Moderator: Welcome to our chat this afternoon with State Sen. Mark Buhler, a Republican who is running for Kansas Senate, 2nd District on Nov. 2. The senator is here in our News Center offices and we'll start out with some questions that have already come in. You can submit questions throughout today's chat.
Senate Mark Buhler: Thank you for having me.
Nicco, Lawrence: In yesterday's online chat, Marci Francisco said that she would be a stronger and more active voice in the Senate over you because you were just a "moderate voice." How do you respond to that? Do you feel that you have been a good representative of our district? Explain.
Senate Mark Buhler: If anybody knows me, I believe they know that I am a strong and active voice for good ideas and for the area I represent, as well as for the state of Kansas.
The entire process in the legislature will be determined by the majority party. No one believes that Republicans will not control both the Senate and the House.
The decisions, the committee assignments, and the agenda that we address in Topeka this year will be determined by Republicans. Being a Moderate Republican will provide a voice for Lawrence, Lecompton, and western Douglas County, in caucus, in committee and on the Senate floor.
That is a voice for my district that will be loud and long.
Stephen, Lawrence: I read that you voted against a proposed constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Is that true? Could you explain your position on this topic?
Senate Mark Buhler: That is true.
I did so because we have a statute over 100 years old in Kansas defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman. That statute has been challenged in the Supreme Court of Kansas and has been upheld. If we pass a new law or a constitutional amendment it will not have the history and case law that the current statute has.
Some say that marriage needs to be defended. I whole heartedly defend my marriage and others as my personal preference.
Mary, Topeka: Why should Democrats vote for you, a Republican?
Senate Mark Buhler: As I stated earlier in a previous question, the Republican majority will determine many things that occur in the legislature this next year. As a Republican, Lawrence and Douglas County will have a stronger voice in setting the agenda for the legislature. Keep in mind that all committee chairs will be Republicans and committee chairs have a lot of latitude in the agenda that we discuss.
Richard Heckler - Lawrence: Sen Buhler,
After a year in Topeka how will the state of Kansas need to fund new revenue sources for
public education? Many local residents say/think cutting more from UDS 497 administration will produce the dollars necessary to fund our schools...what do you think?
Senate Mark Buhler: Richard, after two years in Topeka it is apparent that no one revenue source (or tax) will pass in the legislature. If new revenues are required, I'm convinced that it will need to be a mixture of sales and income tax.
I believe that all Kansans appreciate quality education and will pay for it if we clearly define the purpose for the money and create a system that adds additional accountability from schools.
Senate Mark Buhler: Furthermore, it's important that we understand that administration costs in USD 497 represent less than 10% of the budget. Many school districts have been reported to spend in excess of 40% on administration. I think our district having cut four million dollars over the last two years from their budgets indicates a strong commitment from the School Board and the administration to work within their means. However, as a parent of a child in the system, additional fees have been assessed on students to fund extra curricular activities, which I believe are integral to a public education. I wish that the state would clearly define what they will and will not fund and then give the power to the local districts to fund other activities.
I am worried that the Supreme Court will not allow that flexibility.
Lance, Lawrence: Senator Buhler, How do you feel about the Native American proposal for a casino in Wyandotte County? Do you think the Legislature should waste any more time next year on state-owned and operated gaming if this doesn't get approved?
Senate Mark Buhler: I have been willing to support additional revenues to the state through gaming if we can create an environment that does not allow it to be "everywhere all the time." Meaning, we need to regionalize the areas of impact. The Native proposal, although I have not completely read it, does provide gaming in certain areas with revenue coming to the state from that tribe and others in the state over time and deserves serious consideration.
The reason the legislature deals with this every year is not just because of the anti-gaming sentiment in the state, but also because those that support gaming can't decide on a plan and have a tendency to expand it too far and therefore lose support.
Until we get it right, we will probably debate this.
Lee, Lawrence: I want to know what you are going to do to help education in Lawrence. Last years legislatures inability or unwillingness to work with the governor to get a budget was awful. We ended up fighting to keep teachers, and music in elementary and middle school. That was a political disaster, that caused children to suffer.
Senate Mark Buhler: Thank you for your question.
In addition to the Governor's proposal that I supported, we had six other opportunities to fund education. These are not very well known because some might be embarassed that they didn't support them.
