The race for the House District 28, like many other Republican primaries this summer, has become a referendum on the state of Kansas’s pocketbook and educational funding.
Incumbent Rep. Jerry Lunn of Overland Park will be challenged Aug. 2 by political newcomer Joy Koesten of Leawood. No Democrat has filed to face the winner in the November general election.
Koesten has never held elected office, but said she decided to run this year because tax policies promoted by Gov. Sam Brownback have threatened the state’s revenue stream and are causing cutbacks in necessary state services. One example is the state support system for mental health, which is “collapsing” due to lack of funds for state hospitals, said Koesten, who is a founding member of the Greater Kansas City Mental Health Coalition.
Koesten is running on three main issues: The state tax structure, education and local control. “If we can’t get tax revenue back up to reasonable levels, we can’t fix any of the problems of Kansas,” she said.
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On the tax structure, she said lawmakers should reconsider recent tax cuts like the one that removes limited liability corporations from paying state income tax. She said she receives this tax break as co-owner of a wealth management company but thinks it’s unnecessary.
Education is also a tax-related issue, she said, since the short supply of money coming in will affect school funding. She also took issue with what she sees as state interference in local control on such things as a property tax lid.
“School districts are well-equipped to make their own decisions based on community needs,” she said. District officials are best in tune with the complexity of their districts, she said, and are better able to address their needs than someone in Topeka.
Lunn sees things differently. As a supporter of Brownback’s taxing policy, he said he is focused on creating jobs. His website lists numerous positive outcomes of those policies, including creation of 80,000 new jobs, the lowest unemployment rate in 15 years and a lower rate of growth for state spending.
Lunn supported the LLC tax reduction saying it has strengthened Kansas’s position as a business-friendly state. He said he’d like to focus more on spending in the coming years. Recent changes making it easier to win a property tax appeal also have helped, he said.
Although lawmakers did end up approving an increase in the state sales tax, Lunn said the shifting of the tax burden makes sense because much of the sales tax comes from shoppers who don’t live in Kansas. The state income tax is at the bottom of most voters’ lists in popularity, he said.
Lunn argued that school districts already have local control through the block grant funding. “I’m for local control, but you can’t squander and be wasteful and not be efficient with tax dollars,” he said. The state spends over half of its general fund on K-12 education, he said, adding that lawmakers should look for more efficiencies.
The legislators should also get credit for improving the stability of the state pension system, he said.
Education: Bachelor’s in comprehensive marketing from Southwest Missouri State, 1978; Master’s in communications studies from University of Kansas, 1998; Doctorate in communications studies from University of Kansas, 2002
Occupation: University teacher of communications studies
Elected experience: None
Education: Bachelor’s in industrial safety from University of Central Missouri, 1973; Master’s in industrial safety from University of Central Missouri, 1974
Occupation: Owner and operator of a medical office building
Elected experience: Kansas House of Representatives, 2013-present.