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Archive for Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Candidate questionnaire: 2nd Senate District

October 30, 2012

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State Sen. Marci Francisco and Republican challenger Ronald Ellis are running to represent the state's 2nd Senate District. They were asked to respond to questions about some of the major issues in this campaign. The questions and answers are below.

1) There has been concern that the tax cuts signed into law by Gov. Sam Brownback will prevent adequate funding of schools, social services and public safety and other areas of the state budget. Do you support or oppose the tax cuts? Please explain your reasons. In addition, do you think there should be any changes to the tax cuts in the next legislative session? If so, please provide specific details. Should the temporary portion of the sales tax increase be allowed to expire in 2013 or kept in place?

ELLIS:

I support tax cuts, but I am concerned that the tax cuts enacted in the last session were too deep. I support a moderate approach to tax decreases. While some see the tax cuts as the salvation of the state others believe it will result in the destruction of Kansas. I believe the results will be somewhere in between. Small business will take their tax breaks and generally improve, replace, repair, and invest in the expansion of their companies. The KLRD deficit fordcast is inaccurate in that it does not consider the positive effects of the tax reform on the state economy. If only half the small businesses affected by this tax reform create just one new job, Kansas could significantly reduce unemployment. In turn, unemployment benefits being paid by the state would be reduced, freeing more revenue to fund basic and vital services. A lower tax structure makes starting new businesses easier and less costly. Tax reform is not set in stone; it is an ever-evolving process. There are exemptions to the current tax law that require review. The outcome of comprehensive tax review and reform will be a healthier Kansas economy with more jobs, more revenue and lower taxes.

FRANCISCO:

I voted against Senate Substitute for HB 2117; I opposed the changes to income taxes, however I did vote for the amendment to that bill to allow for the scheduled expiration of the temporary portion of the sales tax increase and for a bill that would have reduced property taxes. I am concerned that the combination of changes to taxes beginning in 2013 will dramatically reduce state revenues, spur businesses to reorganize solely to avoid state income taxes, make the Kansas tax system more unfair (taxes as percentage of income was reduced for all but the lowest-income taxpayers; the Food Sales Tax Rebate and the Homestead Property Tax Program for renters were eliminated), and put pressure on local governments to increase property taxes to cover programs and services no longer funded by the state.

In addition to changes to address oversights and inconsistencies in the bill that need to be made in the next legislative session, I think that the pass-through exemption for business income should be limited to the first $100,000 in non-wage income and that the Food Sales Tax Rebate, Child and Dependent Care Credit and the Homestead Property Tax Program for renters should be restored.

2) The state is the target of a lawsuit that alleges the Legislature has shirked its constitutional duty to adequately fund public schools. Does the state need to increase funding to public schools? Please explain your answer.

ELLIS:

Yes, public school funding does need to be increased. I am concerned over the changes in school funding for students in the classroom. As a public school teacher and coach for 37 years, I have seen first hand how cutbacks have affected our schools including reductions in support staff, cutting educational trips, eliminating art and music programs, and placing students in larger classes in order to avoiding replacing teachers. I support reliable funding for students in the classroom. From 2008 to 2011, there has been a $633 cut in state funding per pupil; in 2012 there was an increase of $58 per pupil. As the economy improves, I believe we can and must increasing funding to our schools.

FRANCISCO:

I do believe that the state needs to increase funding for our public schools. I voted for the increases for school funding in 2005 after the Supreme Court ruled that the state was not adequately funding public schools. Because of the severe cuts made in education funding over the last several years, and with the modest increase for the current year, we are now back to the levels of state funding in base state aid per pupil of 11 years ago. The parents, students, and teachers that I have talked with are concerned about increases in fees, larger class sizes, fewer class offerings, and limited supplies. State revenues have increased in the past year; some of that money should be going to restore the cuts that were made to school funding.

3) Various proposals have come up in the Legislature that would allow state dollars or tax credits to be used to finance a voucher system for students to attend private or parochial schools. Would you vote in favor of such a measure? Please explain your position on vouchers.

ELLIS:

No, I do not support a voucher system. As a public school teacher, I believe in and support the public school system. Our public school education should be of such high quality and produce such an excellent product that there would be no need for parents or students to seek education elsewhere.

FRANCISCO:

I do not support a voucher system for students to attend private or parochial schools. The Kansas Constitution says that the legislature shall provide for intellectual, educational, vocational and scientific improvement by establishing and maintaining public schools. Funding a voucher program would divert needed dollars from our currently under-funded public schools.

4) Gov. Sam Brownback wants the Legislature to approve a bill that would give Kansas governors greater control over appointing judges to the Kansas Court of Appeals. Currently, the governor must select an appeals court judge from among three nominees chosen by a nominating commission. Brownback supports legislation that would allow him to pick his own appointee subject to Senate confirmation. Do you support or oppose this effort? Please provide your reasons.

ELLIS:

The Federal government uses this system and I would not oppose it if a super majority of the Senate was required such as 2/3 or 3/4 to confirm.

