State Rep. Highberger has the right ideas
The 2016 Session Preview released recently by State Rep. Dennis “Boog’’ Highberger of District 46 sets out the kind of goals and ideals that all Kansans can relate to and appreciate. I found a lot of things that I agreed with in Highberger’s Session Preview.
Rep. Highberger, it should be noted, is a Democrat from the Lawrence area in a Republican-majority State Legislature with a Republican Governor.
I am a registered Republican but the political party in Kansas as I have known it for many years is gone.
Highberger, in his newsletter, said that the 2015 Session, his first as a state representative, was frustrating for him. It was frustrating for a lot of Kansans.
Nonetheless, Highberger said, he plans to continue working to “make our tax system more fair, provide adequate funding for our public schools and our highways, treat our teachers and dedicated public employees with respect and make sure that we provide for our fellow citizens who need our help.’’
Highberger may not receive a Christmas card from the Governor as he notes that “the state continues to struggle with a budget shortfall as Gov. Brownback’s failed economic policies have had dire consequences on the state economy.’’
Highberger writes that the state has struggled to balance its budget since Republican legislators, at Gov. Brownback’s urging, cut personal income taxes - and taxes for the wealthy - dramatically in 2012 and 2013.
He notes that the state is expected to collect $354 million less in revenue from now until June of 2017.
“The monthly revenue has been so poor that in November Gov. Brownback shored up the budget by making one-time transfers and instant cuts to the budget. It is projected that the state will have $4 million in the bank at the end of June 2016, when state law provides that there should be almost $500 million in the bank,’’ Highberger wrote.
He said he will work to reduce barriers and laws that impose unnecessary barriers on people trying to become productive members of society after they are released from prison and reduce the number of released inmates who get sent back to prison or need public assistance.
Highberger favors the idea of authorizing cities to operate PACE (property-assessed clean energy) programs. A PACE allows a city to finance energy improvements for local businesses and collect the loan payments through property tax bills. About 30 states already allow PACE programs and they have been helpful in reducing energy consumption and increasing the use of renewable energy.
Highberger says the State Legislature has been grossly underfunding public education for several years prompting several school districts to take the issue to the courts. The case is before the Supreme Court and an opinion is expected in the coming months.
With the passage of block grant funding, Highberger said, there continues to be a dramatic decrease in funding for public schools. The action has also resulted in fewer teachers, larger class sizes and even reports that teacher are fleeing the state to work in other states that appropriately fund public education.
Highberger also favors the expansion of Medicaid in the state.
“Despite the overwhelming support for increasing access to health care for needy Kansans, the State Legislature has refused to take action to expand Medicaid,’’ Highberger said. “Failing to expand Medicaid is taking a toll on Kansas’ healthcare providers and on the state’s economy. Evidence of this was the recent announcement that the hospital in Independence was closing partly due to the Legislature not expanding Medicaid.’’
Not expanding Medicaid has resulted in the state losing out on more than $604 million in federal funds – federal tax money that you and I pay in. While citizens in other states see some of that federal tax money coming back to their state for expanding Medicaid, we Kansans do not. That’s notfairandalotofuswantto know how the Republican-led Legislature is getting away with this.
Not expanding Medicaid in Kansas has also prevented the creation of 3,800 jobs and most importantly has prevented as many as 200,000 Kansans from receiving health care coverage.
“It is time for the state to expand Medicaid because it is the right and common sense thing to do,’’ Highberger writes.
Another issue of great concern to Highberger is the attempts by the Republican Legislature and Governor to erode the independence of the state’s judicial branch.
“A fair and impartial court system is imperative to ensure all citizens have equal protection under the law and the Republican Legislature and Gov. Brownback has worked to remove that independence, Highberger said. “From threatening to defund the entire court system to installing an unfair system for the selection of judges, the Kansas court system is under attack. For our system of checks and balances to work properly, at least one of the branches needs to be insulated from partisan politics. At the very least, judicial elections will lead to the public perception that justice is for sale. I will work to protect the independence of the Kansas courts and ensure politics are kept out of the courtroom.’’
While Rep. Highberger is a member of the minority Democratic Party, his common sense goals and ideals I believe give his public service a much broader appeal in the state.