Archive for Wednesday, November 1, 2000

General Election 2000: Candidate Q&A

November 1, 2000

Editor's Note: Following are state and county candidates' responses to questions posed to them by The Mirror. Only candidates with opposition in next Tuesday's general election were sent questionnaires. In addition, proponents and opponents of the ballot question pertaining to the election of district judges in Leavenworth and Atchison counties were invited to air their views. The only candidate who did not respond to the questionnaire was Linda Schuttler, who is challenging incumbent state Rep. Ray Cox for his 39th District seat.

For updates on Tuesday's election results, check in with The Mirror's Web site: http://www.tonganoxiemirror.com. We will begin posting vote tallies as soon as possible after the polls close at 7 p.m.

Kansas House, 39th District

Republican

Ray Cox

What are the top three issues facing the state of Kansas, and how would you address them, if elected?

Education funding. The current formula is flawed with too many inequities. I'm anxious to see what the governor's task force will propose. If we stay with the old formula, the LOB must be raised. Also if the federal government would fund special education at the 40 percent level, this would free up millions of state dollars.

Prison overcrowding. We just put a Band-Aid on this issue last year. Getting tough on crime has created a need for the state to spend the money for more prison capacity. We have transferred some of that obligation to the local governments and that's probably not the way to go.

Be sure to properly fund the community-based services so there is not a waiting list.

Should additional state funds be earmarked for the education of Kansas children in K-12? Explain your answer.

It would help if the state would allow slots at the three race tracks (parimutuels) with all the state's share going to education. We are presently spending two-thirds of our budget on education, and the formula needs to be revised in order to be more equitable for all districts.

What programs and initiatives would you support for elderly Kansans?

We have already passed a bill to help with prescription drugs for low-income elderly. It looks as though the federal government is going to come up with additional funding for this problem. Meals on Wheels should be mentioned, as well as community-based services for the elderly.

What should be done at the state level to handle the effects of growth in northeast Kansas?

The state is doing a pretty good job of getting highways into the growth areas. However, the state did fail to provide an interchange at 75th Street and Kansas Highway 7, which was requested by the city of Shawnee. The Kansas Department of Commerce is doing a good job of trying to attract commercial development in order to provide jobs and an improved tax base.

Do you believe the state should spend additional dollars on compensation of corrections department employees?

Yes. The state needs to pay more in order to retain employees. Also, they should be included in the KP&F retirement instead of KPERS. Just this alone would help.

Is Kansas doing enough to promote economic development?

Yes. The $50 million from the lottery is being utilized wisely.

Kansas House

40th District

Democrat

Candy Ruff

What are the top three issues facing the state of Kansas, and how would you address them, if elected?

Public safety. Because the Lansing Correctional Facility is in my district, I consider the fine people who work there my first legislative priority. That is why it makes me angry to see our correctional officers so woefully underpaid and under compensated. If that's not bad enough, they must work in unsafe conditions because of shortages in the custody ranks. Other prisons and law enforcement entities pay better and offer safer environments in which to work. I am determined to increase corrections staff salaries by 15 percent over the next three years. But more importantly, I will put my heart and soul into bringing them into the Police and Fire retirement fund.

Public schools. As the daughter of a classroom teacher, I stand solid in support of public schools. I defend them and battle the forces that blame schools and teachers for society's ills. I intend to fight for mid-size districts like Tonganoxie and Leavenworth that are not receiving their fair share under the current school funding formula. I support a reworking of that formula.

Gaming. The state's three dog tracks should have casino-style gaming offered along with pari-mutuel betting. Kansans spend over $300 million a year at the Missouri riverboats. Give me a break here. That money is ours and Missouri does not deserve it. I believe voters in Kansas should have the last word on this and I am betting they will approve casino-style gaming at the Woodlands and at the other two dog tracks.

Should additional state funds be earmarked for the education of Kansas children in K-12? Explain your answer.

