successful economic development.
Estabrook: I know that you cannot be for business without being for education. Education attracts business not taxes.
An educated, trained workforce is vital to a state’s success according to Forbes Magazine it is the common theme among the states it ranked highest for locating a business.
General Eisenhower recognized the advantage of main supply routes in war and transformed that thinking into the world’s greatest highway system to transport goods. Economic development is closely married to ease of access.
I will vote to support full funding to our state highway fund and increase funding for transportation projects that spur economic development.
NBAF is also an economic driver for the Manhattan and Kansas economies. The sooner we can get the facility open the sooner we will see the full potential of K-State and private sector job growth!
I differ with my opponent in that I will always seek out legislation that is best for the economic development of Kansas.
Tom Phillips repeatedly voted along partisan lines against much needed property tax relief and he voted for pulling $50 million from funding for roads and highways only to hide behind similar legislation introduced by republicans.
I do not place party first when it comes to our economy and jobs, Tom Phillips has.