Kansas legislators talk a lot about the cooperation between Democrats and Republicans during the 2018 legislative session.
Legislators worked together to fix the Kansas budget crisis from eight years of Republican Gov. Sam Brownback’s tax experiment.
Two candidates from Hays are competing this general election for the open seat in the Legislature’s House of Representatives 111th District.
The district includes Hays, Victoria, Munjor and rural areas of Ellis County.
Republican candidate Barb Wasinger, currently an Ellis County Commissioner, has said she wants the job “to make Kansas a place for her children and future generations to live, work, thrive and be proud of.”
Her opponent, Democrat incumbent Eber Phelps, has said he wants to return to Topeka in 2019 to finish fixing the state’s crisis. Phelps has described working alongside his party and the Republican party as “very rewarding work.”
Wasinger’s campaign has emphasized Phelps’ 18 years in the Legislature, calling for a change.
At a candidate forum earlier this month, however, Wasinger said Phelps’ years of experience explained the difference between her brief answers and Phelps’ in-depth answers.
Among the pressing issues next session, legislators face the fallout from Brownback’s tax plan, which cut both services and revenues, then patched the severe shortfall by taking highway and state pension money.
That, in turn, cut local funding and drove up property taxes, according to studies by the nonpartisan Kansas Center for Economic Growth, Topeka.
One key issue now is expanding Medicaid, which Phelps and the Legislature voted for but which Brownback vetoed and which Republican gubernatorial candidate Kris Kobach also rejects. Medicaid serves 425,000 people in Kansas, but another 150,000 would be included with expansion.
Rejecting Medicaid expansion has cost Kansas an estimated $2.9 billion in federal money to reimburse rural hospitals and health care providers serving poor people.
Legislators from both parties also plan to tackle the acknowledged KanCare calamity. KanCare is Brownback’s program that has tried unsuccessfully to use private companies to administer Medicaid.
For their views of these issues, Wasinger and Phelps answered questions from The Hays Daily News via email. Wasinger’s answers are below. Phelps’ answers will publish Thursday.
Tell us about your background, where you live, your family, where you’ve worked and what qualifies you as a good candidate for commissioner.
I have been a resident of Hays for 36 years and currently serve as the 2nd District Ellis County Commissioner and am the first woman to serve as commissioner in the history of Ellis County. I am in the second four-year term as county commissioner and am the rural county representative for the Kansas Association of Counties Board. As commissioner I serve on the Northwest Community Corrections Board and Juvenile Corrections Board and served on the Ellis County Economic Development Board. I previously served eight years as a Hays City Commissioner from April 2005 to December 2012.
I am married to Tom Wasinger and we have four children and one grandchild: Matt (wife Victoria), Drew, Anne Marie Hager (husband Garrett and son Gentry) and Mark. We own Ellis County Abstract & Title L.L.C. and W.T.C. Enterprises L.C. in Hays. I am an active member of St. Joseph Church and currently serve as a member of the Kansas University Midwest Cancer Alliance.
I am a graduate of St. Catherine University, St. Paul, Minn., and hold a Bachelor of Arts degree with a concentration in journalism and theology. I am an alumna of Leadership Hays and of Leadership Kansas Class of 2012 and served as a founding board member of the Hays Community Theater Inc. I have the honor of being chosen as a member of the 2019 class of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Excellence in Public Service Series.
Would you fix the privately managed KanCare program, and, if so, how?
It is clear that KanCare needs to be fixed — backlogs in the system are hurting rural hospitals and patients all over the state. With federal officials requiring at 97 percent response and Kansas nowhere near that percentage it is clear the first place to correct is the KanCare backlog and the people handling it.
Many rural hospitals are in danger of closing. Would you vote to expand Medicaid to increase revenue to Kansas hospitals and to offer insurance coverage to many Kansans who are currently without? If you don’t favor Medicaid expansion, what do you suggest for Kansans who can’t afford quality healthcare?
KanCare needs to be repaired before we can begin. The current cost to expand Medicaid is estimated to be $56 million with a small estimate of adding 150,000. If we expand Medicaid there needs to be a work requirement included. That number assumes the Federal government will continue to reimburse states at 90 percent — which seems doubtful to me. Patient needs must come first and Kansans need to have a choice of doctors and healthcare insurance.
Should immigrants working in Kansas be allowed citizenship. What process do you advocate to either aid or prevent that?
I support legal immigration and work visas for immigrants.
Do you favor replenishing KDOT for money diverted during the Brownback administration, and ensuring KPERS is fully funded? If so,how?
I want KDOT funds and KPERS funds repaid. Kansas made a promise to its workers and infrastructure is crucial to economic development, particularly here in Ellis County, as well as the safety of our citizens. This is clearly not something that can be done overnight but the process must be started.
Do you support a reduction or removal of the state sales tax on food? Please explain why or why not.
Clearly our state sales tax on food is very high. Lowering it to 4 percent would be a revenue reduction of $128 million and twice that at 2 percent. Decisions have to be made on where the cuts in government would come from in order to make up that figure. With school funding rising, the need to repay the money taken from KDOT fund and KPERS and trouble finding those funds it would be hard to tackle sales tax reduction at the same time. Cutting taxes means cutting expenses and growing the economy — those need to be identified before any type of tax reductions are made.