They did agreed on one thing.
In opening statements for the two candidates running in District 70 for the Kansas House of Representatives, each ended by saying “let’s get to the questions.”
But when it came to school funding, expanding Medicaid and state finances, Republican incumbent John Barker and Democratic challenger Jo Schwartz strongly disagreed.
Tim Wilkins, social studies teacher at Abilene High School and moderator of the candidates forum sponsored by the Abilene Area Chamber of Commerce at the Visitor’s Center of the Eisenhower Presidential Library, asked questions on three topics Tuesday evening.
Jo Schwartz opened by saying she was a wife, mother, grandmother, friend and neighbor who cares.
“I care that our children receive the best possible education because their future jobs depend on it. I care that every Kansan has access to quality and affordable health care. I listened when those people tell me what they want in care and I listened to the hospitals both large and small when they say that not extending Medicaid has cost them,” she said.
“I don’t know about you, but I would just like to get on with the questions,” she said.
Barker said he has been the representative for six years and is running for a fourth term.
“It’s been very good for the last six years. I’m part of the management of the leadership team. I have served as chairman of the judiciary and presently serve as the chairman of Fed & State (Federal and State Affairs),” he said.
He said he served over 10 years in the U.S. Army.
“I served with the county attorney’s office for a number of years and with the sheriff’s department,” he said. He became a judge in 1987 until 2012.
“I’m glad the chamber invited us all down. Let’s get to the questions,” he said.
Kansas has been in litigation on school finance for 35 years, Barker said, “over one word, suitable.”
This last session the Legislature voted to put $522 million into education, he said.
“The (Kansas) Supreme Court agreed that you’ve met the essence, however, you need to address the inflationary factor,” he said.
He said the lawsuit was first filed in 2010.
“If you look at page 2 of the Supreme Court’s decision, it’s based upon the cuts in funding for schools in 2008 and 2009,” he said. “That’s when (Kathleen) Sebelius and (Mark) Parkinson were governors.”
He said Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback wasn’t elected until 2010.
Barker said he has friends that are on the Kansas Supreme Court.
“You have never heard me call out members of the Supreme Court. I differ with their opinions but they are good people,” he said.
“I would not spend another nickel on a cost study,” Schwartz said. “I think we, the taxpayers, have paid enough over the last several years of people trying to do study after study.”
Kansas hired Lori Taylor, a Texas A&M University professor, to research school funding.
“Everything was put on hold while they waited for her results. Imagine their surprise when that report came back. Not only were schools overwhelmingly underfunded but they were almost 96 percent efficient. I think that is a pretty high number.
“My opponent has a voting record for education that is only 12 percent,” she said.
She said the base state aid per student is $250 less than in 2008.
“We also need to put more funds into the younger kids,” Schwartz. “It is a known fact that prekindergarten kids need that extra help.”
Barker said the Legislature approved all-day kindergarten.
“We’re spending about $13,000 on every student to include children in kindergarten,” he said.
On Feb. 23, 2017, H.B.2044 passed the Kansas House of Representatives, 81-44. A month later, the bill passed the Senate, 25-13. But then-Governor Sam Brownback remained steadfast in his opposition to Medicaid expansion, and on March 30, he vetoed it. A move to override the veto failed.
“We have done a disservice to the people of Kansas by not having expanded already,” Schwartz said. “We have been paying our taxes to the Federal government and we have over $2 billion that have been left laying on the table.”
She said she heard the testimony before the legislature on the bill to expand Medicaid, called KanCare in Kansas.
“Sharing personal stories. Doctors got up in front and said why they wanted to expand. Hospitals got up and said why they wanted to expand. I was so excited to be part of that because the entire capitol was filled with people, like yourselves, who came to say we need to expand Medicaid,” she said.
She said she asked Barker after the hearing how he was going to vote.
“He said, I don’t know. I need to confer with some people,” Schwartz said of Barker’s remark. “We don’t need people like that in Topeka. We need people that will listen to you and then vote that way.”
Barker voted against the bill.
She referred to the closing of Mercy Hospital in Fort Scott.
“That makes me think, what do we do here in Abilene if our hospital should close?” she said. “That is going to hurt our businesses, our schools. I think it is also important that we send someone who will fight for people with preexisting conditions. That is our big scare that some insurance is going to come along and take that away from us.”
Barker said expanding Medicaid would cover a group of folks that have never been covered before and projected at 150,000.
“They are able-bodied. They are capable of working and are not working. They would get free insurance. Not only would they get free insurance, they would get the Cadillac plan because they don’t have any copays. It’s just giving individuals, 26-year-olds that are sitting on their mom’s couch not doing anything, free insurance,” he said. “Well, they have an option. They can go to work somewhere, work 30 hours a week and apply for a grant under the ACA (Affordable Care Act) and get hospitalization.”
Barker said there are physically disabled people and mentally disabled people and they have a waiting list.
“These folks under Medicaid expansion would go to the front of the line,” he said.
He said every state that has projected the expense of Medicaid expansion missed the mark.
“In Colorado it was 320 percent over what was projected,” he said. “If we are talking about $50 million a year, or $10 million, for Medicaid expansion then quadruple that. It could be four times that. Most states that have expanded it have had problems with their budget. Iowa’s was $3.4 billion in the red.
He said there are other options.
State’s fiscal health
“The last two years the economy has been booming,” Barker said. “The farm economy is not doing as well. I know. I am a farmer. My wheat this year just didn’t make it. I am hoping my beans will. With this water, I’m not sure. It may be January before I can get into the field and harvest.”
Barker said Kansas has the highest sales tax and income tax of surrounding states.
“As of September we had an $80 million surplus in our revenues,” he said. “One of the things I have been trying to cut is food tax. Food tax will affect everybody.”
He said he supports increase funding for the Kansas Bureau of Investigation and other law enforcement and firefighters.
“I have always tried to work with the first responders, the folks that are going to come to your house and hopefully get you restarted if your heart stops,” he said.
He pointed to additional funding for the Kansas Highway Patrol troopers which increased numbers.
He said Kansas ranks 50th in the nation in judges’ salaries which he would like to see increased.
Schwartz said she would continue to reverse the damage caused by the exemption of corporation income tax implemented by then Gov. Brownback.
“Of which my opponent was a strong supporter. In fact, in the last three votes to try to overturn that experiment, he was absent for two of them and voted ‘no’ on the third one,” she said. “Locally we can, for example, support our greyhound farmers and not some billionaire. I believe we need to start putting money back into the programs we cut.
“I have talked to local people about the highway funds that were cut. They said, ‘I had 30 jobs lined up. With those cuts I only have two. How am I supposed to feed my family and pay the rent?’”Schwartz said.
She said she attended a summit on agriculture, asking Barker, “Did you ever go to those?”
“This is where businesses, farmers and ranchers came together, anyone who had an interest in growing Kansas,” she said.
She said Kansas can better utilize its land.
“I get tired of seeing those plastic bags hanging on fences, that are caught up in the trees. They do not biodegrade. But we can be planting industrial hemp and one of the byproducts of that is a biodegradable bag. Wouldn’t it be great if we led in our new businesses something as awesome as the grocery bags?” she said.
Barker said he voted for the hemp bill last year.
“She goes to agriculture conferences. I’m endorsed by Farm Bureau and the Kansas Livestock Association and the Feed and Ranch. And why is that? It’s because I know agriculture. I visit with them all the time. I go to the co-ops. I know agriculture and that is why I get endorsed by those associations, because I know agriculture.”
Contact Tim Horan at email@example.com.