An important component of the vote on casino-style gaming is to earmark all additional revenue for K through 12 funding. I am confident that once casino-style gaming comes to the Kansas dog tracks, the revenues generated will remain constant. Just look at the lottery where revenues have increased every year since it began in the late 1980s. This new revenue source should enhance, but never replace existing school funding which comes from income, sales, and property taxes.

What programs and initiatives would you support for elderly Kansans?

Paying for prescriptions is a financial nightmare for many older people. That is why I supported a program to assist older Kansans with their prescription drug costs. That was an important first step, but during the next legislative session, I intend to support increasing the yearly income levels. Assistance with utility bills is a vital program that deserves better funding. The nutrition program, however, must never suffer because meals to homebound elderly are a lifeline.

What should be done at the state level to handle the effects of growth in northeast Kansas?

An important effect of growth in northeast Kansas is the strain on our infrastructure. That is why I wholeheartedly supported the Comprehensive Transportation program passed in 1999. Just look at the improvements made to U.S. 24-40 in southern Leavenworth County. Not only is the highway safer to drive, but the increase in development is evident. With development, however, comes sprawl and congestion. Controlling that is a local issue. But that doesn't mean the state can not respond with economic development initiatives. And keeping up with a commitment to fund roads and bridges is a promise Kansas should make to our portion of the state.

Do you believe the state should spend additional dollars on compensation of corrections department employees?

I believe with all my heart that the state should spend additional funding on correctional officers' pay and benefits. We owe them that much and more because working in a prison is a tough job. It is stressful and in many instances is life threatening. Those who work in our state prisons are not being treated fairly. An audit conducted last year by Legislative Research proved there were unsafe working conditions, wage limitations and poor moral. And the audit hinted that the brutal rape of a female corrections officer came about as a combination of these and other factors. We must do better by these fine state employees.

Is Kansas doing enough to promote economic development?

With the lottery coming up for renewal in the 2001 session, there is some talk of directing lottery revenues away from economic development. I am against that. Since the passage of the lottery in the late 1980s, economic development initiatives have received about $42 million a year in gaming revenues. From that steady stream of funding, Kansas has built a strong and solid program of private and public partnerships. With good paying jobs created and Kansas businesses expanded, economic development initiatives have been successful and have my full support.

Republican

Todd Q. Abbott

What are the top three issues facing the state of Kansas, and how would you address them, if elected?

The top three issues facing the state of Kansas are not going to be the same for everyone. Your most important concern could be a matter of complete indifference to your next-door neighbor. If I am elected, every issue I deal with will be important to me.

Should additional state funds be earmarked for the education of Kansas children in K-12? Explain your answer.

We need to do everything we can to insure our children receive the best quality education that can be provided. I would not rule out additional funding.

What programs and initiatives would you support for elderly Kansans?

I would like to provide low-income seniors with inexpensive health care.

What should be done at the state level to handle the effects of growth in northeast Kansas?

You got me with this question. I thought growth was a good thing.

Do you believe the state should spend additional dollars on compensation of corrections department employees?

Yes.

Is Kansas doing enough to promote economic development?

I'm not sure. I think Kansas has approved around $45 million in economic development initiatives fund transfers for fiscal year 2000.

Kansas House

41st District

Democrat

Marti Crow

What are the top three issues facing the state, and how would you address them, if elected?

I believe the public safety in our Kansas communities is a top issue and the main problem that needs to be addressed is staffing at the Lansing Correctional Facility. An audit in 1999 shows that the compensation and benefits in Kansas are not competitive with bordering states, local law enforcement units and federal and private facilities. As a result, our local state prison facility has for several years experienced excessive overtime and dangerous understaffing. We must increase compensation and benefits for LCF corrections officers. Kansas also must provide adequate funding for community corrections so that people released from prison are carefully monitored and our communities are protected. I serve on the Public Safety Finance Committee and I will work to assure that safety in our communities is a top priority.

