A legislative forum Saturday at Wichita State University's Hughes Metropolitan Complex centered on priorities — and the partisan differences they reflect.
About 250 people packed a room at the Metroplex to talk to the Sedgwick County legislative delegation, with the discussion tilted toward education spending and a newly passed statewide smoking ban.
A terse exchange about business tax cuts between Republican Rep. Brenda Landwehr and Democratic Rep. Jim Ward, both from Wichita, drew the most sustained response from the crowd.
"There's a fundamental core value disagreement in the Legislature," Ward said. "There are several people in the Legislature who believe that giving tax breaks to corporations and businesses is the best way to run the state of Kansas.
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"They've done that over and over and over and over again for the last 10 years, to the tune of 12 billion — billion with a "B" — dollars. And $4 billion in sales tax exemptions, under the theory of less taxes, more jobs."
Instead, Ward said, Kansas has 95,000 unemployed workers, about 20,000 in Wichita.
"Plus, last week, they cut taxes another $95 million in a budget year when the Kansas budget is $400 million in debt," he said.
The other "values question," Ward said, comes from social service proponents in the Legislature.
"It is wrong to tell the disabilities community this year that they need to wait," he said, to applause from the crowd.
"It's wrong to tell senior citizens, usually single women in their 60s, 70s and 80s, that they may need to leave their home because we can't deliver Meals on Wheels anymore because we cut a million dollars out of Meals on Wheels in Wichita last year.
"It is wrong to tell third-grade classes this year we're going to cut your classes this year, you're going to have bigger class sizes, because we don't have the money to fund schools this year ... ," said Ward, a former Wichita school board member, to more applause.
Landwehr took issue with Ward's characterization of the business tax cut last week.
"I believe that it's somewhat disingenuous to say that the Legislature did a $95 million tax cut ... recently. We did not do that," she said.
"Who's lying?" yelled a member of the audience, who drew a swift rebuke from Landwehr.
"It's $95 million, first of all , over three years and second of all, it's only for brand-new companies that provide jobs," she said.
"They do not get the money up front. They have to provide the jobs, they have to prove that the jobs are here and it occurs after the jobs have occurred. This is a jobs bill, and that's all it was about."
On smoking, the ban passed by the House on March 3 and headed to Gov. Mark Parkinson's desk allows smoking on state-owned casino floors while banning it from private businesses.
"I voted against that bill," said Rep. Don Myers, R-Derby. "It has holes big enough to drive a Mack truck through. It's sheer hypocrisy to pass a bill like that when we exempt state-owned facilities such as casinos."
After the meeting, Rep. Steve Brunk, R-Wichita, who chaired the session, said he didn't find the crowd's tone unusual.
"That's fairly typical of these kinds of forums," he said. "You'll have some people who don't want their taxes raised for any reason at all and other people that are willing to have taxes raised for very specific purposes."