Kansas House candidates on the issues: What’s Kansas’s competitive advantage over neighboring states?

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We’re continuing today with the statehouse candidates’ responses to our questionnaire:

Here’s question number three:

What’s your view of the competitive advantage Kansas should be seeking to have over neighboring states: Should it be primarily known as a place with low taxes? As a place with great public schools? As an easy place to live? As a great place to run a business?

District 14

Angela Justus Schweller (Democrat)

As a Realtor in the Kansas City area, I can attest to the fact that many people move here for our great public schools, especially across the Missouri/Kansas state line. Our schools are the backbone of our economy here, creating an educated workforce, a steady housing market, and a safe community. This attracts businesses to the area, which in turn attracts top talent to move here and establish roots.

Charlotte Esau (Republican)

Did not respond.

District 16

Cindy Holscher (Democrat)

The competitive advantage in Kansas comes down to this: excellent communities where you can raise a family and find good jobs. It’s how we built the Johnson County area and what attracts people here. At the core of this is strong public schools. When families and businesses search for a place to locate you will hear people say it was the excellent schools that brought them here. We tried an experiment of low taxes and that failed miserably, setting our state backwards. As we work to restore and rebuild our great state, let us not lose sight of what makes us successful; it’s not mountains or oceans – it’s strong public schools.

Sue Huff (Republican)

I think Kansas should be known for all of the above items. All of these issues are attractive to homeowners, parents, and businesses wanting to come to Kansas. Currently, we are eighth in the country for having the highest taxes. I am for less government and lowering taxes to allow the people of the State to spend their money how they see fit. I believe we need to put more money in the classroom and less in the administrative costs. I believe we have the best state to live in, and think we need to continue advertising our positive qualities. I believe it is a great place to run a business, but we need to give our business the room to grow by lowering their taxes.

District 17

Tom Cox (incumbent Republican)

People choose to live in Kansas for the quality of life. That means great public schools, affordable cost of living, great parks, and public safety. In Johnson County specifically, people live here to raise a family and ensure their children get the best possible education. We all know friends and family that lived on the MO side and moved back when their kids were getting ready to attend schools. I do believe taxes play a role, but secondary to all of the things listed above.

Michael Kerner (Libertarian)

Becoming a low tax state (significantly lower than our neighbors) would be the fastest and most direct way to increase the attractiveness of the state for new business and new people. To make that happen, we must make some major changes in the school finance area and giving local boards more control and, at the same time offering the possibility of parents using tax funds to pay for private school will set up a competitive market. That is how you lower costs and increase quality. We can see on the national level how reduced taxes increased business investment and employment. That is because it gave us a comparative advantage in the competition with other countries. The same principle applies in the competition among states for business investment.

Laura Smith-Everett (Democrat)

What a great and difficult question! I think Kansas should be known as a great place to raise a family with fantastic public schools. When the anchor of a state is family oriented, businesses and business owners will follow. I also think we should look at Kansas’s corporate tax incentives and find out which ones are bringing good businesses with great jobs. A Kansas that is transparent, discrimination free and progressive is a Kansas any person or business would find worth locating too.

District 18

Eric Jenkins (Republican)

It think it should be all of the above. Businesses are attracted to localities that have low taxes. Even more perhaps, States that minimize unnecessary and burdensome regulations and red tape. They are very costly as well. Great schools that produce a quality work force is also a big attraction. I believe our schools should not only produce smart, capable graduates, but also produce a strong pool of competent and capable craftsmen and tradesmen. This is an area which needs to be reinvigorated in our schools – the production of graduates that are prepared to enter the job market as tradesmen. Lack of skilled tradesmen is hampering our economic growth and progress. Kansas is an easy place to live but does lack outdoor attractions such as ocean beaches or mountains. This can be somewhat compensated for by our great hospitality, family values and work ethic. Kansas would be a great place to run a business if we do reduce burdensome regulations, provide an exceptional work force and keep our taxes low.

Cindy Neighbor (incumbent Democrat)

Very few businesses are worried about taxes when they come to Kansas. That does not mean that we don’t have to keep constant oversight of our budget. If taxes get too out- of-line, our citizens on fixed incomes will become unduly challenged. We also need to address the food tax issue.