Equitable and adequate funding for K-12 schools in Kansas must be addressed. I believe the Kansas finance formula must be rewritten to provide all Kansas public school students with an equal opportunity for an excellent education. Each student today is crucial for tomorrow's work force. School districts in Leavenworth and Lansing are among the lowest in per pupil funding. I serve on the House Education Committee and I have worked with school funding formulas since 1983 as a school board member and legislator. I will work to make school funding fair to all Kansas students.

Health care and health insurance must be addressed. Kansas needs to do a better job with insurance for children and working families who are presently priced out of the health insurance market. Health insurance must be required to provide needed coverage for preventive care like osteoporosis screening and immunizations. I will work to assist small businesses in providing health insurance for employees and improving health insurance coverage.

Should additional state funds be earmarked for the education of Kansas children in K-12?

The state is responsible for funding public education in Kansas. In Leavenworth and Lansing, we benefit most from statewide funding sources. It is crucial that statewide funding be increased in order to relieve the heavy local tax burden in our area when local property taxes are required to fund our schools. I will work to increase statewide funding in order to decrease the local property tax burden.

What programs and initiatives would you support for elderly Kansans?

The state should work with local Council on Aging agencies to provide services which allow seniors to remain in their homes and independent for as long as possible. This includes nutrition programs like Meals on Wheels, home health services, transportation and other support services. The state also needs to assure that nursing home care is excellent and available.

What should be done at the state level to handle the effects of growth in northeast Kansas?

In our area, transportation and infrastructure, like water and sewer, need to be funded. The state needs to keep its commitment to return demand transfer funds, taxes collected by the state and promised to local government, so our cities and county can provide the needed infrastructure and services to take care of growth, without drastic increased in local property taxes.

Do you believe the state should spend additional dollars on compensation of corrections department employees?

It is absolutely crucial that corrections officers be included in the KPF retirement. They are law enforcement personnel, doing crucial and dangerous work in providing safe communities. Their salaries and benefits have been neglected far too long and the result is understaffed posts and overworked corrections officers. We must recognize that we are training corrections staff for private and federal prisons, losing experienced officers, and the safety and security in our prisons, especially the Lansing facility are jeopardized by the failure to provide competitive compensation and benefits.

Is Kansas doing enough to promote economic development?

Our economy is healthy but we must maintain and continue to grow our small Main Street businesses. I don't believe we are doing enough to assist small businesses in the state. The vitality of our local economy comes from new and growing small businesses. We must assure that the tax burden does not fall too heavily on those business people and the state can and should provide assistance for smaller business and industries.

Republican

Richard Kiper

What are the top three issues facing the state of Kansas, and how would you address them, if elected?

Education. Education is vital to the future of Kansas. The state must ensure that all residents of Kansas, regardless of where they live, have access to a quality education. The Legislature must study the recommendations for a new school finance formula and ensure that the proposals are affordable, that they will in fact improve education, and that improvements can be measured against the costs involved.

Taxes. Kansas has a relatively small population, but still has to maintain roads, build schools, operate government, provide for public safety, and care for its people. This takes money. The Legislature has a responsibility to fund only those functions that provide a tangible benefit to the people. Prioritization is absolutely essential. We cannot fund everything. The efficient use of taxes is an important factor in attracting and keeping business in Kansas. We must develop our tax policy wisely and examine the effectiveness of every dollar of proposed spending.

Public Safety. George Mason, a member of the Constitutional Convention, wrote: "Government is, or ought to be instituted for ... the protection and security of the people. " The state has an absolute obligation to ensure that all agencies and personnel who provide for "the protection and security of the people" are adequately funded and compensated. This is of particular note where the state corrections officers are concerned. Their services are vital to every resident of Kansas and they must be provided with a wage that is commensurate with their responsibilities.

Should additional state funds be earmarked for the education of Kansas children in K-12?

