Plenty different between District 74 candidates

Kansas House District 74 residents will have a clear choice between Republican candidates during the Aug. 7 primaries. And without a democratic contender, the Republican candidate nominated in August will be the representative for the district through 2020.

Current Representative Don Schroeder is running against political newcomer Stephen Owens. Both men are residents of Hesston.

Owens said he became interested in running for office after examining the current state of Kansas.

“Over the last years, I’ve seen ups and downs and sideways. I’ve had great concern about the amount of taxes imposed on people of the state and district,” he said.

Owens added he “firmly believes tax increases are not necessary.”

“As a Republican I will do everything in my power to oppose tax increases,” he said. “I believe the state has to be more efficient. I’m black and white. I want you to choose who will best represent you.”

Schroeder, who has been a member of the House since 2012, addressed the tax increases passed in 2018.

“In 2012 there was a really big tax cut that took place, and it was almost 20 percent cut in revenue to the state of Kansas, and I didn’t vote for it,” he said. “To jump off the cliff didn’t work.

“The sales tax increase that was passed, I did not vote for. I don’t care for sales tax; they are much more difficult for low-income people, and that was in 2014-15.

“The main point I’d like to make, even with those increases, the overall burden is lower than it was prior to 2012.”

Schroeder did support the recent property tax increase.

On school finance:

Owens said he did not “believe it is the court’s responsibility to dictate funding.”

Owens said the legislature is responsible for allocating school funding and if residents are unhappy with a legislator’s actions, the individual could be voted out of office. Owens said he would also support a Kansas Constitutional Amendment that would prohibit the schools from suing the state for additional funding.

“The school-funding battle has been going on since the mid-’80s. In my mind, enough is enough. We shouldn’t be allowing your dollars to sue us for more dollars,” he said.

Schroeder first addressed the issue of forced consolidations, saying he was adamantly opposed to forced mergers, particularly among widely spaced rural schools.

When it came to funding, Schroeder said “many states” were struggling with adequate school financing.

“I think we need to have an adequate funding level and the court looked at it and what we have done,” said Schroeder.

Schroeder said the courts appear to be satisfied with the funding itself, but wanted to see adjustments for inflation included in the funding formulas.

“As far as a constitutional amendment is concerned, I would need to see the language before I do something like that.

“What does that do to the separation and balance of powers within the state?” said Schroeder. “Does it give more power than it should? It creates a lot of constitutional questions.”

On the repeal of the Brownback tax cuts

Candidates were asked if they were supportive of the way the 2018 legislators resolved the problems caused by the Gov. Brownback tax program.

Schroeder said he did not support the 2014-15 tax increase. However in 2017, the income tax increase that was passed was supported by Schroeder.

“Our backs were against the wall,” he said. “We had to do something. I don’t like voting for taxes, but you have to do what you have to do.”

Owens said he would not have supported any tax increases and was also opposed to the topping out of the progressive tax brackets at $60,000.

Owens added with monies above projections coming in, “it’s paramount you get as much money in your pocket as possible because it’s your money.”

On Medicaid

Candidates were asked if they would support the expansion of Medicaid.

Schroeder said he had been in favor of expanding Medicaid to Kansans. He added, however, it would not have cost the state $1 billion to expand the program.

“As the state was planning to expand, and with the provisions put into the estimate, it would be net-neutral or nearly net-neutral and would not cost the state additional funding,” he said.

Schroeder said one of the most common misconceptions is Medicaid forces “hardworking people to pay for welfare for other people.”

Schroeder said, “If Medicaid is expanded, around 80 percent of people that fall into that category do work. They have low-paying jobs that don’t have benefits. But they do have jobs, and they do work.

“When Obamacare passed, what the Fed did, they took 4 percent of Medicaid reimbursements to hospitals and providers to help pay for that. Think about what that does to rural hospitals.”

He continued that one mid-size hospital had already closed due in part to reimbursement rates being too low to be sustainable.

“There are some implications and consequences,” he said. “It takes a lot of thought and consideration and research and my concerns are the rural areas.”

Owens said he was wholly opposed to the Medicaid expansion.

“I have yet to find a state that is net-neutral,” he said. “Every state has blown through its budget. When Obamacare came in, the state’s responsibly was 10 percent and the Fed’s pay 90 percent and the government is trillions in the hole. We’re not getting our money back; we’re spending our kids’ money.”

Owens, who said he has spent time in the hospital with his own children, said: “That’s not a burden I feel should be placed on the people in the room. For the majority of the 180,000 able-bodied people individuals put on the program, we have to pay. “It becomes a program people depend on and when you have to depend on it, it doesn’t go away.”

Owens added the federal government could change the state’s payment responsibilities

“You think there’s a legislature that will take away healthcare?” he said.

On District 74’s road system: 

Owens said, “Kansas has the third-best road system in the nation.”

He acknowledged there “as been some borrowing or stealing from KDOT funds.” However, he asked to keep in mind the Kansas Turnpike tolls were due to expire once the project was paid for.

He said the tollway “becomes a revenue-generator I’m sure contributed to how great our roads are.

“However, if excess money is there, we can audit and see the needs and have an independent review. Why not take it back to the general fund so we’re not taking it out of your pockets?” said Owens.

Schroeder agreed that Kansas roads were quite good.

However, he said “a lot of funding” has been taken out of KDOT.

“The funding that has been swept out of KDOT can only be the sales tax revenues,” he said. “That can’t be fuel tax or federal funding. It’s only the sales tax portion that has come out of there,”

Schroeder said KDOT was allowed to keep additional funding this year for road maintenance programs.

Schroeder added in the road grading report card issued by the state, none of the roads in Kansas received the highest marks.

“They are deteriorating, and unless something is done in three to five years, we will see a significant decline,” he said.

Schroeder explained the turnpike authority has “seen fit to say they are never able to pay off all the bonds. They do improvements or fix bridges and continue to charge tolls.”

Schroeder added because the turnpike is a separate entity, turnpike funds cannot be diverted into KDOT coffers.

What state agency was most important to them

Schroeder said, “Obviously the Department of Agriculture is dear to my heart.”

As the chair of the Agricultural Budget Committee, Schroeder said the Department of Agriculture, “runs as well as any department in the whole state.”

As for a department that caused concern, Schroeder said KanCare is in need of attention.

“The most troublesome is the KanCare that has been privatized,” said Schroeder. “The problem wit that, they have saved the state some money, not a huge amount of money, but those organizations also want to make a profit.

“So the amount used for care has been less than it has been. The want to make a profit. They may deny claims. That is the most problematic and what I get the most calls about —getting through the red tape. I wish we could clean that up.”

Owens had a much different response.

“I can’t say a single agency is near and dear because I think government is too big. We as taxpayers have spent too much making it what it is,” he said. “I’m not attached to any one of them.

“The schools get 50 to 60 percent of funds, and thats important to make sure that’ funding. I think we have a duty and responsibility to run them all efficiently. As long as they are run efficiently and we are doing our part to keep as many dollars in your pocket as possible.”

Story by the Hesston Record Staff in cooperation with the Free Press