Wink Hartman and Sec. of State Kris Kobach
Wink Hartman and Sec. of State Kris Kobach

Kansas secretary of state and gubernatorial candidate Kris Kobach visited Independence Thursday with his lieutenant governor candidate Wink Hartman, a Wichita businessman. The two spoke on their vision for Kansas should they win the 2018 gubernatorial election. 

The first thing Kobach pointed out was he and Hartman were the only team running for the office that had signed a "no tax increase" pledge. Not only would he roll back the income tax raise that undid the 2012 Brownback tax cuts, he would roll back the sales tax increases that were made in an attempt to pay for those original income tax cuts. 

He would also prevent the "stealth tax increase" of reappraisals on property. Under his plan, properties would be reappraised every three years instead of yearly and the properties' value would be limited at being raised only 2 percent per year. 

"The difference between our plan and the Brownback/Colyer income tax cuts is that we recognize you have to cut spending in order to cut taxes," Kobach said. "I have a proven record of shrinking budgets." He said during his time as secretary of state, he has seen the department budget go from $7 million to $4.6 million

This was accomplished mainly through natural attrition. "There are about 110 baby boomers retiring per day in Kansas. A certain percentage of those work for the state government. What we have done is, when someone retires we wait to see if we can get by without hiring someone to fill that spot," he said. Through natural attrition, Kobach saw the workforce of his department shrink by 19 percent through his years in office. 

Kobach's plan to save money would be to expand that process of only hiring to fill spots of retirees when essential and to utilize Hartman as a "chief operating officer" of Kansas. "It's never been done like that before," Kobach said. "Wink will go into these departments and spend time reviewing the budgets. He'll make recommendations of where cuts can be made. 

"Year after year, agencies are asking for more money," Hartman noted. "What Kris understands is that the people of Kansas are the equity owners of the state and they need a good return on their investment." 

With the Kansas Supreme Court currently weighing a decision on whether or not the latest school finance law appropriates an adequate and equitable amount of funds to Kansas school districts, many anticipate the Court will come back with the order to appropriate more funding increases to education spending. 

Education is the major expenditure of the Kansas state budget and many lawmakers in Topeka have wavered over whether they will be able to meet the needs of education funding without raising taxes again. 

As Kansas is the highest-taxed state in the region, Kobach would plan on sticking to the pledge to lower and not raise taxes. How he would be able to accomplish this while still ensuring proper funding to Kansas schools would be first to "put the Supreme Court back into their proper lane." 

Kobach said he couldn't think of any other Court with authority over the appropriation of state funds. He is one of several in Topeka who have been calling for a constitutional amendment to keep the Court from being able to dictate the appropriation of school funds. 

"The bigger aspect would be good spending policy," he said. "Don't focus on the bottom line but on where money is being spent. I would want to mandate $.75 of every $1 of state school funding would be spent in the classroom - that means teacher's salaries, books, materials and technologies." Kobach called out an excessive amount of spending on school administration, saying the average superintendent of Kansas school districts had salaries two-times as high as the governor's salary and some schools in bigger cities had as many as 12 assistant principals. 

Kobach has faced criticism throughout his time as secretary of state for maintaining a private law practice and taking on other additional jobs - most recently he was under fire for participating in a voter fraud commission under President Trump's administration. That commission has since been disbanded, and Kobach said he would continue to shrink his private law practice and be more hands-off should he be elected governor.

The topic of high taxes came back around when Kobach shared his ideas for what would help southeast Kansas specifically in its slow recovery from the Great Recession. "Specifically in this area, taxes need to be competitive with Oklahoma and to a lesser extent Missouri," he said. "We are the high tax state in the area." The only neighboring state that doesn't have a much lower sales tax is Nebraska, so the rest of the border counties like Montgomery County face "borderhopping" shoppers who will go over to Oklahoma, Missouri or even Colorado to buy groceries or make other purchases to save on sales tax. 

Beyond just making the taxes more palatable, Kansas needs to incentivize those living in neighboring states to come to Kansas. He referenced a program Coffeyville Community College has started to give Oklahoma residents a lower tuition rate than the general out-of-state tuition. "When you bring that student over, they're shopping in Coffeyville, they may be living in Coffeyville. It brings people in," Kobach said. 

He used hunting as another example of a situation where Kansas could be incentivizing out-of-state people to come into the state. "Kansas has big deer, but an out-of-state deer tag costs more than $400 whereas for a Kansas resident the cost is about $30. I don't know many people who are going to think it's worth $400, but if we were to offer that tag at around $150, we could bring in that hunter who is likely going to stay overnight, going to eat and do a little shopping as needed," he said. "The state government isn't thinking strategically about pulling people into the state." 

The final points Kobach wanted to make about his candidacy were the fact that he and Hartman are pushing hard for term limits for all legislators and statewide office holders. Currently the governor is the only office with a term limit. 

"Another thing is this state has been giving in-state tuition to illegal aliens since 2004," Kobach said. "I would like to bring an end to that. If we're going to spend that money, it should be spent on Kansas students." Finally, he said, he wanted people to recognize that on the Kobach/Hartman ticket people would get "two leaders for the price of one." Hartman is a demonstrated successful businessman, he said. Hartman added he planned on being a full-time employee of the state, as well. "I won't just be there every other Monday, I'll be there every day."