From discussions I have had, they come because we have an educated workforce, quality education system, affordable housing, and a sound infrastructure. With that said, it is an easy place to live and raise a family along with running a business. Since the repeal of the Brownback tax experiment, we are starting to fund our schools at an appropriate level. We are developing a transportation plan to make sure our roads and bridges are safe, and we are starting to fund agencies that have an impact on our daily lives.

District 19

Stephanie Clayton (incumbent Republican)

I chose to live in Johnson County because of the schools, and the high quality of life. In my numerous discussions with members of the business community, they speak of what draws potential employees here: that it is a nice place to live. I would posit that low sales taxes allow for all Kansans to do well, and is especially beneficial for businesses in the 19th District, which borders Missouri, and needs a lower sales tax burden to encourage purchases on the Kansas side of the state line. But, above all, it is the quality of life provided here in Northeast Johnson County that creates the draw for both businesses and residents.

Stephen Wyatt (Democrat)

Kansas should be known as a place that has great public schools. Great schools means families will want to move to Kansas. More people means more opportunities. More entrepreneurs starting businesses. More companies bringing careers to the area. Great public schools will drive Kansas.



District 21

Jan Kessinger (Republican Incumbent)

The competitive advantage Kansas should seek over neighboring states is an outstanding public education system (not only K-12, but early childhood education and higher education) and infrastructure. We should be known for a fair tax structure that delivers outstanding services and support to the citizens. Education is at the top, followed closely by an infrastructure of roads and other transportation to move products to and from the state, which will make us more attractive to manufacturers and businesses seeking to have a presence in the Midwest.

“Low taxes” is low on the qualities that businesses look for when locating a new facility or property. What they seek is a fair tax base that is coupled with a qualified workforce, an attractive environment for employee families, good schools, good healthcare, good roads and a livable community.

Becky Barber (Democrat)

Did not respond.

District 23

Linda Gallagher (incumbent Republican)

Kansas should seek to be known as a great place to live, raise a family and run a business. Factors that determine this include: having great K-12 public schools and higher education institutions; safe, livable cities and towns; excellent healthcare facilities; well-maintained roads, bridges and other infrastructure; widespread availability of broadband technology; effective public safety departments; attractive entertainment and recreation options; and a strong social services safety net. Seeking to have these things would give Kansas a competitive advantage over neighboring states.
Low taxes alone do not attract residents or businesses to a state. Taxes rank low on the list of key factors companies consider as they decide where to locate and where to expand. The quality of school districts and size and quality of the local workforce are among the top factors. Others include the items I listed above. Employers look at the overall quality of life in a state and a community – whether they are places where their employees will want to live, work and raise their families.

Taxes are necessary to provide the revenues needed to fund essential state services, but they should be fair and equitable for all taxpayers. We must be good stewards of the taxpayers’ money. I voted for the 2017 tax reform bill to roll back the 2012 income tax cuts and restore business owners to the tax rolls. This restored balance to our tax system and stabilized the Kansas financial crisis, during which there were nine rounds of budget cuts, four years of budget shortfalls, two sales tax increases and three credit rating downgrades.

Ripple effects from the financial crisis touched all of the quality of life and quality of work factors listed above, hurting our state’s ability to compete with neighboring states for businesses, jobs and residents. Although things are much better now as a result of the tax reform bill passed last year, it will take years to recover fully. This year, the legislature was able to begin restoring funding to several critical budget areas – including state employee raises, K-12 schools, higher education, social services and some transportation projects.

I will continue to support sound budget and tax policy. There is much more work to be done. Kansas cannot afford to lose the gains made in the past two years.

Susan Ruiz (Democrat)

There is no simple solution for what attracts people to a state. While taxes are a factor, in many cases, it is a job opportunity that draws new residents. To build Kansas into a competitive state, we have to develop a welcoming environment to new residents. This means continuing to provide quality education/early education, strong infrastructure, and growing job opportunities. I want to strive to see Kansas as a place that has all of the above competitive advantages.

