Four local elected officials gathered March 3 at Sirloin Stockade in Arkansas City to participate in a public forum.
Attendees passed in questions written on index cards for the officials to answer.
Medicaid expansion, tax bills and revenue streams were among the issues covered during the 90-minute event.
The participants were Sen. Larry Alley, R-Winfield; Rep. Doug Blex, R-Independence; Rep. Anita Judd-Jenkins, R-Arkansas City; and Rep. Ed Trimmer, D-Winfield.
Alley spoke first, thanking people for the opportunity to serve them in the Kansas Legislature.
He spoke about recent adjustments in revenue estimates — estimates that have been exceeded for the last three months.
Alley and Judd-Jenkins also worked together to have Cowley County designated as a Rural Opportunity Zone.
The vote to accomplish that has not yet taken place, but should occur before the month is out, he said.
Judd-Jenkins spoke next, addressing the processes and learning curve she has faced in her first term.
“I’m a sponge for learning — always have been,” she said.
Trimmer, the only incumbent in attendance, said every legislative session has a “different face to it.”
“I have been encouraged, especially in the House,” he said. “We’ve done a lot of good bipartisan work.”
Blex said he thinks taxes will have to be raised at some point to create financial stability, but it will not be easy to do fairly.
Medicaid expansion proponents
After opening statements, the moderator asked several audience questions.
The topic that perhaps has led to the most debate in the last several years is the possibility of expanding Medicaid.
The person who submitted the question wanted to know where each legislator stood on the issue — especially those with mental and physical issues.
Judd-Jenkins said she supports expansion, because when she surveyed the people she represents, 70 percent of those who responded said they wanted expanded Medicaid in Kansas.
“I know that there has been a lot of discussion about (giving assistance) to those who could get out and work,” she said. “A great many of (those who fall in the gap) have full-time jobs. We need it now.”
Trimmer spoke about the potential for the Affordable Care Act’s repeal and the possibility of a block grant system being put into place for the Medicaid system.
He said if the block grant system were to go through, the state would be funded at the current level, not the higher level resulting from Medicaid expansion.
“There were 160 entities that testified for expanded Medicaid,” Trimmer said. Among them was South Central Kansas Medical Center.
Medicaid expansion opponents
Alley said there are people who are eligible for certain programs — such as the Affordable Care Act — that supplement health care, but refuse to take part in the programs themselves. He said he is not for expanded Medicaid.
Facilities that “charge what you can afford” can help to supplement the health care industry without expanding Medicaid, he argued.
Blex said he could not support Medicaid expansion because he thinks it would create more of a deficit than currently exists.
“I voted against it,” Blex said. “I think it’s probably a good program, eventually, when the state gets in better shape.”
Opinions differ on taxes
The elected officials answered questions about taxes and whether they would support an across-the-board sales tax without exemptions. They also asked were about the failure of House Bill 2178.
“No,” Trimmer said. “I think we need to go to a fairer tax.”
He said the State of Kansas has been cutting budgets for four years, but there are no cuts left to be made.
“It is probably going to have to do with income tax,” Trimmer said. “We’re going to have to raise revenue one way or the other.”
He said legislators had a plan in HB 2178. But a vote to overturn Gov. Sam Brownback’s veto failed in the Senate.
If it had passed, it would have raised personal income tax rates and eliminated an pass-through exemption for limited liability corporations.
Judd-Jenkins said she agreed with Trimmer.
“Sales tax is not the answer. We have already had our sales tax … raised to what is unfair to our poorest people,” she said.
In regard to HB 2178, Judd-Jenkins said she had a difference of opinion with Trimmer.
She voted for the bill, but only voted that way because the survey she sent out showed people primarily were for the bill.
“The answer is no,” Alley said. He said the bill went through the House too quickly.
“Let’s take the time to debate it,” Alley said. He voted against overturning the veto in the Senate.