Politics & Government

House candidates offer significantly different views on taxes

Elizabeth Bishop is challenging Rep. Joseph Scapa in the District 88 House race.
Elizabeth Bishop is challenging Rep. Joseph Scapa in the District 88 House race. Courtesy photos

The Eagle is profiling key legislative races in Sedgwick County. Today’s report focuses on Kansas House District 88 in east Wichita. To learn more about these candidates or to find out about the candidates in your area, go to The Eagle’s voter guide at Kansas.com/politics.

The race

Rep. Joseph Scapa, a Republican, faces a challenge from Democrat Elizabeth Bishop in Kansas House District 88, which covers parts of east Wichita and Sedgwick County.

The district is pretty evenly split between the two parties. Republicans make up 3,752 of the district’s registered voters, while Democrats account for 3,728. Unaffiliated voters outnumber both at 4,989.

The candidates offer radically different views on how to right the state’s finances in the face of a more than $60 million budget hole for the current year.

The candidates

Rep. Joseph Scapa: Scapa, a 42-year-old real estate agent, was elected to the Kansas House in 2010. He lost a bid for re-election in 2012 after redistricting. Scapa took back the seat in 2014 and helped lead an unsuccessful effort to get rid of the Common Core education standards in Kansas.

Scapa, who is often joined by his three children when he goes door to door campaigning, said that in previous campaigns, he told voters what he wanted to accomplish. He said he’s “been letting the voters do the talking this time around.”

“I’m asking them what their concerns are,” Scapa said. “I’ve been basically listening.”

Elizabeth Bishop: Bishop, a 73-year-old great-grandmother, served as an aide to former U.S. Rep. Dan Glickman, a Democrat who represented the 4th Congressional District from 1977 to 1995.

Bishop, who broke her ankle in June, said she’s delighted to be outside going door to door now that her ankle has healed. She wears a gardening vest as she goes through the neighborhoods, in which she carries pens to write down questions, campaign palm cards and a pocket copy of the Constitution.

Bishop, who made an unsuccessful run for the Kansas Senate in 2008, said she’s been encouraged by voters’ engagement when she greets them on their doorsteps. “I’ve obviously interrupted their dinner, and they thank me for coming,” she said. “People have been gracious, interested, engaged.”

The issues

Taxes/spending: Bishop said she wants more tax fairness. Kansas is one of the only states that taxes food at the same rate as other products. When lawmakers increased the sales tax last year to fill a budget hole, Kansans had to bear the cost at the grocery store.

“I think it’s unconscionable,” Bishop said. “It is definitely a major part of the tax shift from the upper- to the lower- and middle-income people.”

She said she would like to lower the overall sales tax but that that probably won’t be possible given the state’s budget constraints. She said lawmakers need to look to “at least reduce the sales tax on food, which is an absolutely necessary item.”

She supports rolling back an income tax exemption for business owners but said she expects to look at all of the tax changes enacted since 2012. She said she does not support raising individual income tax rates without restoring some of the deductions that have been eliminated or reduced in recent years.

Scapa, who voted for the sales tax increase last year, said he supports exempting food from the sales tax but that he’s “not sure we can afford that right now.” He noted that the bill that raised the sales tax also eliminated income taxes for 380,000 low-wage workers.

Scapa said his constituents are wary of any possibility of increasing taxes next year.

“My constituents earn an average of $47,000 a year, so any time we talk about any kind of tax increases, they are concerned,” he said. “Any time that something’s going to cut into their paycheck or cut away from the money they can spend on their family, they are concerned.”

Scapa said he was disappointed that the Legislature didn’t do more to enact budget efficiencies identified by a private consulting firm at the start of this past session. He said lawmakers need to pursue those measures before raising taxes.

“I’d like to see more conversation on the efficiency study. We spent $3 million on an efficiency study that found $2 billion in efficiencies, and before we look at any revenue increases, we need to look at the $2 billion in efficiencies that have been found,” Scapa said.

Education: Bishop supports increased funding for public schools and opposes efforts to dictate curriculum and other school policies from the state level.

She said one of her granddaughters is studying to be a teacher at Emporia State University. “And we’ve talked a lot of the tone and the seemingly negative attitude toward teachers, which she finds very troubling,” Bishop said, citing pieces of legislation in recent years that have sought to make it easier to fire or prosecute teachers.

The Legislature will have to pass a new school finance plan next year, and Scapa said he wants “a formula that actually works and doesn’t treat our children like dollar signs. … The current focus right now has been all about our system instead of our students.”

Scapa helped lead the unsuccessful effort to repeal Common Core in recent years, but he thinks the focus on a new formula will overshadow that this coming session. “We gave it a good shot the last two years. The voters hate it,” Scapa said. “It’s a winning issue to get rid of it with the voters, but convincing my colleagues of that has been difficult.”

Medicaid: Bishop strongly supports expanding Medicaid to offer health coverage to uninsured Kansans, while Scapa strongly opposes it. Scapa does support rolling back the recent cuts Gov. Sam Brownback made to Medicaid provider reimbursement rates, which reduced the payment that hospitals and doctors receive for treating patients enrolled in the program, which offers health coverage to low-income and disabled Kansans.

Bishop wants more oversight over the state’s privatized Medicare system, KanCare, noting that the contracts for the companies providing health coverage to low-income and disabled Kansans are up for renewal next year and that many voters have raised concerns that when they ask questions or make complaints, the issues with their coverage go unresolved.

Bryan Lowry: 785-296-3006, @BryanLowry3