District 25

Melissa Rooker (incumbent Republican)

Kansas should be the best place to live, work and raise a family. Many ingredients are needed to create a competitive advantage when seeking to attract families to Kansas: excellent schools, business and job opportunities, access to healthcare, safe neighborhoods, and quality infrastructure.

Our ability to balance the state budget, invest in infrastructure projects, deliver state services effectively, provide safe communities and operate a world class education system is directly tied to responsible tax policy. We are in the process of reinvesting in the core services that have always attracted people to Kansas and state economic indicators have shown improvement lately. We need to protect that hard-fought progress and continue to grow.

Business thrives in a climate of stability and certainty, with a workforce to choose from that is diverse, well-educated and prepared. Investing the funds in our schools is step one, while the work being done by the Kansas Department of Education to direct school redesign is step two. The Kansans Can Vision for Public Education is the guide for improving student success beyond high school. Addressing workforce development is also a key component. Business leaders have joined the fight against discriminatory policies to ensure Kansas is safe and welcoming to all.

Kansas needs to be competitive with regard to access to quality healthcare for all citizens. Medicaid Expansion should be part of the equation to strengthen the network of rural healthcare providers, improve health outcomes for all, and protect children, seniors and hardworking Kansans falling into the coverage gap.

Investing in roads, bridges, water conservation, broadband access and other infrastructure projects is crucial to attracting people to Kansas. Whether in population centers like Johnson County or small towns in rural Kansas, people value service, connectivity and safety.

Kansas has become a leader in the renewable energy marketplace. Wind generation is on track to achieve nearly 50% of our electricity generation in the next year. Major corporations are contracting to source their energy from Kansas wind farms – contracts are already in place with Target, Google, Kohler, T-Mobile and Royal Caribbean to sell megawatts generated in Kansas. More innovation is needed.

Many of these very things – outstanding public schools, a shared sense of community, and proximity to extended family drew me back to Kansas. A determination to preserve that quality of life for the next generation is what keeps me fighting. I ask for your vote in this election.

Rui Xu (Democrat)

Kansas should be known as a state with great public schools and with the ambition to make full use of its inherent geographical advantages; its people, its natural resources, and its centrality to the rest of the United States.

While we may not have much in the way of mountains and beaches to draw people to move to the state, we have a very strong public school system that entices families and businesses to move here. We have to keep them funded, not only for the benefit of our children and students, but to keep our state growing economically.

We are also uniquely suited to be at the forefront of alternative energy with wind turbines. We have the space, we have the infrastructure, and we have the manufacturing capability, so we need to be the leaders in protecting and saving our environment.

We can also use our centrality to our economic benefit. When discussions were being had about the new US Soccer National Development Center in Kansas City, KS, one of the big benefits was that players from both the West and East Coasts could easily fly to the middle of the country, rather than having to endure the long flights from one to the other.

District 29

Brett Parker (incumbent Democrat)

Rather than becoming a low tax, low education, low service state like Mississippi, Kansas must reinvest in public education while providing a stable environment for businesses to thrive. Our reputation as a state has taken a severe hit over the last 8 years and we must continue the hard work of rebuilding both our budget and our brand. The work of the last 2 years was important but must be followed up by finally adequately funding schools and ending the current lawsuit. Beyond that, we must be disciplined in continuing to maintain funding education and other core services while providing a stable and predictable situation for businesses in Kansas.

James Todd (Republican)

What’s your view of the competitive advantage Kansas should be seeking to have over neighboring states: Should it be primarily known as a place with low taxes? As a place with great public schools? As an easy place to live? As a great place to run a business?

Kansas needs a diversified economy, and should invest in our roads and bioscience sectors. Kansas farmers grow the best wheat in the world and our ranchers raise the finest cattle. Wichita used to be a major hub of airplane manufacturing but a large number of those jobs have left in recent years. Johnson County carried the weight for most the last decade as the rest of Kansas was slow in it’s recovery. Johnson County’s professional services drive the local economy; telecommunications, engineering, legal, and healthcare/healthcare information technology. When I was the Representative, we did a lot of work to reduce the regulatory burden on business in Kansas. Because of this, Kansas is a great place to do business.

