Education funding and neighborhood revitalization have emerged as top issues in the Democratic primary for Kansas’ 6th Senate District.
Pitted against each other are a former member of the Unified Government and a man active in a neighborhood improvement group.
Mario Escobar and Pat Pettey, both of Kansas City, Kan., are competing for the nomination Aug. 7. The winner will face Republican incumbent Chris Steineger, also of Kansas City, Kan.
Most of the 6th Senate district lies in Wyandotte County, but a part of it includes northern Johnson County.
Escobar, who has worked with the Argentine Neighborhood Development Association, said partnerships between the city and nonprofit organizations are the key to a better outlook for schools and jobs in the district. And he pointed to his experience with the neighborhood association as the reason he should carry the party banner this fall.
Escobar is a board member with of the association and chairman of the Argentine Betterment Corp. He said the groups’ success in bringing a new library and a new grocery store to the area is an example of a how cities can bring about improvements without looking to new taxes. The ensuing property value increases will lead to a bigger budget for schools and other public projects, he said.
That kind of approach could be used at the state level as well, he said. “We’ve seen it done right here in Argentine. All the factors work together and it does not really depend on taxes or giving tax breaks to the rich.”
Pettey, who lists two terms in the state House along with her Unified Government experience, said funding for local schools will be her top priority. “That’s the only way we will have any sound job production,” she said.
Pettey, a former school teacher, said schools are not adequately funded now. “We need our students prepared to go on to education beyond high school so that our state has the qualified work force to fill and attract new companies to Kansas,” she wrote in a Star questionnaire.
Pettey and Escobar were both skeptical of the local-option budget plan to allow school districts to raise funds in their own areas. Escobar said that idea skews an advantage to richer districts, where it’s easier to raise extra funds. Pettey agreed, writing that it is “another way to increase the gap between the haves and the have nots.”
Pettey also is against the recent income tax cut approved by the Legislature this spring, saying it will cause a revenue shortfall that will force local governments to increase property taxes. Such an increase would be especially hard on low- and middle-class families and the elderly, she said.
Escobar said he has not studied the tax plan enough yet to form an opinion.
Both candidates are campaigning on their experience in working for their neighborhoods in Wyandotte County. Pettey says on her website that she has helped bring $239 million in business expansion and job creation to her Unified Government District 6, which includes the Turner area.
Escobar said the new library and grocery store show what he can do. “I am really going to be focused on working class people,” he said.