Holland debates issues with Jefferson County voters
by Dennis Sharkey
Jefferson County residents got an opportunity to participate in the government process Saturday and they took full advantage.
State Sen. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin, held an hour plus long discussion with about 10 people at the Oskaloosa library that ranged from taxes to illegal immigration.
At times the conversation was contentious between Holland and residents, as well as with each other, but respectful. At the end of the conversation everyone found one thing to agree about. They were glad they came.
One participant, a union member, suggested a compromise for a bill that passed the House last week that would prohibit labor unions from having the ability to deduct campaign contributions from a member’s paycheck. He said he favored the bill because currently a member can opt out of contributions deducted as opposed to opting into the program. Holland said he agreed with the man’s proposal that it should be required that a member opt into the program rather than opt out.
Other residents Holland agreed to disagree with. One woman said union members can write checks if they want to contribute.
“How tough is it to write a check?” the woman asked. “How do you pay your water bill?”
Holland argued that the bill targeted one sector of the work force.
“You’re seeing a battle being launched at state capitals over how we fund our national elections,” he said.“They’re targeting certain folks and they’re not doing it for other folks.”
One woman became emotional about the debate and asked Holland why Wall Street isn’t being looked into. She said state retirement and pension funds should be looked at.
Holland agreed and promised to investigate the matter and get back in touch with her.
He also debated residents on certain reasons he voted against the Senate’s recision bill that cuts from the state’s budget.
Holland contended that cuts do need to be made to the state’s budget, however, he believes the state needs to stop with the tax cuts for corporations. Since 1995 the state has cut more than $9.5 billion to corporations according to his figures.
“You can say we have a spending problem in this state,” Holland said. “But you can also say we have a tax cutting problem in this state.”
He even admitted that a tax cut he supported is a failure and called on the legislature to start attaching sunset provisions to tax cuts much the same as they do to tax increases such as the one-cent sales tax passed last year.
In 2006, former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius signed a bill that cut property tax on farm and manufacturing equipment.
“Outside of that deal I’ve heard very little feedback as to what that has actually done to spur the creation of jobs,” he said.
Some residents argued that the Bush Tax Cuts resulted in unemployment that was below five percent. Holland countered that the country lost manufacturing and production jobs during that period.
Holland talked about the state’s upcoming budget crisis. Fiscal year 2012, that begins July 1 and runs through June, 30, 2012, is projected at a $492 million shortfall.
In 2007 the state took in about $6 billion in revenues. Holland said those numbers have dropped to about $5.2 billion, or $800 million less than four years ago. The silver lining is that state revenues are up $420 million from last year most in part to the one-cent sales tax. State income tax collections are 11 percent higher than last year.
The budget’s biggest pie slice is public education. Three things affected the revenues in Holland’s opinion.
The first and most overwhelming reason is the state underestimated property values which led to lower collections versus projected value. The state also saw more students enroll in schools than projected and the pool of “at risk students” increased as well. “At risk students” cost more to educate.
Many of those “at risk students” state educators have admitted are illegal immigrants. One resident in attendance cited a Pew research study that said illegal immigrants cost Kansas taxpayers $442 million a year.
Holland painted himself on an island when it came to the issue. He differs from many Democrats and supports a bill that wouldn’t allow illegal immigrants to obtain in-state tuition at higher education institutions.
He also distanced himself from Republicans and blamed them for trying to put a mask on the issue.
Holland believes the real way to combat illegal immigration is to go after companies and individuals who hire illegal immigrants.
“If we never go after employers it’s not going to change,” Holland said. “You have a lot of folks who love to talk about illegal immigrants but they never really go after the employers.”
Holland said legislators will never vote in favor of employer restrictions. He blamed the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and large agriculture and meat processing companies for the problem. He said their political muscle is too much to overcome. He has introduced a bill this year that would require government entities to use the E-verify system. He noted that legislators will never support required E-verify for private employers.
Holland also addressed the crisis facing the state’s unemployment fund as another main reason he did not support the Republican’s budget recision bill.
Adding back in the “waiting week” that was eliminated in 2007 and eliminating the “trailing spouse” provision were two main reasons he voted against the bill. He said those two items cost the state about $13 million a year and is only a small percentage of the fund that saw a $600 million surplus four years ago. Last year the state borrowed about $100 million to meet obligations.
“I think that is very harmful to families,” he said.
To fix the problem the state will raise unemployment insurance rates two percent for companies that are considered “negative balance employers.” Businesses considered “negative balance employers” are ones who have cost the state more in payouts than what they have paid into the system. Holland said this makes up about 10 percent of the state’s employers. The change is estimated to produce $240 million for the fund in the next two years.
Holland said he is not in favor of continuing the one-cent sales tax when it expires.
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