Incumbent Republican James Todd faces a challenge from Democrat Brett Parker in the general election for a third term representing Kansas House District 29.
Neither candidate drew opposition for the August primaries. The district covers parts of Overland Park.
Todd, an Overland Park attorney, said he wants to return to Topeka to continue working to fix the state’s budget and tax policy. In particular, he said he is part of a group of Republicans who have tried during the last two legislative sessions to modify income tax exemptions passed in 2012 for more than 330,000 limited liability corporations and other business owners.
Critics claim those tax exemptions, which were pushed by Gov. Sam Brownback and Republican legislative leaders, are key contributors to the state’s inability in subsequent years to generate enough revenue, forcing a running series of budget cutbacks.
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“For me, as a Republican, I believe in lower taxes, but I also believe in tax fairness,” Todd said. “I don’t think it’s fair to take a group of taxpayers and lower their taxes but then take another group of taxpayers and have them pay zero. … It’s using the tax code to pick winners and losers.”
He said that because state revenue estimates have been so unreliable in recent years, he would be wary of enacting other tax changes until he first saw how effective changing the LLC carve-out was on increasing state revenue.
Todd, whose father and stepmother are teachers in Kansas City, Kan., said he would also push for a new school finance formula that gives Johnson County schools more control over how much they can raise for operations, sometimes called the “local option budget.”
Todd cast a deciding vote in 2015 to scrap the state’s school funding formula in favor of block grants, which the Kansas Supreme Court later determined were unconstitutional. He called the block grants “a steppingstone” that removed a funding formula opposed by the Shawnee Mission and Blue Valley school districts and set up discussion of a new plan.
“It’s not the way to finance education, but it was necessary to move away from that (old) formula and move to something better,” he said.
Parker, 31, is a teacher in the Olathe School District. He said he was motivated to run by watching how his fellow teachers, some with decades of experience, were struggling with diminished resources, larger class sizes and frozen salaries.
However, he said, his key issue is rolling back the 2012 tax cuts and other measures that have contributed to limit state revenue.
“Public schools have the same problem everything does in Kansas right now, and that’s the giant hole in our budget,” Parker said.
He said he would look at the financial structure the state had in place in 2011 and build on that, trying to find a more balanced approach that mixes income, sales and property taxes to fully fund the government and create a stable economy.
He also advocated using the old funding formula as a template for building a future spending plan for schools that keeps up with inflation and gives local school districts greater flexibility in how they use both the state money and a possible local option budget. Higher education also needs help after years of lower state support, he said, which has led to higher tuition and reductions in such things as library hours.
“I think that’s very short-term thinking, and it’s going to cost us unless we reverse it quickly,” he said. “All of our universities are becoming less competitive to surrounding state universities.”
Parker stressed that even if the Legislature passed a new tax structure next year, it would take time before enough revenue began rolling in to begin fixing the problems created in the last few years.
Patrick Miller, an assistant political science professor at the University of Kansas, said that District 29, like most Kansas districts, is decidedly Republican, voting solidly for Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential election. However, he noted that district voters supported Democrat Paul Davis in the 2014 gubernatorial race by more than 6 percentage points, which may signal they are not Brownback fans and are capable of supporting another party.
David Twiddy: email@example.com
Education: Bachelor’s in general studies, University of Kansas, 2004; law degree, KU School of Law, 2009.
Elected experience: Kansas House, 2013-current
Education: Bachelor’s in secondary education, University of Missouri-Kansas City, 2010
Occupation: English language learning teacher in the Olathe School District
Elected experience: None