Kansas legislators talk a lot about the cooperation between Democrats and Republicans during the 2018 legislative session.
Legislators the past two years 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. Phelps’ answers are below. Wasinger’s answers published Wednesday.
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 was born in Hays, and have been a resident for 67 years, my entire life. Currently I reside at 3103 Olympic Lane with my wife, Joni. I retired from Glassman Corp., Hays, after 21 years.
I graduated from St. Joseph’s Military Academy, Hays, and Fort Hays State University, with a B.A. degree in general education. My father was Ellis County Sheriff in the 1950s, and my mother served on the election board for many years.
My qualifications for the Legislature include: 18 years as State Representative to the 111th District; 10 years on the Hays City Commission; six years on Ellis County Extension Board; 24 years on the Ellis County Coalition for Economic Development; and 22 years on the Washington Elementary Site Council.
I’ve never missed a day or a final action vote through 18 sessions. In the Legislature, I’ve served on the Appropriations Committee, the Higher Education Budget Committee, the Local Government Committee, the Healthcare Stabilization Committee, and the Governor’s Education Council.
Would you fix the privately managed KanCare program, and, if so, how?
I would definitely favor an overhaul of our KanCare system. I’d start by opting out of the private management and put it back under state control, where the focus would be on taking care of our citizens and not on profits.
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?
I’m on record for voting in support of Medicaid expansion. At this time, Kansas has turned down $2.9 billion in federal funds, which would have provided health coverage for 150,000 Kansans and been a tremendous economic boost for many rural hospitals as well as Hays Medical Center.
At this time there are many shortcomings of KanCare that need to be addressed. At a meeting with several area hospital administrators, including Hays Medical Center, a common problem was the delays in reimbursement, which puts a strain on the smaller hospitals creating cash-flow issues. The extreme amount of paperwork was noted by several administrators. A system with more local control would provide a more streamlined system.
Should immigrants working in Kansas be allowed citizenship. What process do you advocate to either aid or prevent that?
There are varying circumstances when it comes to the immigrant labor force in Kansas, with some being here on work permits and other types of permits. With the declining overall population in Western Kansas, immigrant labor is vital to the economy. I support a policy that would allow an individual with a work permit to pursue citizenship through a more streamlined path. It currently can take up to 10 years. I’ve not been in touch with the immigration authorities to have knowledge of why it takes that long, but can’t help but think there are some efficiencies, which could be improved.
Do you favor replenishing KDOT for money diverted during the Brownback administration, and ensuring KPERS is fully funded? If so,how?
I’ve voted for two comprehensive transportation programs over the years and have recognized the benefits of actually implementing the program instead of sweeping dollars from other projects. Enhancement projects, as well as maintenance, provide an economic boost to the communities near a project. This is realized in jobs and increased business for local entities. I would also add that in many areas the need for road projects is necessary to address safety issues, such as a lack of a road shoulder or pull-off area.
Do you support a reduction or removal of the state sales tax on food? Please explain why or why not.
The elimination of the sales tax on food has been a long-standing issue that needs to be addressed. I have introduced, as well as supported, the removal of the tax on food. Kansas currently has one of the highest tax rates on food. The elimination or reduction would benefit everyone in our state as opposed to a few. Last session some legislators wanted to refund some of the revenues after the Brownback tax plan, which would’ve put our state in another budget crisis. The majority wanted to move forward cautiously and focus on the food tax repeal. I’m hopeful the 2019 Legislature will focus on this tax.