A small but vocal group questioned local legislators on Saturday, asking them to justify the state’s low revenue and not expanding Medicaid at a South-Central Kansas Legislative Delegation meeting.
Of the senators and representatives present, 12 are Democrats and five are Republicans.
Many questions centered around the impact of income tax cuts for businesses on the Kansas budget. The state faces a budget hole for the current fiscal year of about $30 million, a figure that could grow this week when the state’s economists revise revenue estimates.
Sen. Dan Kerschen, R-Garden Plain, told the audience that a tax plan was put together last year to repeal the business exemption, but it was voted down.
“We can’t repeal the whole thing, which even I can’t support, but that plan had a reasonable chance at passing, and it didn’t pass,” Kerschen said. “So it’s back again this year with Rep. (Mark) Hutton. … This is the time to step up and support it.”
Several other Republicans at the meeting touted the fact that state revenue is above last year’s figure, which is true.
But that’s because the Legislature also raised the statewide sales tax from 6.15 to 6.5 percent. Kansas has one of the highest sales taxes on food in the nation.
“We’re just eating less!” a man shouted from the audience when the sales tax was brought up.
Rep. John Carmichael, D-Wichita, asked Republicans on the panel to justify the sales tax increase.
“It’s the people with ‘R’ after their name who voted for the largest tax increase in the state of Kansas last year in the dark of night,” he said.
“And it’s their friend the governor who refuses to accept reality, and meanwhile, we are borrowing hundreds of millions of dollars from KDOT, from KPERS and every other place we can find,” he said, singling out the Kansas Department of Transportation and the state pension program.
So far, 31 states and Washington, D.C., have decided to expand Medicaid, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Those states will receive the federal tax dollars that Kansans have already paid into the system, helping people in other states instead of our own, said Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita.
“Hospitals, doctors, safety net clinics, anyone involved in any way, shape or form with medical care in our state says Medicaid expansion is a no-brainer,” said Ward, who is the ranking minority member of the House Health and Human Services Committee.
Rep. Gail Finney, D-Wichita, said she supports Medicaid expansion. She told of a relative who had worked 15 years for Hobby Lobby before losing her health plan and life insurance and dying uninsured.
“If we would have had Medicaid expansion, she wouldn’t have had to go to Wesley Medical Center to die uninsured. She was one of those faces, those Kansans that was uninsured that fell in the gap. This is something we need to work on in Kansas,” Finney said.
She blamed the legislative leadership and the governor for there being no more than an information hearing on expanding Medicaid last session.
“It’s our leadership that decides what we hear and what we don’t hear. … It wasn’t a real hearing. We need to have a real hearing in Kansas. We have to force our leadership to make that happen for Kansas. Yes, it’s our dollars. But it’s also our lives,” she said.
Rep. Chuck Weber, R-Wichita, said he does not support Medicaid expansion. He has a special-needs son who is a KanCare recipient, and his mother is also on Medicaid, he said.
“I’ve lived it and am living it,” he said. “It’s not what you think it is. … Obamacare did not improve our health care.”
Weber said he thinks that people with real disabilities should be prioritized first.
“I’m for health care, not health insurance,” he said.
Rep. John Whitmer, R-Wichita, agreed, saying that expanding Medicaid is not revenue neutral, meaning that after the federal government pays for the expansion for the first few years, the state would need to pick up the check, and that’s not feasible.
The legislative session in Topeka will resume on April 27.