I will not spend more money on programs until I am convinced those programs have tangible, measurable benefits. Kansas ranks 34th in the nation in teacher pay. Increasing pay for teachers is my first priority. Second is to establish incentives to attract teachers in the shortage areas of math, science, bilingual, and special education. Along with increased salaries comes accountability for producing educated students. That accountability, however, cannot be based on a snapshot of student scores. As a teacher, I know that some students will not make the effort to learn. The teacher cannot be held accountable for students who will not work.

What programs and initiatives would you support for elderly Kansans?

This is an astronomical problem because the potential costs could consume the entire budget. I support the bill passed by the Legislature to provide a prescription drug benefit for seniors based on income. I support the long-term health care study because technology has allowed an aging population to live longer. The Legislature has to determine what costs the state should bear and the magnitude of those costs. Individuals, though, must take the responsibility for saving or buying medical and long-term care insurance. The state, however, must provide for those who, through no fault of their own, are unable to provide for themselves.

What should be done at the state level to handle the effects of growth in northeast Kansas?

The Comprehensive Transportation Plan is an excellent step. Good roads mean safer travel, decreased travel time, economic development, and an increasing tax base. Simply look at Tonganoxie since Highway 24/40 was improved. The state must ensure that environmental regulations make sense and that proposals such as regulating farm ponds and including Leavenworth County in the Kansas City air pollution control area are strongly opposed. Steps taken at the state level regarding growth must be coordinated with the cities and counties involved. Citizens at the local level are the ones most affected by growth, both positively and negatively, and their input is vital.

Do you believe the state should spend additional dollars on compensation of corrections department employees?

State correctional officers serve every individual in Kansas by protecting us from criminals. They are indispensable to the safety of all of us. They must be compensated adequately for the vital and dangerous service they provide. Low pay, particularly at the Lansing facility that has to compete with a private prison and a federal prison, has to be increased. This should then solve the second problem of understaffing and an inordinate amount of overtime. Understaffing creates a dangerous situation for the officers and the public, and too much overtime results in tired staff and an imposition on the officers and their families.

Is Kansas doing enough to promote economic development?

Last year Kansas spent $50.6 million on economic development. That resulted in 5,000 new jobs, $105 million in new payrolls, and $170 million in capital investments. So, the return on the $50.6 million investment was five-fold. About 44 percent of that, however, went into the Kansas City area. While that is good for Kansas, the local legislators must ensure that Leavenworth County benefits from economic development as well. Before I can answer whether Kansas is doing enough, I need to examine specific proposals, specific costs associated with those proposals, specific benefits to be derived, and specific sources of funds to implement those proposals.

Kansas House

42nd District

Democrat

Jim Pittman

What are the top three issues facing the state of Kansas and how would you address them, if elected?

There are several key near-term issues for the Kansas Legislature to address. Funding for education, decent pay for corrections workers, and affordable prescription drugs for seniors are the ones most frequently talked about. I agree that these three must be addressed, but I think the Legislature must look to the future and lay out a set of comprehensive plans that will guide our growth for the first quarter of this century. Among the plans required are:

An infrastructure master plan that would build upon the Comprehensive Transportation Plan approved in the last session and would define requirements and strategy for the communications networks, utilities, and public services required for an expanding economy and growing population.

A long-term comprehensive plan for providing health care and other essential services for an aging population.

An education master plan that would lay out a strategy for expanding our education system to meet the challenges of the technology revolution and beyond. Our ability to modernize facilities, provide qualified teachers, and infuse technology throughout our schools will determine how well our children are prepared to compete in the future marketplace.

Should additional state funds be earmarked for the education of Kansas children in K-12?

Improving the quality of our schools and education programs is my top legislative priority. We have an obligation to educate our children and grandchildren so that they can compete with their peers and assume positions of leadership in industry, government and academia. Their preparation must start early, and it must include a solid foundation in the basics of science, mathematics and the arts. I will support increased funding for an all-day kindergarten, special education programs, programs for elementary students at risk of becoming high school dropouts, and other programs so long as they are designed properly and executed effectively, and they move us toward the goal of educational excellence.

