Candidates for Kansas governor talk tax cuts and growing the state’s economy
The election for Kansas governor is less than a month away.
Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach is facing Democratic Sen. Laura Kelly in what appears to be a close race.
Kobach has a national reputation for taking a hardline on illegal immigration and for championing laws that critics say suppresses voting but he says are needed to fight voter fraud.
Kelly, of Topeka, has been a frequent critic of former Gov. Sam Brownback and has focused on the state’s foster care system and welfare programs while in the Legislature.
Independent Greg Orman, a Johnson County businessman, is in third place, according to polls in September. Independent Rick Kloos, a Topeka pastor, and Libertarian Jeff Caldwell, of Leawood, are also running.
On several of the major issues in the race – abortion, guns and taxes, just to name a few – Kelly and Kobach are especially far apart.
Ahead of the Nov. 6 election, The Eagle is summarizing where the candidates stand on five significant issues in the race, based on candidate interviews, public statements and their websites.
Kansas has significantly reduced restrictions on firearms over the past several years. The state has gone from legalizing concealed weapons with a permit to now allowing individuals to carry concealed weapons without a permit.
Public universities and college campuses are also now required to allow concealed weapons on campus. In the past, the institutions had the option to prohibit them.
Some lawmakers over the past couple years have pushed unsuccessfully to reverse campus carry. But it’s possible the situation could change depending on who wins the governor’s office.
Kobach opposes restrictions on firearm rights. He supports the state’s current law that allows individuals to carry concealed weapons without a permit and opposes efforts to limit concealed weapons on public college campuses.
Kelly supports some restrictions on firearm rights. Though she voted to allow permitless conceal carry, she now says the state went too far. She wants to give public colleges the option of prohibiting guns on campus.
Orman says Kansans should again require permits to have a concealed weapon.
Kloos says he supports the Second Amendment but calls for implementing for more firearm education programs.
Caldwell has said he supports the Second Amendment.
Kansas has increased the number of abortion-related regulations over the past few years, including a law that sets font and type requirements for materials used in abortion clinics.
While reversing those regulations is unlikely in a Republican-controlled Legislature, the next governor may hold sway in a fight over a constitutional amendment on abortion.
Anti-abortion activists want a state constitutional amendment that says Kansas doesn’t include the right to an abortion. This comes as the Kansas Supreme Court may rule any time in a case where the court may find the state constitution includes the right to an abortion.
What the state constitution says about abortion has taken on more importance because the U.S. Supreme Court now has a 5-4 conservative majority, raising fears and hopes that the court may one day overturn the landmark decision Roe v. Wade that legalized abortion nationwide. If that happened, states would decide whether to allow abortion.
But while a governor can try to influence the debate over constitutional amendments, he or she plays no formal role. Amendments must be approved by two-thirds of the House and Senate and then go to a statewide vote. The governor has no veto power over them.
Kobach supports a constitutional amendment that would say that the Kansas Constitution doesn’t include the right to an abortion.
Kelly supports abortion rights. She has been endorsed by Planned Parenthood and Emily’s List, which works to elect Democratic women who support abortion rights.
Orman described himself as “pro-choice” in 2014. Asked in September whether he supports the legal right to an abortion, Orman didn’t directly answer but said everyone wants fewer abortions.
Kloos says that life begins at conception and ends at natural death and he says society should protect and advocate for the unborn.
Caldwell’s platform doesn’t mention abortion.
Responding to a Kansas Supreme Court opinion, the Legislature earlier this year approved a $500 million annual increase in school funding, which will ramp up over five years.
In return, the court largely approved the funding but faulted the plan for not accounting for inflation. Lawmakers will likely have to address the issue when they return in January.
Kobach opposed the additional funding passed by the Legislature this year, and has described it as a “king’s ransom.” He says the state should focus more on how funding is spent rather than the total amount and says schools don’t spend enough money in the classroom.
He supports a constitutional amendment to restrict the Kansas Supreme Court from reviewing the total amount of funding for education.
Kelly supported the additional funding for schools. She has said the Legislature can include inflation in funding calculations when it returns next year. She has also spoken about the importance of early childhood programs.
Kansas can afford the funding increase that’s been approved, Orman said, as long as the state economy continues to grow. Orman has emphasized the need to improve career and technical training programs and wants to create a revolving loan fund for individuals who want to attend technical schools.
Kloos supports the Kansas Can redesign of schools launched under the Kansas State Department of Education. He is calling for more investment in Kansas Can and says the state’s schools currently operate very efficiently.
Caldwell supports legalizing marijuana and taxing it to help fund schools and roads. He says the tax revenue from legalization of both marijuana and hemp would relieve government debt.
Former Gov. Sam Brownback championed reductions in income tax rates in 2012, at one point dubbing the plan an experiment. In the years that followed, Kansas underwent several rounds of budget shortfalls – and lawmakers raised the state sales tax in 2015 to cover one shortfall.
In 2017, the Legislature overrode Brownback’s veto to reverse much of the tax policy and raised income tax rates. Since then, revenues to the state have increased and the state now has a revenue surplus.
Kobach wants to cut income, sales and property taxes. He has advocated reductions in income tax rates, but says he will also cut spending to avoid budget problems.
He wants to implement a 2 percent annual cap on property reappraisals in an effort to slow the rate of property tax growth.
Kelly has shown little interest in cutting income tax rates after the Legislature reversed much of former Gov. Sam Brownback’s tax experiment in 2017. But she has voiced interest in lowering the sales tax rate on food and eventually providing some form of property tax relief.
Orman also generally doesn’t want to change tax rates. But he supports property tax relief in general and says Kansas can grow revenue by expanding the economy, rather than increasing tax rates.
Kloos has voiced support for a combination of revenue from income, sales and property taxes.
Caldwell highlights the need to eliminate the sales tax on food. He also says the state’s gas tax is too high and supports a constitutional amendment to stop what he views as unfair property valuations.
Kansas lawmakers have for years declined to expand Medicaid, which provides health care for low-income elderly individuals and people with disabilities.
If Kansas expanded the program, the federal government would pay 90 percent of the cost. But opponents have voiced concerns about the cost to the state. Estimates indicate upwards of 150,000 Kansans might qualify under an expanded program.
The Legislature previously approved expansion in 2017, but it was vetoed by Brownback. Lawmakers may have the votes to again approve expansion if a governor supportive of expansion is elected.
Kobach opposes Medicaid expansion as too costly. He has said he wants to launch a direct primary care pilot program. Under direct primary care, or concierge care, individuals typically pay a flat monthly fee for unlimited visits to a primary care physician, with individuals also having high-deductible catastrophic insurance.
Kelly supports Medicaid expansion and she has drawn a direct line between the state’s lack of expansion and a recent announcement that a hospital in southeast Kansas will soon close. She has voiced support for eventually moving the state’s Medicaid program, called KanCare, away from a managed care model where insurance companies contract with the state to provide coverage.
Orman supports Medicaid expansion. He also expressed some interest in direct primary care, like Kobach.
Kloos supports Medicaid expansion. He has also said that his description of himself as “pro-life” means working to address suicide, human trafficking and ensuring good care for children in foster care.
Caldwell’s running mate, Mary Gerlt, has indicated support for government deregulation of health care, and contends that it will lower costs and expand options for individuals.