State Rep. John Rubin and Milack Talia see each other through different prisms.
Rubin sees Talia as a big-spending Democrat who wants to raise taxes.
“He is a rank-and-file Democrat that toes the Democrat line and thinks the solution to our economic problems is more government intrusion, more government spending and higher taxes,” Rubin said.
Talia sees Rubin as a Republican who is more is more eager to help businesses than average voters.
“He’s more geared toward helping businesses and being on their side,” Talia said. “I believe there is a balance that needs to be struck between helping businesses and helping households.”
Those are the contrasting choices that Rubin and Talia offer voters in Kansas House District 18, which covers a Republican-leaning area in eastern Shawnee.
Rubin is a conservative Republican who is seeking a second term in the Kansas House after being elected in 2010. Talia is looking to return to the Legislature after losing his House seat in the Republican onslaught of 2010. He was one of five Democratic House incumbents in Johnson County to lose their race two years ago.
Both candidates came into the general election with money to spend.
Rubin reported having $11,516 in the bank as of July 26, according to the most recent reports available. Talia had $10,005 on hand, reports showed.
The two candidates sharply disagree on two of the major issues confronting the state: taxes and education spending.
Rubin is an ardent supporter of the income tax cuts passed by the Legislature. He dismisses projections by legislative analysts indicating that the tax cuts will leave massive holes in the state budget over the next six years. He says those estimates, which accumulate to $2.5 billion by 2018, are “totally detached from reality.”
Rubin said the forecast did not account for the increased economic activity that will result from the tax cuts.
“That expanded tax base will make up a large portion of the difference in the deficit that was predicted by the Legislative Research Department,” Rubin said.
He conceded that it might not fill the entire projected deficit. He said some cuts in “unnecessary spending” might be needed to fill any holes in the state budget.
“Those two things working hand and hand will certainly address any projected shortfall,” he said.
Talia said the tax bill is an example of how Rubin wants to help businesses, saying it provides a “gigantic tax loophole” for businesses to reclassify themselves as part of a class that would be exempted from nonwage business income.
“All this is going to do is just create another loophole for businesses to exploit and not pay any income tax and shift that burden onto every working family in Kansas,” he said.
Talia said lawmakers took a gamble with the tax plan in hopes it would generate the kind of growth needed to offset any projected deficits and, in turn, dodge deep cuts in taxpayer services.
Rubin blamed Talia for a sales tax increase approved by the Legislature in 2010 that went partly to pay for roads. While Talia opposed the penny increase, he shares some responsibility because he supported a budget that increased spending, Rubin said.
“We’ve got a convenient vote against the sales tax increase, but he voted for the spending that required it,” Rubin said.
Talia said Rubin’s argument is a “reach.”
“He can draw a correlation, but the dots don’t connect. They were two separate votes,” he said. “I voted for a budget that funded our schools and then voted against the sales tax increase.”
On schools, the two candidates offer sharp differences, with Rubin flatly rejecting any suggestion that there have been deep cuts in education.
“The notion that the Legislature in recent years has ‘slashed,’ or in fact significantly ‘cut’ at all base state aid or total funding for schools is an out-and-out myth,” Rubin said.
“For me, the question is not whether public schools are ‘adequately’ funded, but whether the substantial majority of our annual budget we devote to education in Kansas is being wisely, efficiently and most effectively spent to improve the academic excellence of our schools,” he said.
Rubin cites figures that reflect all state spending on schools, including money that is designated for at-risk learners, teacher pensions and subsidies for property-poor school districts.
Using state education numbers, Rubin says overall state school spending has increased to $3.2 billion this school year from $2.2 billion in 2003-2004.
But Talia doesn’t think schools are adequately funded. He said Rubin uses numbers that don’t truly show what’s happening with school funding. He said those numbers include all state funding, including money that goes to pensions and not directly to the classroom.
Rubin is “is resorting to smoke and mirrors gimmicks now because he knows voters are concerned about what is happening to our schools,” he said.
Talia said it is better to look just at the smaller base aid per pupil number, which legislative research shows has dropped from $4,257 per pupil in 2005-2006 to $3,780 in 2011-2012 before increasing this year to $3,383.
The candidates also differ on how state appeals court judges are selected.
Rubin wants to change the system in which prospective judges are screened by a nine-member nominating commission that includes five attorneys and four non-attorneys named by the governor. Currently, the governor chooses someone from a list of three nominees selected by the commission.
Rubin calls the system the “most undemocratic in the nation.” He says the judges are picked by “an elite group of mostly liberal trial lawyers that comprise a tiny minority of the total voting population of Kansas and that is undemocratic.”
Rubin wants the nominating commission picked by the governor, the speaker of the House and the Senate president with judges selected by the governor ultimately confirmed by the Senate.
Talia said the current system is “completely non-partisan” and “non-political.”
Neither Talia nor Rubin like how they are characterized by the other.
Rubin says he has compassion for the individual, best illustrated by his efforts to require insurers to add treatment for autistic children to basic health coverage.
Talia, meanwhile, said he shouldn’t be stereotyped just because he’s a Democrat. He notes that he is a small business owner who is not insensitive to the needs of business.