What programs and initiatives would you support for elderly Kansans?

We must protect and strengthen the retirement funds that provide the only source of income for much of the senior citizen population. I will vigorously oppose any future proposal to siphon off money from the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System.

The Legislature should develop a comprehensive long-term strategy to meet the future health care needs of an aging population. In the near term, programs that provide prescription drug assistance for seniors and other assistance, such as Seniors Meals on Wheels, senior nutrition sites, and in-home health services must be fully funded.

Senior citizens, as well as all Kansans, deserve a Patient's Bill of Rights that puts medical decisions in the hands of patients and doctors, not HMO administrators. We must be able to hold HMO's accountable.

What should be done at the state level to handle the effects of growth in northeast Kansas?

The state should take a lead role in coordinating the activities of the various city and county agencies affected by the anticipated growth in northeast Kansas. Consistent zoning, efficient development of transportation, utility, and communications systems will help ensure orderly growth continues. As a first step, the state should work with local governments and development agencies to form an advisory committee to look at this issue.

Do you believe the state should spend additional dollars on compensation of corrections department employees?

In 1999, the Legislative Division of Post Audit conducted a Performance Audit of the Department of Corrections. That audit concluded that the department had severe staff shortages, that those shortages increased the risk to the LCF staff, and that the low salary levels contribute directly to high turnover rates and staff shortages. To fix this problem, we need a comprehensive benefits package for corrections officers that includes a salary and retirement plan that is competitive and attractive to those seeking a corrections career. This package needs to be phased in over the next three to five years.

Is Kansas doing enough to promote economic development?

I would like to see more aggressive recruitment of high-technology companies.

Republican

Kenny A. Wilk

What are the top three issues facing the state of Kansas, and how would you address them, if elected?

Education, public safety and the aging population are the three top issues for Kansas. Demographic changes along with technology advancement are changing the delivery of education.

A funding mechanism needs to be implemented that will acknowledge the changes and allow local school districts to respond to the needed changes. The formula needs to be written in a way to include all sizes of school districts.

Public safety will always be a primary responsibility of state government. Public safety includes the corrections institutions, the Highway Patrol, KBI and other law enforcement agencies.

We must address the compensation shortfalls and shore up the staffing shortages. It is critical for the safe function of these institutions to have an experienced, well-trained staff. The compensation package plays a major role in meeting this need.

One of the larger more complex issues is the tidal wave of service demand headed our way from the baby boomer generation. It is imperative to recognize and acknowledge the policy challenges awaiting the nation, state and local communities, and non-profit organizations that provide senior services. We have eight to 10 years (some suggest less) to honestly address this issue. The resolution of this inevitable challenge will require unprecedented vision, leadership and commitment to resolve. We must begin to meet this challenge.

Should additional state funds be earmarked for the education of Kansas children in K-12? Explain your answer.

The governor and the Legislature have special task forces studying this issue. Those forthcoming recommendations should receive serious consideration. The Legislature should be open to the idea of additional funding for education. Justification along with accountability should be part of any extra funding. If the Legislature funds an increase beyond a traditional annual adjustment, the additional dollars should be assigned to specific objectives, i.e. increased teacher salaries or decreased class size, etc.

What programs and initiatives would you support for elderly Kansans?

I will certainly continue to support the programs we have in place. Additionally, anything we can do to encourage and promote additional home-based services is a positive direction. We know most elderly prefer to stay in their homes if at all possible. Portable health care services along with assistance with daily domestic duties (cleaning, grocery shopping, etc.) are all examples. We must also acknowledge and begin planning for the aging baby boomers.

What should be done at the state level to handle the effects of growth in northeast Kansas?

First, we must continue to share our success story with the rest of the state. Northeast Kansas is one of the fastest-growing areas of the state and that is good for all of Kansas. We must provide the infrastructure in the way of roads and other services to ensure continued growth. Job training programs should be targeted for special economic interest of northeast Kansas. Continued and improved cooperation and communication between all the local northeast communities is essential.

