Archive for Sunday, July 23, 2006

Q & A with Jim Barnett

July 23, 2006

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Jim Barnett, Republican from Emporia is among the seven Republican candidates vying to represent the GOP in the November general election. The winner of the GOP primary will face Democratic incumbent Kathleen Sebelius.

Jim Barnett, Republican from Emporia

Age: 51

Family: Married to Yvonne, two children

Religion: Methodist

Education: Bachelor of arts degree in chemistry from Emporia State University; medical degree from Kansas University School of Medicine

Occupation: Physician

Political and governmental experience: Elected to the Kansas Senate in 2000; member of Emporia board of education from 1991-1999.

What would you do to ensure that Kansas has a constitutional school finance system?

In January, I introduced into the Legislature a plan to fund schools in a way that helps all districts in the state address the needs of bilingual and at-risk students, and is economically sustainable. My program to add $495 million to our schools over four years does not run a deficit and can be paid for without a tax increase or government-owned casinos like the current school finance plan endorsed by the governor.

Do you believe the Kansas Supreme Court has overstepped its authority and if so what if anything would you propose to do about it?

The Kansas Supreme Court should not be in the business of spending tax dollars. To compound the problem, the court has simply looked at one area of the budget and made determinations without regard to other budgetary requirements. It is as if the K-12 education system has the Kansas Supreme Court as their lobbyist and other agencies, such as Department of Corrections, Regents, SRS and others must fend for themselves.

Between the school finance lawsuit, the death penalty case, and the court's refusal to protect the rights of soldiers overseas, it is clear that the Kansas Supreme Court no longer reflects Kansas values. Kansas should adopt a system for selecting Supreme Court judges much like the federal system; where the governor would nominate and the Senate confirms each appointment. I sponsored an amendment in the Legislature to do just that. The current nominating commission of 9 persons, 4 appointed by the governor and 5 elected by Kansas attorneys, gives no voice or accountability to the citizens of Kansas or their elected representatives.

If you are elected, name three proposals you would work on immediately.

I would immediately propose a budget that includes school finance, something our current governor has failed to do for the last two years. Working with the Legislature, I would also present my plan for getting our economy back on track by reducing the tax burden on families and giving Kansas businesses an incentive to invest in Kansas. Finally, I will advocate for an amendment to implement a federal style system of selecting Supreme Court justices.

Do you support expansion of casino gambling? If not, why not, and if so, why and what kind of expansion would you push for?

I am strongly against Kansas becoming the first state in the nation to get in the business of owning casinos. First, gambling is not the answer to Kansas' budget woes, as our experience with pari-mutuel betting and the lottery show. Second, government-owned casinos, as our current governor has endorsed, would open the door to corruption in government. The money from state-owned casinos would become a dominating influence in state government.

What if anything would you do about illegal immigration in Kansas?

Immigration remains primarily a federal issue. However, as a state we need to ensure that we are not encouraging illegal immigration to Kansas by granting in-state tuition, drivers licenses or other special favors to people in this country illegally. What I am primarily concerned with is treating illegal aliens better than American citizens that is something I cannot and will not support.

Note: candidate Barnett later asked the Journal-World to post a corrected response:

As a state we need to ensure that we are not encouraging illegal immigration to Kansas by granting in-state tuition, drivers licenses or other special favors to people in this country illegally. What I am primarily concerned with is treating illegal aliens better than American Citizens - that is something I cannot and will not support. I also support and I am the only candidate for Governor advocating for English becoming the official language of the state.

What would you do to promote economic development?

My economic development strategy includes a $500 increase in the dependent income tax exemption to help put more money in the hands of young families. I have also proposed a 10 percent income tax credit for all businesses and farms, large or small This would allow Kansas business to write off 10 percent of their capital investments, encouraging greater investment and greater job growth. This would be particularly helpful to small businesses, and those developing new technologies. Finally, my plan calls for reducing income taxes by at least 20 percent and eliminates the death tax immediately.

What would you do to improve or expand availability of health care? What do you think of Gov. Sebelius' initiative?

As a Kansas senator, I have pushed two initiatives to help with healthcare costs in general and Medicaid specifically. One was the creation of the Kansas Health Policy Authority which will focus on prevention and wellness for all Kansans and coordinate between state agencies to improve services across the board. Prevention will provide our best long-term health care savings. We need to focus more on issues such as youth smoking and childhood obesity.

The second initiative was a requirement that Medicaid use open bidding for medications, just like other agencies use open bidding for their purchases. This program has saved millions of dollars and made medications available to more Kansans.

It is also vitally important that we retain the KU Medical School as a driving force for the education of doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals. The availability of healthcare, especially in rural Kansas, is directly tied to our ability to educate our own "home-grown" medical professionals. Gov. Sebelius' plan was merely to expand Medicaid and welfare entitlements, then use a tax increase to cover the cost. She balked at the possibility of real healthcare reform and threatened to veto the Kansas Health Policy Authority.

How would you deal with the $600 million worth of deferred maintenance at the state universities?

