Jim Ward: Democrats putting Kansas back on track

Minority Leader Jim Ward is a member of the Kansas House of Representatives. (Submitted)

To the thousands of Kansans who voted for change in August and November, who continue to contact their legislators pleading to end the Brownback experiment, who have felt the impact of the state’s exorbitant sales tax or who can’t get the services they need because our state agencies are failing, please know this: Democrats hear you and we’re fighting for that change.


The Brownback era of borrow-and-spend government has nearly bankrupted the state and placed undue burdens on working Kansans and local governments. It must end.

There’s considerable pressure by Gov. Sam Brownback and the Republican leadership to adopt an inadequate tax plan that will leave our state employees and judicial workers without a raise, forego necessary investments in KPERS, delay spending (again) for the maintenance and upkeep of our highways, and fail to meet the constitutional requirement of the Kansas Supreme Court to adequately and equitably fund our public school system.

These kinds of measures won’t get my vote.

Democrats believe the first step to restoring financial responsibility is to build and fund a school finance formula that meets the needs of our children and allows each to pursue his or her God-given talents.

Now is the time for the Legislature to debate a school finance formula that invests in education as the cornerstone of a better future. Then we can complete our budget of core services and build a fair tax policy to meet those obligations.

Failure to include school funding in the tax package means Republicans will look to things like $3 utility meter fees or sales taxes on your utilities to pay for schools. “You want more money for schools?” they’ll say, “Well, we have to raise your electric, gas and water bill to do it.”

I’m not OK with this. Middle class families have been battered with more than their fair share of the tax burden to support the policies of Brownback and ultra conservatives. It’s time the Legislature steps up and enacts comprehensive income tax reform and stops relying on regressive taxes that weaken our middle class.

We have a structurally unbalanced budget that will end in a deficit of about $900 million over the next two years. Our tax system is inherently unfair and it allows 330,000 Kansans to use public services while paying no state income taxes. The Supreme Court has ruled our public schools have been inadequately funded and we’re in violation of the Kansas Constitution. And finally, the Kansas health care system is in financial crisis.

Our schools have been underfunded for seven years. As a result, schools have closed, class sizes have increased, and teachers continue to leave the profession or move to other states to teach. The data now show that our test scores have begun to flatline and decrease in direct relation to funding cuts. Brownback and his followers have swept payments to the KPERS retirement system, taken more than $2 billion from our highway system and rejected nearly $1.8 billion in Kansan-paid federal tax dollars for Medicaid expansion.

Meanwhile, our state has received multiple credit downgrades and fiscal warnings from global credit agencies, our state hospital for the severely mentally ill has been declared unsafe by the federal agency in charge of patient safety, and our state employees have not received a pay increase or cost of living increase in 10 years.

As we approach the 100th day of session, the battle continues to rage in the Capitol over how best to address these crises. Please know Kansas Democrats are there each day, no matter how long the session goes, fighting to put Kansas back on the right track.

Minority Leader Jim Ward is a member of the Kansas House of Representatives.



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