The two candidates for state Senate District 38 offer a stark difference of opinion about the state budget, especially state income tax reductions passed during the last legislative session.
On Tuesday, incumbent Garrett Love, a Montezuma Republican, faces Democratic challenger Johnny Dunlap of Spearville to represent District 38, which includes portions of Haskell, Seward, Meade, Clark, Ford and Gray counties.
The biggest issue the two candidates continue to talk about is the state income tax reductions and Gov. Sam Brownback's budget cutting agenda with Love in favor and Dunlap strongly opposed.
Dunlap, 31, an administrative assistant at Newman University, doesn't believe the tax cuts will create the kind of job numbers promoted by proponents. In fact, he says analysts project a $2.5 billion deficit by 2018 in the state budget because of cuts in the state income tax and elimination or adjustments of some exemptions.
Dunlap said the governor claims that the cuts will create 30,000 new jobs, but he thinks salaries for those jobs would have to be close to $300,000 to make up lost revenues.
He said talk of a "billion dollar turnaround" of taking a $500 million budget deficit and turning it into a $500 million surplus is misleading. Republicans did that with $340 million in sales tax, cuts of $105 million from education, nearly $300 million from highways and the closing of nine Social and Rehabilitation Services offices.
"They just slashed and burned to make up the difference. They've proved that that's what they're going to do," Dunlap said. "We have to demonstrate that it's irresponsible and work to change it, because at best it's broken and at worst, it's willfully reckless."
Not surprisingly, Love disputes predictions of budget shortfalls in future years. He said many times in government, estimates are based on static information.
Predictors of a budget shortfall don't take into account that if every taxpayer and business in Kansas has more money, they're going to spend more, or hire more people.
"When you have that occurring on a larger scale, I don't see those estimates happening," Love said.
Love was elected to the Kansas House in 2010, then was appointed to fill Tim Huelskamp's state senate seat when Huelskamp was elected to Congress. Love is a Washburn University graduate and was the youngest state senator in Kansas history two years ago when he was 22.
Love said cutting the state income tax will help the state become more competitive.
"I felt our income tax level was too high, one of the highest in the region and the country," he said. "My goal in lowering the rates is to grow our state. We've had a decade where we lost tens of thousands of private sector jobs. To have a strong public sector we've got to have a growing and strong private sector."
Dunlap, who grew up in Garden City, went to high school in Dodge City and earned a degree at Fort Hays State University, said if Republicans were serious about making the state competitive they would cut property taxes, not income taxes. He said the state ranks in the bottom third of the nation in property tax competitiveness.
"They keep telling us this new income tax law favors small business. But what they leave out is 69 percent of these tax cuts go to businesses or corporations that are worth $50 million or more," Dunlap said. "That's not small business."
Both candidates say they support education funding.
Love said Democrats' claims that the Legislature cut education by the largest amount in history are just not true.
"Education spending has gone up both years I've been in the Legislature. While I don't see the 10, 11, 12 percent increases that were happening ever being a responsible level, I'd like to maybe see smaller increases occur. It just depends on what the estimates are for this coming session to know what we can and can't do. But I wouldn't foresee more cuts," Love said.
Dunlap disagreed, saying cuts made the past two years to the base state aid formula have moved education funding back to 1999 levels. And while it's "technically true" that overall education spending has increased, Dunlap said those increases came in capital improvements and teacher retirement.
According to Dunlap, base state aid per pupil is $1,400 less than it should be. He said this year's budget increased base state aid by $53 per student, but in 2011 it was cut $225 per student.
Love said one of the ways to save money in education would be to not allow schools to use taxpayer money to sue the state. He said that money would be better spent in the classroom teaching kids.
"That's become frustrating," he said. "We've had multiple lawsuits by many school districts. I don't find it to be a positive thing. That's what the Legislature is elected to do is make these budgetary decisions."
Dunlap insists the state is headed toward a budget shortfall, and he doesn't see how Republicans can solve it without cutting education due to it being a huge part of the budget. If he had his way, Dunlap would work to repeal the income tax cuts, though he's realistic about the chances of a repeal being signed by the governor.
"Ideally, I would repeal this new tax law and put in one that's fair, where it doesn't help the extreme wealthy and hurt the poor," he said. "Our first priority is to grow the economy and create jobs. I feel the best way to do that is to ensure we have world-class infrastructure and the best education system we can possibly provide."
Love said he doesn't believe there will be an increased burden passed down to the local level as the state continues to tighten its belt. In fact, he thinks a lot of counties may be able to cut their taxes as well as the economy grows.
"We've got big picture decisions. There's lots of important things in our budget. That's one of the things you learn when you get up to Topeka, is there's lots of issues out there," he said.