Our Regents universities are beginning to show the signs of neglect. With the current K-12 funding plan, the state will spend $800 million more than revenues over the next 3 years, without any increases in Regents spending. My proposal for a $495 million K-12 increase over four years would have also allowed for increases in Regents spending, and balanced the budget. The deferred maintenance of our universities is just one of many unmet needs facing our state. KPERS, the state retirement system, has a multi-billion dollar unfunded liability, the current highway plan is nearing completion, and countless others. The only way, long term, that we can afford to maintain our universities, build roads, educate children, fund public safety and all the rest, is to get our economy moving. A vibrant, expanding economy, with more Kansans employed and more businesses growing, will create a larger tax base to support the types of services Kansans need.

What is your stance on drug crimes and what they mean for prison occupancy? Have you ever used illegal drugs or been arrested or charged with a crime?

I support the full enforcement of our current laws prohibiting the use of illegal drugs. I also believe treatment for drug addiction is a necessary component of our drug policy, but should not be used as a means of avoiding punishment for illegal behavior. I also believe it is important to consider public safety concerns in new and innovative ways. For instance, the restrictions on the sale of pseudoephedrine reduced the number of methamphetamine labs in Kansas far more than the mandatory 15-year sentence for first-time meth cooks. Similarly, I was able during my first term in the Senate to pass a keg registration bill that has dramatically cut down on underage drinking at keg parties. I have not used illegal drugs, nor have I been arrested or charged with a crime.

What do you think about the prospect of the Kansas National Guardsmen being sent to patrol the border?

The current proposal is not for National Guard soldiers to patrol the border, but to assist in the building and upkeep of the border infrastructure. The tours will be two to three weeks long, and will be done as a regular annual training period that Guard soldiers normally complete each year. Kansas National Guard units, especially engineering units, have been taking part in these types of annual training missions for many years. Such missions have been a win-win situation as the soldiers have the opportunity to improve their skills in construction, road improvement, and so forth, while helping to improve the border infrastructure. I fully support continued utilization of the Kansas Guard for these types of operations so long they do not impose an undue additional burden on our Guard soldiers or compromise the ability of the Kansas National Guard to support the local Homeland Security mission.

What do you think about the simultaneous drawdowns of the Ogallalah aquifer and the Hugoton gas fields?

Certainly both of these issues are a concern and in coming years will dramatically change Western Kansas. However, with change comes opportunity. The long term possibilities include conversion of the pipeline and storage infrastructure already in place for the gas fields for hydrogen use. As new drought resistant crop hybrids become available we will slowly be able to reduce our dependence on ground water

What is the best solution to the depopulation/aging of so many Kansas counties?

We spend approximately $150,000 per student that attends Kansas schools from kindergarten through graduation at a Regents institution. Unfortunately, too many of the graduates leave the state to find employment elsewhere. Kansas ranks last among our neighboring state for job growth. In just the last five years, Kansas has lost over 10,000 private sector jobs and added 11,000 government jobs. The key to maintaining our population in rural counties is by ensuring quality jobs are available. With innovations in technology, many jobs that required working in an office all day can now be performed at home or in a local branch. With my proposal to offer a tax credit to business investing in Kansas as well as a reduction in income tax, we can reverse the trend of private sector job loss and revive the rural economy.

What do you think about small percentage of public access land in Kansas?

I believe the percentage of public land is less important than the location and accessibility of public lands. Kansas over the years has done a good job of ensuring that public lands are spread out and within easy reach of most Kansans. As demands on public access land increases, I believe we need to look at other options including purchase of easements, leasing land for public use, such as the walk-in hunting program, and similar programs.

What do you consider the top environmental concerns in the state and nation and where do you rank those concerns among their priorities?

Kansas has been blessed with plenty of clean air, water and wide open spaces. Preserving both our environment and outdoor heritage is very important. There are several ways we can help address these concerns. First, I oppose the use of eminent domain for economic development purposes. Traditionally, eminent domain has been used to take land for public improvements such as roads, power lines, or flood control projects. Recently, local governments have begun using eminent domain to take private land for development purposes because the developed property will generate greater tax revenues than farmland. This is unacceptable. By protecting property rights we can also create a natural economic incentive to limit urban sprawl. Secondly, increasing environmental concerns present an opportunity for Kansas to become an energy exporter. Continued production of oil and gas benefits many Kansas communities and further exploration should be encouraged. In the future alternative energy sources such as wind and biodiesel will help both the Kansas economy and the environment.

What type of cabinet would you assemble and what would try to accomplish in your first 6 months in office?

I would look for cabinet secretaries that are both experienced in the areas regulated by their department and have a track record of leadership during times of change. At the most fundamental level, the departments of Transportation, Corrections, Aging, SRS and all the rest is really what Kansans are paying for with their tax dollars. They have the right to expect sound management and efficient operation. During the first 6 months in office I would first introduce a budget that includes school finance, and work with the Legislature to take the first steps toward getting our economy back on track. I would meet with industry leaders in Kansas, and outside of Kansans to explain the opportunities offered by our state.

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