Do you believe the state should spend additional dollars on compensation of corrections department employees?

Yes. It will be a top legislative priority for me, should I be re-elected. The turnover rate at the Lansing Correctional Facility is alarming. The current compensation package is a deterrent to recruiting and retaining qualified personnel. The state must recognize the added competition for corrections staffing in the Leaven-worth area. We need to immediately implement a regional pay proposal, and then work to implement a series of compensation enhancements to ensure the adequate staffing at all of our correctional facilities, with emphasis on the Lansing operation.

Is Kansas doing enough to promote economic development?

Kansas has several successful economic development initiatives. Kansas' retention rate for new startup business is one of the highest in the country. But we can always do more. Job training and re-training will always be a need. Necessary skill sets are always changing and the state needs to help meet these demands. Ensuring universal high-speed Internet access if very important for our rural areas and can act as a great equalizer.

Kansas Senate

Third District

Democrat

Michael D. Gibbens

What are the top three issues facing the state of Kansas, and how would you address them, if elected?

Education. The educational system in our state has improved over the last decade. However, as a state we must set higher standards for teachers and students; make sure that our classrooms are safe and orderly; reduce class sizes especially in grades one through three and fairly fund our school districts.

The state should allow local school boards to exercise as much control as possible over education. These local representatives are better suited to make decisions on what programs are needed in their local school districts.

Under the current educational finance system, state government must make sure that the local school board has adequate funding to finance the programs that are necessary. I favor expanding the right of school districts to implement a local option budget in order to assure that the local school boards have the flexibility needed to fund programs necessitated by local need.

Taxes. The Legislature has recently reduced some property taxes by one-third at the state level. These reductions must be maintained. I will not vote to increase them. Revenue growth at the state level should only be accomplished through growth of our state's economy.

Senior citizens. As our population of senior citizens continues to expand, there is an increasing demand for senior services. We must control the escalating price of medication; we must allow our senior citizens to lead independent lives in their own homes. This can be done by assuring that programs such as Meals on Wheels and home health care programs exist in every county and are adequately funded. It is less expensive to keep a person at home than to place them in nursing care facilities. It helps our senior citizens lead happier and more productive lives.

Should additional state funds be earmarked for the education of Kansas children in K-12? Explain your answer.

Yes. I believe that we need to attract people to the educational profession and to retain our experienced teachers. In today's economy, pay and benefits for teachers must be gradually increased. I further believe that we must reduce class sizes and provide prescriptive programs for children who are not advancing academically as fast as they should. This will require a gradual increase in funding for education.

There are some who suggest that we should divert some of the $60 million that is generated from the lottery to education. At present, 85 percent goes to economic development. While this is a tempting proposal, I feel that the long-range implications of this proposal must be considered carefully.

What programs and initiatives would you support for elderly Kansans?

I think that we must increase funding for senior citizens programs, such as Meals on Wheels and home health care. I feel that our county health departments are perfect conduits for such programs.

What should be done at the state level to handle the effects of growth in northeast Kansas?

The state must provide an adequate highway system to help accommodate growth in northeast Kansas. Otherwise, the state must assure that state law allows local governments to handle growth issues. The state level of government is not suited to handle local issues as well as local governments are.

Do you believe the state should spend additional dollars on compensation of corrections department employees?

Yes. The safety of staff and the public is at risk due to chronic understaffing of the Lansing Correctional Facility. Because of the staff shortages, the employees are having to work more and more overtime. The staff is tired and morale problems exist. In order to attract more staff and retain current staff, they must receive more pay and benefits.

Is Kansas doing enough to promote economic development?

No. Economic development must be emphasized to a greater degree. If we can attract the right kind of business to our state, we will be able to fund an adequate but austere budget yet continue to reduce some taxes. I also believe that Leavenworth and Jefferson c

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