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Candidates spar at political forum

10/16/2012

By RANDY GONZALES

rgonzales@dailynews.net

Sue Boldra is all for the tax cuts pushed by Gov. Sam Brownback.

Eber Phelps ... not so much.

Boldra, the Republican challenger, and Phelps, the Democratic incumbent for the 111th District in the Kansas House, squared off in Monday night's political forum at Memorial Union on the Fort Hays State University campus.

Brownback wants to reduce the state sales tax from 6.3 percent to 5.7 percent in July. Last week, Brownback said the sales tax could remain at the same rate rather than let it drop, depending on the budget. He already has signed into law state income tax cuts.

"I'm in favor of them," Boldra said of the tax cuts. "I think it was much more draconian than even the governor suggested. When he got that last budget, he even sent it back and said, 'I'm not going to sign it.' He gave (the Legislature) a week. 'You come to me with something kinder.' They said, nope, that's what we're sending you.

"So, I'm not sure this all can be placed on the administration. I think the Senate and House had a little to do with this," she added. "I do think as people pay more taxes it certainly isn't going to grow businesses that help support the economy. We expect entrepreneurs to come in, and we expect our businesses to grow."

Phelps harkened back to the three-legged stool concept for taxation, first mentioned in 1995. Taxes should come from income, property and sales.

"The idea is the three-legged stool needs to be equal," Phelps said.

Of the three, property taxes might be a little high, Phelps said. He said 41 states have lower property taxes than Kansas.

"The income tax, I don't think was the best way to go, because as everybody asks me, how do they pay for it?" Phelps said. "I'm telling you, your local units of government are going to be the ones who have to make up that shortfall by raising mill levies on the local level, whether it be city, county or your local school districts -- and that's to raise property taxes when some people who don't need a tax break are going to get it through the income tax elimination."

In the race for the 110th district in the House between Republican Travis Couture-Lovelady and Democrat Phil Martin, they gave their views on funding for K-12 education.

"There's been a lot of misconception out there about K-12 funding," Couture-Lovelady said. "You have to look at two different parts: There is base state and there's overall school funding.

"Where base state aid has remained the same or been cut recently, overall school spending in the past five years is up 45 percent," he added. "We have a real spending problem, how money is doled out in different ways."

Martin fears what will happen to funding if there is a budget shortfall.

"I am concerned about base state funding, and who will be taken care of," he said. "I think what's going to happen is unless the state income tax reforms are rolled back and the state sales tax reinstated, that we're going to be in a budget shortfall in many areas."

Funding for education also was a topic in the race for the 40th District in the Senate. Republican incumbent Ralph Ostmeyer is running against Democrat Allen Schmidt, who was the incumbent in the 36th district, but now faces Ostmeyer due to redistricting.

"We can't just talk about dollars, we have to talk about the effectiveness of the education, and how it turns back into our own economy," Schmidt said. "Over the last several years, there have been some cuts. Last year, we put $40 million back into K-12 education, and I'm proud to say I was part of it."

Ostmeyer said not enough money is being put to good use.

"We are putting plenty of money into education, we're not getting it to the classroom," Ostmeyer said. "We can't be a state that's constantly building new buildings.

"I sit out in rural America, I go out to Grinnell High School that's got 1930s written on the building. They fix it over, fix the windows, tickled to death with that building. They want money for their teachers; they want to keep their school."

Democrat Dean Haselhorst is up for election for Ellis County commissioner for the Third District. He is opposed by Republican challenger Ron Adams. They each gave a glimpse of what their first priorities would be in office.

"First order of business I'd do is a project we're currently working on right now, is roads and bridges in our county," Haselhorst said. "That's something I want to keep building up a fund for future projects in the county.

"In the past, there's never been a rainy day fund put back aside. That's one of my goals."

Adams focused on what he believed is a lack of communication among county employees.

"First thing I would want to do, the county right now, they have a problem with communication," Adams said.

Both candidates agreed on the need for improvements in the jail, EMS and rural fire.

In the race for Ellis County commissioner in the Second District, former commissioner Dennis Pfannenstiel, a Democrat, is facing current Hays city commissioner Barb Wasinger, a Republican. They were asked about plans to improve the economy in Ellis County.

"I think as far as improving the economy, I think we missed a big chance back in 2003 when we were approached by some people to put a wind farm in Ellis County," said Pfannenstiel, who was in favor of the wind farm. "Since then, we've lost millions of dollars through not having wind generation. I think that's the greatest asset we could have had. We just missed the boat."

Wasinger focused on roads and bridges.

"I think the best thing we can do for the business of Ellis County is maintain our roads and bridges," Wasinger said. "In doing that, we fill up this rainy day fund.

"We need to make sure we plan ahead for these roads, so businesses can come in and thrive and survive in Ellis County."

Before the forum started, the moderator, FHSU associate professor of political science Chapman Rackaway, announced he had contributed money to the campaign of Couture-Lovelady, a former student of his. At the time of the donation, Couture-Lovelady was running unopposed, Rackaway said.