Stephanie Kelton discusses campaign issues
Web site: www.kansans4kelton.org
Occupation: Associate professor of economics, University of Missouri-Kansas City
What in your personal or professional background makes you the person for the 38th District?
I have 10 years of experience as an economist who solves public policy problems. I have research affiliations with two non-partisan public policy institutes, and I have published dozens of articles on employment policy, health care, government finance, retirement security, etc. I know many Kansas legislators – Republican and Democrat – and we have already begun discussing the ways in which we can work together to address the projected shortfall in state revenues. Many of them have turned to me because of my moderate stance on the issues, my background in economics, and my commitment to fiscal discipline. Together, we’ll fight for the policies that make good economic sense.
Should there be a statewide ban on smoking in indoor public places, such as restaurants and bars?
Twenty-four states currently have smoke free laws that identify certain areas as “off-limits” to smokers. In each case, there was contentious debate over the pros and cons as well as the exceptions to be made. Given the health risks associated with second-hand smoke, I could possibly support the Kansas Health Policy Authority’s recommendation for certain smoke-free zones. I do believe there should be exceptions, for example: cigar bars; tobacco shops; private clubs at which the officers vote to allow it; taverns where food accounts for only a small percent of sales; and private residences that don’t provide child care.
Would you support an increase in the cigarette tax to help pay for health coverage for low-income Kansans?
As part of an attempt to reform our health care system, the Kansas Health Policy Authority recommends an increase in the state cigarette tax. I would not support this as a stand-alone policy, but I do believe that we need to do something to get a handle on our expensive, bureaucratic health care system. In my view, we need to do this on a multitude of fronts.
Our schools should make sure children understand the importance of physical activity and ensure that they are engaged in regular cardio-respiratory activities. We should emphasize the benefits of healthy eating and the dangers of using alcohol, tobacco and illicit drugs. We need good communication between doctors and patients to ensure that children receive the necessary immunizations and seniors and at-risk adults are vaccinated annually against influenza. Finally, we should work to ensure that small businesses wanting to offer health insurance are able to “buy in bulk” so they qualify for more affordable plans. I could possibly support a tobacco tax increase as part of a larger comprehensive health care reform effort.
Where do you think the state budget can be cut?
The state faces a projected budget shortfall in FY 2009, and the Legislature will have to make tough choices in the coming years. The demands of a global economy require an educated workforce, and our most vulnerable citizens – over 340,000 uninsured Kansans – cannot be denied emergency room care. While the state has little discretionary freedom when it comes to these types of expenditures, there are things the state can do to reduce spending. We can attack the rising energy costs that are exacting a huge toll on state budgets, and we can pass meaningful health care reform It will continue to be a challenge to keep government spending down unless we elect legislators who are willing to take meaningful action to lower health care costs and move us toward a more sustainable energy policy.
Would you support an increase in the age for Kansans to get a driver's license?
We all want to protect our children and make our roads safer. I believe that a more rigorous driver education program would probably be more beneficial than a simple tweaking of the age limit or the curfew. We should ensure that young drivers get the practice they need before they take their first summer job or head off to college.
Should Lawrence be allowed to keep its same-sex registry without interference from the state?
While I would not vote to extend the registry on a state-wide basis, I would be reluctant to micro-manage the affairs of any of our local communities.
Do you support Gov. Kathleen Sebelius' opposition to the two coal-fired plants in western Kansas?
Yes. I strongly believe that we can (and must) take steps to develop a stable, comprehensive energy policy in Kansas. Right now, Kansas relies on coal to meet 75 percent of its energy needs – and 100 percent of that coal must be transported by rail from Wyoming to Kansas. As voters know, Kansas lawmakers recently voted three times to expand our dependence on out-of-state coal As an economist, I viewed this as a dangerous policy move. I understand that diversification is the key to reducing the risk of investment And I believe that we are vulnerable because our energy portfolio is not well-diversified.
The state 10-year, $13.2 billion comprehensive transportation plan will expire next year. Do you favor the Legislature developing another comprehensive long-term package or should the state change its approach to transportation planning?
I would prefer to see partnership legislation with the federal government. Almost 10 years ago, I worked with U.S. Congressman Ray LaHood’s (R-Illinois) staff on H.R. 1452. The bill, introduced as the State and Local Government Economic and Empowerment Act, was designed to provide zero-interest financing for capital projects (e.g. streets, bridges, water and sewer systems, public buildings, etc.). If this legislation had passed, it would have cut state spending on infrastructure by one-third to one-half the usual cost. While I remain involved in similar efforts today, I know that Kansas must move forward on its own to develop a comprehensive plan to build, replace and maintain its infrastructure.
I am confident that Kansas Transportation Secretary Deb Miller and the rest of the governor’s task force will find a fiscally responsible way to move forward with a realistic transportation plan. Some of the more viable options include increased reliance on tolls and better leveraging of state, local and federal funds.