We are not a low tax state. Wallethub has Kansas listed as having the 10th highest effective State and Local tax rate for a median household and the 15th highest effective real estate tax rate. Fortunately, our schools are the primary beneficiaries of our tax dollars accounting for over 50% of State General Funds with over $1 billion in new funds committed over the last four years including $825 million last session that my opponent did not vote for. Kansas schools are the crown jewel of Johnson County and across the state we do a wonderful job of educating our kids. People move here to go to our schools.

Two areas that we have competitive advantages over our neighboring states is in our roads and bioscience. We can continue to invest in these areas to grow them and drive economic growth. Our highways are high quality, ranking as the second best in the nation in one report. Our central location, strong rail system, and quality highways allows us to be a shipping hub. The good highways also makes for easy travel and reduces wear and tear on our cars increasing quality of life for Kansans. We need to develop a new highway plan to replace T-Works and ensure our highways remain high quality in the future.

Bioscience is a perfect compliment to our strong agricultural sector. We are part of the Kansas City Animal Health Corridor, anchored in Manhattan, Kansas and running east. The KC Animal Health Corridor represents 56 percent of total worldwide animal health, diagnostics and pet food sales and the 300 animal health companies in the corridor is the largest concentration in the world. During my time as representative I voted to help bring the National Bio and Agro Defense Facility (NBADF) to Kansas voting for the $202 million dollar investment needed to bring in $714 million from the Federal Government. Kansas should continue to invest in Bioscience and bring in professional, high paying jobs to Kansas.

Robert Firestone (Libertarian)

Firestone has indicated to the Shawnee Mission Post that though his name will remain on the ballot, he will no longer be actively campaigning for the seat.

District 30

Brandon Woodard (Democrat)

Kansas does not have mountains or oceans to attract people to our state, so we rely on people coming here for our good jobs and staying for our excellent schools, which in turn help attract those good jobs. The 30th District is one of the youngest state house districts in Kansas and half of those residents are renters. We must focus on targeted strategies to bring new residents to Kansas, to retain our current residents, and to maintain Johnson County’s appeal as a wonderful place to live, work, and entertain. We can do that by creating more well-paying jobs and training the workforce of tomorrow.

Kansas should seek a competitive advantage through a highly skilled workforce by prioritizing investments to restore the cuts made to higher education, constitutionally funding our public K-12 schools, and returning to a predictable and fair tax structure for hardworking Kansas families. Our campaign is committed to finding common sense, bipartisan solutions to address Kansas’s most pressing challenges. That is why we are the only campaign for House District 30 to have a coalition of support from the local business community, organized labor, educators, and leaders throughout the district.

Wendy Bingesser (Republican)

Kansas is a great place to live and raise a family. We are a warm and welcoming community that cares for one another. I hear all the time about how residents initially came to our state as visitors and later fell in love with what Kansas had to offer. Our competitive advantage is not one we have to seek, but rather it is one we already have. Our character and our culture as a community are what makes Kansas and the Kansas City area attractive to businesses and families. With the arrival of businesses, we obtain new jobs with higher salaries. This powers our economy and allows us to have innovative developments that bring out the best in our community. This sense of community attracts families who want better lives for their children through our impressive education system and diverse workforce and job opportunities.

The good spirit expressed by our community really makes raising a family in Kansas special. Our kids have so many great educationally and recreational opportunities in our state. I am proud to stand with our schools and institutions of higher education. Incorporating career and technical education into our high schools and investing in medical research will help to create new jobs and prepare our students for bright futures right here in Kansas. There is a reason Kansas is located in the center of the United States. Home is where the heart is. Kansas is a place where respect and kindness dominate our community and make us the nicest place in the United States to call home.

Tomorrow we’ll publish the candidates’ responses to item four:

Who are you supporting in the race for Kansas governor? Why?

About the author

Jay Senter
Jay Senter

Jay Senter is the founder and publisher of the Post.

He earned his bachelor’s degree in business at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, where he worked as a reporter and editor at The Badger Herald.

He went on to receive a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Kansas, where he earned the Calder Pickett Award. While he was in graduate school, he also worked as a reporter for the Lawrence Journal-World.