On the last day of the session, we had a real chance to fund 82 million dollars without raising taxes by doing the following:
Requiring the highway fund to make a payment that they currently owe throughout the year on the last day of the current fiscal year. Let me explain, $82 million would have been paid to the general fund 1 day early but in fact, a year early. It would not have impacted highway programs. It came as a late surprise and the Governor rallied the highway people, and rightly so, to lobby the legislature to kill the bill. My recollection is that most Democrats and some Moderates stood with the Governor and killed the bill.
That would have provided nearly $2 million for the school districts in Douglas County. On the last day of the session, knowing that all other attempts were futile, it was as good a deal as we were going to get. And as a business man that knows when negotiations are over, I was willing to support that. That's the kind of leadership and decision making that we need.
You need to know when the train's pulling out.
David, Wichita: Would you defy a court order to increase taxes to fund public education?
Senate Mark Buhler: David, I don't know that. I do not think that will be our choice. I think our choice will be to address certain areas of need and that will require additional money. I'm not a grandstander and I would take defying a court order very seriously, but I will do what I believe is right.
Thomas, Lawrence: Hi Mark. While I respect your business sense and fiscally conservative nature, as a Republican, you seem to be heading toward the middle of the road on social issues. How do you explain this trend to the conservative base of the party?
Senate Mark Buhler: I believe social issues are issues of conscience, and although I respect conservative attitudes about life, I believe that our form of government and our society should frame a set of standards that gives you the right and privilege to live a conservative, moderate, or liberal life. I do not think that the government or myself should determine that life for you. I also believe that the real decisions about where we go will be determined in the middle of the field, not on the left or the right.
Ray, Lawrence: I've heard that a vote for your Democrat opponent Marci Francisco is the same as a vote for control of the state Senate by right-wing reactionary Republicans. How can that be the case?
Senate Mark Buhler: There are a few Senate races that may very well determine the make-up of the Republican caucus. And I do believe if Democrats are elected in those races it will create a more Conservative mix in the Republican caucus, leading to leadership and committee chairs and the agenda being more Conservative - on fiscal issues as well as social.
Last year there were 30 Republicans and 10 Democrats. The Republican caucus was generally split 16-14 of those 30. We'll assume the same mix (of 30-10) in this election. If that is the case, and there are three less Moderate voices in the caucus, we are probably assured of Conservative leadership in the Senate.
Mary - OWL: How are the leaders of the Senate chosen? Can a Democrat, being the minority party, have a say?
Senate Mark Buhler: The Majority caucus selects the officers of the Senate. Historically, when the Majority party makes the determination of who the leadership will be, the Minority party follows that custom. There are examples of that not being the case, but if the Majority party is unable to have their leadership in office, it will make for a very, very, VERY long four years of gamesmanship and ineffectiveness.
Mark, Lawrence: Senator,
I recently bought a used car for $3,000. However, because of a bill you supported, I was assessed sales tax and property tax of $10,440.
If you could, please, explain exactly why you thought the private car sale law was a good idea, and exactly why I should be taxed on $7,440 I simply did not spend?
Will you work to get rid of this inane legislation, and, further, will people like me be able to get a refund?
Senate Mark Buhler: The private care sale law was enacted in an effort to prevent people from selling a car to someone for one price and representing it at a very much lower price, ie- report the sale for a dollar that costs $3,000.
The Country Treasurer's Association was supportive of this legislation. However, the implementation of the legislation was horrible. We relied on a basic assumption that values of automobiles would be very close to the real price paid. This can be done by using a myriad of evaluation books that car dealers, insurance agents, etc., all have.
The system that we are using is not that system, this law is broken and if we cannot get it fixed, and quite frankly seek refunds for situations such as yours, I'll vote to repeal it.
I am very sorry about your situation and I will work to correct it.
Travis, I think this also covers your question also. Thanks for calling yesterday.
Mike, Lawrence: In the business that you are in, how do you feel about the growth of Lawrence to the west and south? Are you concerned that we are losing the small-town feel that our citizens love?
Senate Mark Buhler: Having grown up here in Lawrence, I remember the town in the 50s, 60s, and beyond. It is changing. We can close the door like Boulder, Colorado tried and see the value of our real estate and the affordability of our housing to escalate higher than it already is. That action would ensure the growth of Eudora, Bonner, Lecompton, Baldwin, etc. I don't believe that is a reasonable way to guide the growth of a community. There is savings and value in a contiguous community that has so much to offer.