FRANCISCO:

I opposed the legislation that would allow a Kansas governor to pick his/her own appointees to the Kansas Court of Appeals subject to Senate confirmation because I support the current system in which the governor picks from three candidates selected by a judicial nominating commission. The judicial nominating commission, made up of four non-attorneys appointed by the governor, four attorneys elected by attorneys in each of the state’s four congressional districts, and a chairman elected by a statewide vote of attorneys was established in 1977. I believe that this system ensures that the appointments to our courts are based on merit and qualifications, and as much as possible maintains the separation of powers and reduces the influence of political considerations.

5) The Brownback administration is trying to reform the state's Medicaid program by turning it over to three private, managed-care insurance companies under a plan called KanCare. Do you support or oppose this proposal? Please provide an explanation.

ELLIS:

I remain concerned and suspicious of turning over our Medicaid population to insurance companies. I believe a January 1 start date is too aggressive and would have preferred a small pilot program to work out the positive and negative aspects prior to moving 100% into such a program. I am also concerned over the lack of legislative oversight for the program change. As the program currently stands, I am opposed.

FRANCISCO:

The Kansas Medicaid program currently costs more than $2.8 billion a year, including more than $1 billion of state funding. The administration proposal requires some 380,000 Kansans in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) to enroll in private managed care plans in the hopes of slowing the growth of Medicaid costs and improving health outcomes. I agree that the state needs to control Medicaid expenditures and recognize that the administration is making this decision; there are opportunities for savings to the state, particularly with the limited increased federal match for providing “health homes” for individuals with chronic conditions. I believe there should be legislative oversight of the program (I voted for Sen Sub for HB 2619, establishing a joint committee on KanCare oversight that passed in the Senate but failed in the House). I am also concerned that any savings will first have to cover the additional costs of profit and administration, individuals eligible for services will be tasked with making a difficult choice between similar plans, individuals with developmental disabilities who already are receiving coordinated services will be included, and extensive paperwork is being required of health care providers to meet an arbitrary deadline when the state has yet to receive federal approval.

6) During the last legislative session, the Legislature and Gov. Sam Brownback failed to come up with redistricting plans. Would you support legislation that would establish an independent commission to redraw legislative and congressional districts?

ELLIS:

During the last session our Senate could not or would not work together or compromise as legislators, resulting in the courts doing the work of redistricting. I think this is highly unfortunate and would not want to see the courts being involved again. I would prefer to see an independent commission redraw districts rather than using the courts to perform this work. It written correctly, I could support such a bill.

FRANCISCO:

I would support legislation establishing an independent commission to redraw legislative and congressional districts responding to changes reported in the federal census. An independent commission could focus on drawing districts that represent communities of interest rather than political opportunities. I believe that it is also important to establish an early deadline for the decisions to provide ample time for candidates to consider and file for the new districts.

I would note that the Kansas Senate did adopt plans for the congressional, house and senate districts, with House districts based on the districts adopted by the House. The House did not agree to the Senate plan for the Senate districts, and failed to pass a companion bill that could have sent the redistricting plans to a conference committee and on to the governor.

7) Last session, the Legislature debated, but ultimately did not pass, the Kansas Preservation of Religious Freedom Act. Supporters say it will prevent government from forcing a person to violate their religious beliefs, while opponents say it would invite discrimination against gays and lesbians and invalidate a Lawrence anti-discrimination ordinance that includes sexual orientation. Do you support or oppose such a bill? Please state your reasons.

ELLIS:

My concern with this bill is that it presents a case there two groups' rights may be violated. Should a church be required to hire an individual whose views are fundamentally opposed to their belief system? Should an individual be denied job opportunities just because they have a different lifestyle? I believe the bill could be crafted in such a way to support the rights of both groups. There is more work to do on the current bill in order for me to support it.

FRANCISCO:

I testified in opposition to HB 2260 during the House Judiciary Committee hearings on the bill. I expressed objections to section 1(b)(2) of the bill that defined “Compelling governmental interest” to exclude prohibition of a practice or policy of discrimination against individuals in employment relations, in access to free and public accommodations or in housing, except as set forth in K.S.A. 44-1001 et seq., and amendments thereto, and the laws and constitution of the United States. It is important to our community that our citizens are involved in crafting ordinances that reflect the values of our community and respond to experiences of our citizens. If a community in Kansas is concerned that discrimination exists, I believe that community should have flexibility in addressing those concerns. I do not believe that our Kansas statutes should be used to condone discrimination on the basis of an individual exercising their freedom of religion.

8) What is your top priority if elected, and what would you do to get that done?

ELLIS:

My top priority is to end partisan politics. We cannot tackle education funding, reasonable taxation, or support and growth for small businesses if every discussion ends in divisions along party or ideological lines. Partisan politics must be put aside to reach consensus and compromise in order to move our state forward. We can find common ground and reach common sense solutions to our issues if legislators are willing to work together to solve the problems of Kansas.

FRANCISCO:

If re-elected, my top priority would be to see that the state continues to make investments to strengthen the foundations of our Kansas economy – education, transportation, health, our natural resources – as we work to do more with less. I hope to continue as a member of the Senate Ways and Means Committee to work on the state budget to fund the responsibilities of state government and make sure that state expenditures are achieving results.

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