Candidates identify their unique qualifications
Those seeking the Republican nomination for governor have no problem with what athletics attempt to avoid being on the short end of a 3-on-1 power play.
Eudora's Dan Bloom is a retired school superintendent running against three professional politicians. State Treasurer Tim Shallenburger is a conservative running against three party moderates. Outsider and Wichita Mayor Bob Knight is attempting to become the first governor elected without extensive Legislative experience in nearly two decades. Each candidate sees his uniqueness as an advantage.
At first glance, Hutchinson's Dave Kerr would seem to be with the majority on all counts. He's a moderate and has served in the Legislature since 1985. He was chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee before stepping up to Senate president last year. But, in Kerr's view it is his Legislative knowledge that puts him in the minority among the GOP contenders.
"Because of the commitment I made to the people who elected me and fellow senators who put me in a leadership position, I waited until after the legislative session to seriously consider the race," he said. "At that point, it was obvious if I didn't run there wasn't going to be someone in the race with real public finance knowledge and expertise, combined with private sector business experience.
"I was contacted by a lot of people who asked me to get in the race because of that knowledge and the fiscal problems we are facing."
The problem would be a shortfall in tax revenue expected to be in the neighborhood of $700 million for this fiscal year. The Legislature dealt with a less severe budget shortfall in the last session by passing a $400 million tax increase and cutting the general fund by 1.2 percent.Kerr said it was "too soon to say" if a tax-increase package and budget cuts would be his prescription to the current fiscal year's budget woes.
"I think we have to be very, very careful in raising taxes," he said. "We don't want to cause a delay in the economic recovery. We don't want to cause businesses to leave or not locate here.
"We need to find every budget tightening measure we can come up with."
Kerr advocates relaxing the cap on the local option budget mill levies school districts use to enhance state general fund revenue.
That would address the desire of Johnson County districts to "fund for excellence," Kerr said, but it would still leave districts with declining enrollment two-thirds of the state's total in a bind. The solution to both problems probably requires revision of the state school finance formula passed in 1992.
In his years in the Legislature, Kerr has consistently opposed casino-type gaming. Given the state's fiscal crisis, he said he would reconsider the issue if elected governor.
The campaign's focus on the fiscal crisis is deflecting discussion from important issues, Kerr said.
"We have a population decline in many of our rural areas," he said. "We know some of the reasons why. The next governor needs to apply leadership to help turn that around."
The solution is economic development, Kerr said. State government needs to stay active in bringing high-speed Internet connections to all of Kansas.
If election results are any indication, Kansans tend to see the Legislature or lesser statewide offices as the ideal training ground for the governor's office. Governors Bill Graves, Joan Finney, Mike Hayden, John Carlin and Robert Bennett all built their resumes in Topeka.
Recent history doesn't deter the mayor of the state's largest city. Knight said he sensed voters are ready to look elsewhere.
"I think people see a lot of looming challenges the state budget. Why go back to the people who created the problem to solve it?" he asked. "I think they are looking for someone with chief executive experience who has a track record of getting things done. I have a long record of getting results on very intractable public policy issues.
Under Knight's leadership Wichita has secured a new source of water, reduced its crime rate, rebuilt old-town Wichita and enjoyed an economic development resurgence.
"For too long, the way to be successful politically was wedging one segment against another Overland Park against Wichita, labor against business, rural against urban," he said. "We're far more than unrelated structures. There has to be unity."
Statewide, the current intractable issue is the budget shortfall. Part of the solution is belt tightening, Knight said. As mayor of Wichita, he said he earned a reputation for bringing in "pretty tough" budgets." To do so, the city engaged in cost-of-services analysis of the kind the state hasn't done since the late 1980s, he said.
Still, Knight said he sensed there was only so much savings to be found in an already frugal state government.
"Teams of cost of service analysts can come up with some real healthy numbers, but nothing like the projected shortfall," he said.
Although Knight doesn't outright call for a tax increase, he does have priorities he isn't willing to jeopardize.
"It depends on what you're prepared to do in terms of public education, corrections and our most vulnerable citizens," he said. "That makes up 93 percent of the state budget. There's not a lot left.
"(Lt. Gov. candidate Kent) Glasscock and I have said we won't balance the budget on the backs of our kids, the frail and elderly or at the risk of opening prison doors."
"We've been telling them Topeka doesn't need any more of their money," he said. "They've responded very positively to that."
Shallenburger's prescription to the state's budget woes is to make present tax dollars work more efficiently. It is a formula he put into practice during his four years as state treasurer, he said.
"I think that proved we could do it," he said. "We don't have to tax any more to offer better services."
Unlike Kerr and Knight, Shallenburger said he would not sign legislation that increased gaming. Slot machines would only take dollars away from other economic sectors, he said.
"I'm not for any increase in gambling, particularly at the race tracks," he said. "One of the problems with the proposal in the last session is it would give exclusive gaming rights to owners who bought into the race tracks very cheaply."
His campaign has developed a seven-point education policy statement. In it, Shallenburger, too, calls a revision of the state school finance formula,
"I was talking about revising the formula when I started my campaign," he said. "I was opposed to it in 1992 when it happened. Other candidates have came to the conclusion I was right."
He, too, would give local districts greater authority to raise their LOBs. His education plan also calls for the Legislature to approve multi-year school finance budgets and to do so early in the session so districts will have more time to plan, Shallenburger said.
Bloom dismissed his opponents' calls to relax the LOBs cap as an attempt to curry favor with Johnson County voters who want to see more of their local tax dollars stay with their school districts.
"Johnson County accounts for 50 percent of the state's income tax and 25 percent of the state's property tax," he said. "They don't want a statewide tax, just the authority to satisfy their local needs.
"The trouble is the only reason we have the current finance formula is the inequities a judge found in the previous system. If you extend the present formula's inequities to more than 25 percent, you'll be right back in court and you'll lose."
As a retired school superintendent running against three career politicians, his is a campaign that forsakes political opportunism for candor, Bloom said.
"We know we are alternative candidates," he said. "If you love everything that's going on, you have no reason to vote for us.
"If you saw people spending tax dollars at twice the rate of inflation, witnessed the longest legislative session in the state's history and the largest tax increase, but didn't see much accomplished, then maybe you should consider us."
More often than not, Shallenburger is the target of his candor.
"Tim Shallenburger says he's not going to pass any more taxes, not going to cut education and not going to reduce services," Bloom said. "If you believe that, you're an idiot."
Bloom is the only candidate to identify added revenue sources, in part because he predicted the failing national economy would create a $900 million to $1 billion revenue shortfall. He proposed the assessment rate on residential property be increased from 11.5 percent to 12.5 or 13 percent. He also supports casino-type gaming at race tracks as a way to tap dollars currently going to Missouri riverboats or Indian casinos in northeast Kansas and stimulate economic development.