Greg Smith wants to be in the Senate because he thinks the chamber is killing good bills.
Joe Beveridge wants to be in the Senate because he think Johnson County needs better advocates for its interests.
And that’s how the race for Kansas Senate District 21 starts to play out in another battle between conservatives and moderates for control of the Kansas Senate. The winner faces Democrat Juanita Roy in the general election.
Elected to the House in 2010, Smith is Gov. Sam Brownback’s man in this race as the governor tries to reshape a Senate that has resisted his conservative agenda the last two years.
Smith has been an unabashed critic of the moderate-controlled Senate. He first filed for the Senate last September when he thought he might be challenging moderate Republican incumbent Tim Owens in the primary, but redistricting put him in another district.
Smith blames the Senate for dragging its feet on tax cuts, refusing to give the governor the ability to pick appeals court judges and balking at Brownback’s plan to redo the school finance formula.
“The Senate is the place where good legislation goes to die. I want to change that,” Smith said.
Beveridge, meanwhile, says the race is about protecting Johnson County interests. He’s says a senator from Johnson County can’t be a “rubber stamp” for anyone.
“I really feel like we need some advocates in Topeka for Johnson County,” Beveridge said. “I think what has made Johnson County great over the last generation or so are our strong schools, our strong roads and I worry we’ve lost a little bit of focus up in Topeka on that.”
Kansas Senate District 21, centered in Lenexa and Overland Park, is new for Johnson County. It was created by a three-judge panel as a result of Johnson County’s exploding population growth during the last decade. As drawn by the judges, the district had no incumbent state senator.
The new election boundaries moved Smith into District 21, setting up the race with Beveridge. Smith and Beveridge offer voters contrasting choices on everything from taxes to roads to guns to picking judges to immigration.
Smith supported several variations of tax cuts, including the massive tax plan that was signed into law that advocates say would spur growth but critics say will leave the state with whopping budget deficits.
Smith doesn’t think the tax cuts will leave holes in the state budget. He said the forecasts produced by legislative analysts predicting hundreds of millions of dollars in deficits do not assume increased revenue from growth spurred by the tax cuts.
He said the method used by legislative analysts is not a “true representation of how the economy works.”
Describing himself a “strong supporter of tax cuts,” Beveridge said he would have opposed the massive tax cuts that were eventually signed into law, but would have supported something that was gradually phased in.
He said the state took too big of a gamble on the big tax bill, which is estimated to cost $3.7 billion over five years.
“If we don’t have the growth that’s needed to make up that lost revenue then we’re going to be in a little bit of trouble,” Beveridge said.
Another issue where Smith and Beveridge disagree is highway funding.
Beveridge is worried that the Legislature has taken too much money from the highway fund over the years to cover holes in the state budget. He said that could that make it easier for lawmakers to take more money from highways in the future if the state needs to make up revenue shortfalls caused by massive income tax cuts.
Beveridge is worried that could put local highway projects at risk, such as plans for rebuilding the interchange at Interstate 435, Interstate 35 and Kansas 10 near the Olathe/Lenexa border, a project he says is important to improving motorist safety and easing traffic congestion.
“When the Legislature robs the highway fund, they put at risk a lot of important projects all over Kansas,” Beveridge said.
Smith said the state has already taken millions from transportation in recent years without compromising the state’s roads. It’s an indicator that the state has more than enough money to spend on transportation, he said.
“If we’re taking all this money away from transportation, why are our roads not falling apart?” Smith asked. “Why are we appropriating that much money? Let’s take that and move it to other areas where we need money.”
If he had been in the Legislature, Smith would have opposed a sales tax increase that partly went to fund a new highway program that included money for the new interchange at I-435, I-35 and K-10, Smith said.
While both generally agree that Johnson County doesn’t get its fair share out of the state education finance formula, they have different approaches to funding.
Beveridge wants to add more money to the state base aid per pupil, which has been cut steadily from 2008-09 until this year, when it was increased by about $60 per student. Beveridge said he would like to get that base aid back up to pre-recession levels. He also supports giving school districts the ability to raise property taxes to meet their needs.
While the governor’s plan for reforming school finance is a good starting point for discussions, Beveridge said he wants to make sure that any change in the formula would be fair to the two school districts that he would represent in the Senate.
Smith doesn’t believe pouring more money into schools is the answer. He voted against a measure in the Legislature that called for adding $50 million for schools. Eventually, Smith voted for the state budget, which included $40 million more for schools.
Smith also supported a proposal that would have let school districts raise property taxes to fund extracurricular activities with a public vote. He also favors giving school districts more taxing authority.
Smith thinks more needs to be done to ensure education money is kept in the classroom. He also wants to rewrite the state education finance formula, which is now being challenged in court.
Smith and Beveridge also offer competing views on a number of other issues as well.
Beveridge backs the current system in which the governor picks a candidate from a slate recommended by a panel of lawyers and non-lawyers. Smith supports letting the governor nominate judges who must be confirmed by the state Senate.
Smith supports allowing those with concealed-carry permits to carry their firearms into public buildings. Beveridge believes that’s a decision that should be made locally, not in Topeka.
Smith favors repealing a law that gives in-state tuition to children of undocumented immigrants. Beveridge would keep the law, saying it’s unfair to punish the children of parents who came here illegally.
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