Tuesday was another busy day in the Ellis County Clerk’s Office at 718 Main St. as people stopped by for early voting in advance of the Nov. 6 general election.
Short lines formed early in the morning Tuesday, just as they did on Monday, said Ellis County Clerk Donna Maskus.
“Today we had 109 qualified voters come and vote,” Maskus said with one hour left to go at 3 p.m. “That is outstanding in one day … People are just taking an interest.”
There’s a lot at stake, says Henry Schwaller IV, chair of the Ellis County Democratic Party. That is particularly true in the governor’s race, he indicated.
Ellis County was hurt by former Republican Gov. Sam Brownback’s budget policies, said Schwaller, who predicts both Democrats and Republicans will vote for Democrat Laura Kelly for governor.
“People vote based on the things that effect them, regardless of party,” said Schwaller. “Ellis County was hurt by the Brownback tax cuts. From K through 12, to higher education, to Medicaid, to transportation, those areas were hurt here.”
Kelly represents the opposite of the Brownback tax plan, which her Republican opponent has said he’d like to bring back.
“In the Kansas budget, there are no frills,” Schwaller said. “We operate a very lean state government. Laura Kelly is a moderate. She supports austere but adequate funding for state government.”
Kelly will be in Hays Friday at the Hays VFW Post 9076, 2106 Vine St., to campaign. The rally is free and open to the public, with beverages and appetizers. Sponsored by the Ellis County Democratic Party, it starts at 5:30 p.m.
Eight years of Brownback were devastating for Kansas, said Schwaller, echoing a sentiment expressed throughout the state by both Republicans and Democrats.
“Local government tried to pick up some of the slack,” he said, because Brownback took away funds intended for local governments for education and roads. Instead, that money went to the state budget to offset Brownback’s tax cuts, which largely benefited the wealthy.
“As a result of the cuts, county and city mill levies went up,” said Schwaller, who is also vice mayor of the Hays City Commission.
For example, a portion of the fuel tax that Ellis County residents pay at the pump would normally be returned to the city and county to help with improvements on roads connecting to state highways and Interstate 70. Instead, under Brownback, the city of Hays had to foot the bill alone for improvements to Vine, 41st and 8th streets, Schwaller said.
“All that funding was removed under Brownback to fund the general operations of the state,” he said. “We started seeing the cuts in 2014, and then that accelerated in 2015. So there were no matching funds from the state.”
In fact, state aid to local governments was down 14 percent compared to 2009 in 2017, according to the “Aid to Locals Report” from the nonprofit nonpartisan Kansas Center for Economic Growth, Topeka.
Cuts in state aid were more than 4.5 times the increases in property taxes, said John Wilson, vice president for advocacy with Kansas Action for Children, which launched the center.
“So increases locally weren’t enough to make up for the Brownback cuts,” Wilson said. “So even with property tax increases, local services were still underfunded.”
The center’s report also found that for 2017, investments in K-12 education, libraries, public safety and local health were all below pre-2012 tax plan levels, the year Brownback signed his tax plan.
Legislators have taken steps to improve the situation since Brownback left office in January, but Kelly’s opponent Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, wants to restore the Brownback tax plan.
“Kansas is known traditionally for a good business climate, great schools and a great place to live,” Schwaller said, noting Kelly appreciates that as a Kansas senator representing the 18th District, and understands the state’s economy and budget.
Friday’s stop in Hays is Kelly’s third campaign trip here, and each time, Schwaller said, she’s drawn large crowds, even though the majority of Ellis County voters are registered Republicans.
“We’ve just been through one of the most difficult eight years in Kansas history, the failed experiment of Sam Brownback,” Schwaller said. “(Kelly) appeals to a wider group of people. In the voting booth, people vote for common sense issues, they vote for the candidate.”