Seward County Clerk Stacia Long, right, talks to State Senator Garrett Love Friday during the “Night of Politics” at the Rock Island Depot while Seward County Commissioner Ada linen broker listens. A capacity crowd turned out to listen to Senator Love, representatives Brian Weber and Ron Ryckman and Secretary of State Kris Kobach at the event sponsored by the Liberal Chamber of Commerce and the Leader & Times. L&T photo/Earl Watt
By EARL WATT
• Daily Leader
During Friday evening’s “Night of Politics” at the Rock Island Depot sponsored by the Liberal Chamber of Commerce and the Leader & Times, a difference of opinion emerged between one member of the capacity crowd and the elected officials.
It came when State Senator Garrett Love referred to Kansas as a conservative state.
Liberal’s Jack Cooley disagreed.
“Kansas is not a conservative state, it is a progressive state,” he said.
The political definition of progressivism favors change through reform and governmental action, and it is often seen in opposition to conservatism which favors the private sector over governmental intervention.
Some progressive presidents have been Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson.
While Love still disagreed with Cooley’s characterization of the entire state, he made a concession when it came to the voting record of the Legislature in recent years.
“(Progressivism) is not the truth with the make-up of the state,” Love replied. “But with what was being passed, it was true.”
Love said that he had researched the type of government involvement in the Kansas Legislature, and that the lawmakers there were enacting progressive legislation — more government involvement and reforms.
However, a conservative wave swept across Kansas in the 2010 election. More conservative candidates were elected to the House, and conservative candidates swept the statewide offices as well.
During the time period that Love said progressives were in control of the Kansas Legislature since 2000, spending was increasing by 9 to 11 percent per year.
“They did it because we had the money,” Love said. “We had the revenue, so we couldn’t say no. If we would have held our expense increases to 6 percent per year, instead of facing a $550 million shortfall, we would have a $330 million surplus. We’ve had irresponsible government that will require us to have creative solutions and make tough decisions to move forward.”
Love pointed out the total debt of Kansas in 1994 was less than the interest on the debt Kansas is paying today.
“We have $5 billion in debt,” he said. “We’re paying $60 million in interest per year.”
According to Love, the retirement plan for Kansas’ commonly known as KPERs is an $8 billion expense to the state.
“We just kept giving and giving,” Love told the capacity crowd. “That’s what gets you $600 million in the hole.”
Love also pointed out that Kansas is one of the 10 highest taxed states in the nation and that unofficial number from United Van Lines indicated that there are three times as many vans leaving the state compared to those that are moving in.
And while Kansas has replaced private sector job loss with public sector job growth, Love said that it is a pattern for disaster.
“A public sector cannot be sustained with a declining private sector,” he said. “We are saying no to companies and jobs that follow them, and we can’t do that.”
Love said that the 10 states that tax the least are the 10 states that are in the best financial shape, while the 10 highest taxed states have shortfalls.
“While you are redefining government, don’t put us all in a box,” Cooley said. “We are intelligent. Give us the story. We can make up our own minds. Don’t put us in a box.”
State Representative Brian Weber said it was important to be careful what progressive means.
“Progressive or town building, they can mean different things,” Weber said. “We have to be careful. One thing is sure. The 10 states with the lowest taxes are doing the best.”
Lawmakers respond to education issues, funding
With two out of every three tax dollars being spent on education in Kansas, finding ways to fill a $550 million shortfall likely would include educational cutbacks.
Governor Sam Brownback has recommended a more than $200 per pupil reduction in state aid, and the topic of educational funding took center stage during Friday’s “Night of Politics” sponsored by the Liberal Chamber of Commerce and the Leader & Times.
The superintendent from Montezuma and Copeland, Jay Zehr, made the trip to Liberal to share his concerns about education cutbacks.
“It’s desperate,” Zehr said.
He mentioned that he had to fire his own wife — twice, as well as other staff.
He has also assumed the duties of principal in Copeland. Zehr said his district has cut janitorial services and stopped hiring, and yet more cuts continue to come. According to Zehr, he has run out of positions to cut.
“It seems like it is more important to give tax credits than to educate kids,” he said.
State representatives Brian Weber and Ron Ryckman along with State Senator Garrett Love sympathized with the cutbacks and said the entire state exemption structure was being reviewed.
“Education is dear to my heart,” Ryckman, a retired educator, said before he tried to lighten the mood when he scoffed, “You fired your wife. I don’t know if you are brave or an idiot.”
Ryckman said that he was committed to helping schools in Southwest Kansas, but the state was in trouble.
“We don’t want to end up like some of these other states,” he said.
Another citizen in the capacity crowd asked how much of a burden federal mandates placed on the education system.
The Montezuma superintendent answered by saying that the Title I program comes with a cost of $70,000 to $80,000 per year for his district, but only receives $30,000 in funding.
Ryckman, who taught and served as an administrator and served on the school board in Meade, had a solution.
“The best thing we can do is close the Department of Education in Washington, D.C.,” he said.
Love said there had to be a return to where teaching really occurs — in the classroom.
“We have to teach at a desk,” he said. “It can’t be just testing.”