John Doll, who is seeking to unseat incumbent Larry Powell in the Aug. 2 Republican primary for the 39th District Senate seat, believes he will be more of a representative of local constituents than Powell has been, and won’t be beholden to special interests in Topeka.
“I represent southwest Kansas. Larry is a pawn of special interests,” Doll said. “That’s the reason I ran.”
Doll, who recently completed two terms representing the 123rd House district, thinks the state’s budget problems can be fixed only by increasing revenues, which means revisiting the 2012 income tax cuts put in place by Gov. Sam Brownback.
Many around the state argue that the governor’s sweeping income tax reductions, which he touted as an experiment that would create tens of thousands of new jobs, have not worked as intended and have led to a cycle of revenue shortfalls, deficits and budget cuts.
The state frequently has failed to collect enough revenue to fully fund the budget over the past two years, and Brownback has repeatedly cut spending. In June, lawmakers authorized a record $900 million debt certificate to allow Kansas to meet its financial obligations during periods of low cash flow in the coming year. The Legislature also passed an unbalanced budget this spring that required Brownback to cut nearly $100 million to make it balance.
While some revenue was up, other income was down. Tobacco tax collections rose by 56 percent, or nearly $50 million, over the previous fiscal year. Kansas also took in $141 million more in sales tax than the previous year, an increase of 6.6 percent.
However, other revenue sources, such as oil and gas, the economic lifeblood for many area counties, were down. The state collected 15 percent less in corporate income taxes compared with the previous fiscal year — a drop of $62 million. Individual income tax was down 1.3 percent, or $28 million.
After June tax revenues fell more than $33 million short of estimates, the governor ordered about $23 million in budget adjustments to close out the fiscal year.
Last month, Brownback approved a series of emergency budget adjustments in response to a $33.5 million shortfall in the final month of the fiscal year.
When asked how the Legislature would balance the budget next year if he is elected to the Senate, Doll said his goal would be to stop “stupid” legislation.
“It’s going to be difficult to turn the budget around, but at least we can stop the hemorrhaging, and I think that would have to be our goal the next two years,” he said. “We can’t give the executive branch discretionary spending or funding or cutting. We have to stop that.”
Doll said the governor has cut areas that are vital to Kansas’ economy, like highways, schools and Medicaid.
“I think we’ve made it very clear throughout our campaign and since I’ve been in the Legislature, the root of the problem is the 2012 tax plan, and that needs to be addressed. But I don’t think we can get it turned around in the next two years with the current makeup of the government,” he said.
Doll said it’s the responsibility of the Legislature to find a way to efficiently run the government, but added that cutting essential services is not it.
“If there are cuts to be made, and we can find cuts that don’t have the disastrous impact on services that are expected and needed and wanted, I would be all for that,” he said. “If we have a change in the House and Senate, we can stop digging the hole deeper.”
Doll thinks it may take years to get the state’s finances turned around.
Doll supported the school finance solution resulting from a special session last month that met the funding equity requirement demanded by the Kansas Supreme Court. During the special session, lawmakers boosted equity spending by $38 million, with most of that amount going toward property tax relief.
Lawmakers were working against a June 30 deadline set by the court. Educators and legislators feared justices could close the schools if the Legislature didn’t pass a bill.
“Everybody wants to blame the courts for the school mess. It wasn’t the courts,” he said. “It was this team vs. that team. They were the referees, and they ruled on how the constitution is written right now.”
He thinks the court will rule on the adequacy piece of the school funding issue sometime this fall, so he knows there is much more work to be done and said that is partly why this election is so critical.
Doll said the previous school finance formula, which was put in place to meet the constitutional requirements for providing equitable and adequate funding to schools, was adequate.
Doll is opposed to a property tax lid passed by the Legislature this year to prevent cities and counties from increasing property taxes above the rate of inflation without voter approval. He opposes the lid because, he said, it ties the hands of local governing bodies.
“It was nothing but state overreach on local government,” Doll said.
If elected, Doll said, Medicaid expansion would be a top priority.
Kansas has forfeited about $1.24 billion in federal dollars since 2014 by not expanding KanCare, the state’s Medicaid program, representatives of the Alliance for a Healthy Kansas said last month during a forum in Garden City.
Brownback and Republican legislative leaders have blocked consideration of the issue, despite polls conducted by the Kansas Hospital Association and others that show a majority of Kansans support it.
Expansion would allow more low-income families to be covered by Medicaid. More than 150,000 people in Kansas fall into a health coverage gap. They earn too much to qualify for KanCare but too little to be eligible for financial help to buy private insurance.
Doll believes Medicaid expansion would help cover the costs of providing care that is not sufficiently being covered by Medicaid reimbursements. He said hospitals that are barely getting by financially can’t afford emergencies like burst pipes, and he believes the property tax lid could impact counties’ abilities to help hospitals cover those types of unforeseen costs.
District 39 includes Finney, Haskell, Grant, Stanton, Morton, Stevens, Kearny, Hamilton, Wichita and Greeley counties.
The winner of the Aug. 2 Republican primary will take on Democrat Zacheriah Worf in the November general election.