Although it is not the small town it used to be, I think it affords many more opportunities than it did when I was a child.
Larry, Lawrence: After looking at the morning paper it appears you received donations from only the big guys! True?
Senate Mark Buhler: I have received contributions from over 500 people in the two campaigns (primary and general) and with few exceptions, I accept contributions from people supporting the political process.
Doug Harvey, Lawrence: Where do you stand on the issue of the separation of church and state?
Senate Mark Buhler: I support the separation of church and state, but things sure get a little cloudy in that dome over there from time to time - and that line get blurred!
Chase Cookson, Wichita: Thank you in advance for taking the time to answer my question. What is your opinion of the importance of rehabilitation of drug users in our state's justice system? Do you feel that we place too much or too little of an emphasis on rehabilitation in our state?
Senate Mark Buhler: I would like a society that could spend more on rehabilitation, but the truth is that both the rehabilitation side and the correctional side are both underfunded. Governing is about making choices with the money available and we have not been able to solve all the problems in all areas of society.
I assume with "emphasis" you mean money, and like I said, we are unable to fully fund all of the needs of our society.
Elizabeth, Lawrence: What will have to be done to get at least partial support for state retirees' health care premiums on their Medigap policies?
In 2005 we will be paying ca. $335.00 a month for Senior Plan C.
Senator Mark Buhler: In order to address the health care needs of state retirees as well as everyone else, we need to be willing to say to address the real issues with health insurance. We have more users using health insurance at a higher cost and a higher rate. In order to reduce costs we must look at prescription drugs and other cost containment areas. Health savings accounts, encouraging small businesses to cover employees with tax credits.
To address your specific question, which is partial support for state retirees, we need more state revenues which will be generated by an improved economy, job creation and a positive work environment.
Kathy, Topeka: You have a great track record of supporting KU at the Statehouse. How do things look for the next few years?
Senator Mark Buhler: Well, K-12 will be the biggest kid in the room for a while, and KU and the regents will need to work hard to continue to educate legislators that education doesn't stop with a high school diploma.
David, Lawrence: What is the justification for the limitation of non related people living together in Lawrence city limits. This pertains to the code that no more than 3 unrelated people shall live together. I know people who live by themselves who are more of a nuisance than myself and 5 of my buddies could ever be. It just seems like a silly ordinance aimed at denying college students the opportunity to afford cheaper housing and have to live in more expensive apartments.
Senator Mark Buhler: Cities and communities by law have the right to zone their communities in the manner they see fit. Residential needs may be different than your needs, and that is why we have different zonings for different land uses. It is not intended to restrict your choices, but we do need to recognize the community's right to designate their zoning categories.
Louis, Lawrence: Mark, I appreciate your votes on education, concealed carry and same-sex marriage. You and Marci seem to share similar values: but I have to question how effective she will be among many R. conservative senators. I think you're as progressive as we can hope for and still be taken seriously in the Kansas senate. Am I wrong?
Senator Mark Buhler: Thank you, I think, for your comment about me. I've known Marci a long time and she's a nice person and the voters will decide November 2nd who can get the job done.
I do think that my business background and ability to negotiate has played very well in Topeka the last two years. I consider many legislators, whom I don't agree with politically, to be easy to communicate with and I hope the next four years will be the same.
Overland Park: As they concern political activities by out-of-state third parties, what changes would you support to increase or reduce reporting requirements. Thank you.
Senator Mark Buhler: I think that our regulations as written seem to work well. I think the voters understand when out-of-state influences are cast on our elections. Most people see through ill-intentioned politics. That does not mean that I would not consider changes, but being a participant in an election right now I am wary of knee-jerk reaction to what is going on.
Moderator: Thanks, senator, for taking time out of your busy schedule to come down to our offices today and respond to so many questions. I hope you enjoyed the format.
Our next chat involving candidates in the race for the 2nd District Kansas Senate seat will be at 1 p.m. Thursday with Reform Party candidate Jim Mullins.
Senator Mark Buhler: Thanks for your time. I hope the interest shown here reflects the importance of this election. Please vote November 2nd, and vote Buhler for Senate. (www.buhlerforsenate.com)