COLUMBUS -- State Rep. Candidates Mike Houser (R-Columbus) and Grant Randall (D-Galena), faced off last Thursday night in a head-to-head Lincoln-Douglass-style debate sponsored by the Cherokee County News-Advocate and the Columbus Chamber of Commerce.
For approximately 45 minutes the candidates were allowed to ask each other questions about their stances and policies should they be elected to fill the seat vacated this year by long-time State Rep. Doug Gatewood (D-Columbus).
Taxes were the major issue of the night with both men agreeing that the tax burden on the middle class was too high -- as well as the burden on small business owners, but disagreeing on the best approach to tax relief.
Republican Governor Sam Brownback in the last session passed his "March to Zero" which would eventually eliminate state income taxes.
As part of that plan the tax brackets in the state of Kansas were reduced to two starting Jan.1 with a lowering of tax rates.
Something Randall maintains will cause a rise in property tax rates.
Challenged by Houser to explain how he would increase job creation in Kansas while not cutting taxes, Randall said he was for a balanced plan.
"Right now what I see is a move toward Sam Brownback's ... move to get rid of the income tax," Randall said. "It's been kind of a 'slash and burn' tax plan hoping that we're going to somehow make up all this revenue we're losing.
"One of the problems I have with the Brownback plan, is that when you lose that income tax,you cannot compete effectively in the economic sector. The nine states that do not have an income tax currently rank last ... in economic development over the last five years."
Randall said that to make up the revenue which he maintains would be lost under the Brownback tax plan, would require more than 500,000 jobs a year making at least $50,000 a year be created over the next five years.
Randall quoted a Bloomberg study which asserted the nine states with the highest tax burdens had the highest economic growth over the last several years -- an assertion with which Houser took issue.
"He quotes a study with nine states with the highest tax burden I saw another survey 'Rich States, Poor States' which said the nine states with the lowest tax burden on their population were the ones that were growing in population and business," Houser said. "Your highest taxing states like California, New York, Pennsylvania ... they're losing businesses."
Houser was referencing a 2010 study by The American Legislative Exchange Council, a non-profit conservative think-tank. Bloomberg is a multinational media conglomerate based in New York City.
Both agreed that there was a need to make Kansas a more business-friendly state, but disagreed on how to get there.
"Nobody's going to want to come to Kansas if they can't turn a profit. That's why they're leaving places like California, because their tax rates are too high," Houser said. "When you tax income, you're stealing that wealth, taking that wealth out of the system and just redistributing it. Government jobs don't create anything."
Randall said education would be a huge part of returning the state to a level footing.
"Companies are looking for more than a slash and burn tax policy," he said. "I think education is a huge, huge part of that. The industrial revolution as we know it is over. I have friends in the tech industry, there's negative unemployment in the tech industry, there's jobs waiting to be had in the tech industry. We're not training our kids towards that."
The candidates also disagreed on what constitutes a small business with Randall saying a company with 500 employees is not a small business and perhaps reclassifications of what is considered a small business would be needed. The U.S. Department of Commerce classifies any business with 500 employees or less as a small business.
"I think of the small businesses I know that have 1-to-10 employees," Randall said. "They're operating at a loss most of the time. So a tax break isn't going to help them. What they need are other businesses in town. What they need is to have their property tax lowered. What they need is to maybe be considered in a different tax bracket or be considered in a different utility bracket. Instead of commercial."
Houser countered that first Kansas must be a good place to do business and that growing business is good for Kansas and local communities. "He noted Calibrated Forms, Mid-American Pipe, Crossland Construction, all started as a small business in Cherokee County and now employ hundreds of people.
"We have to make Kansas a more business-friendly climate," Houser said. "We're going to do so by A. letting those business make just a little bit more than they usually are. B. We're going to try to reduce some of the regulations on those businesses.
"Small businesses, they grow, if you give them incentive to grow and if you allow them to keep some of their profits to reinvest back in."
Randall said he didn't want to raise taxes on small business, but said the tax rates were higher when those businesses were built.
"I would return to that common sense moderate income rate that we had," he said. "Not on business ... but on the income, I don't want to lower taxes on the wealthiest Kansans and put it back on the working class."