Successful Bipartisan Effort
with Kansas State Rep. Jim Ward, Kansas House Democratic Leader
"In an effort to boost its economy, a 2012 tax experiment resulted in the state of Kansas being faced with financial challenges. Revenues diminished and the economy grew more slowly than in neighboring states and the country as a whole. Representative Jim Ward, Kansas House Democratic leader shares how a collaborative effort resulted in setting the state on the right path to a better financial future.
Interview recorded November 30, 2017. Hosted by Robert Traynham.
Read a partial transcript of this interview below:
Traynham: Facing economic peril, lawmakers in the Kansas state legislature set aside political differences to restore The Sunflower State's financial health. Hello, everyone, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Robert Traynham. Joining me is Kansas House democratic leader, Representative Jim Ward, who is also on the front lines of the bipartisan effort. Representative Ward is also a 2017 Governing magazine Public Official of the Year honoree. Welcome to the program, sir, and congratulations.
Ward: Thank you. I'm excited to be here.
Traynham: So, let's talk about the elephant in the room. And that is, is that the state that you represent was going through, or is going through, some financial challenges. But it appears, from based on what I've read, is that you and your Republican colleagues have come together to try to solve the problem. Walk us through.
Ward: Okay. Kansas tried a fairly radical tax experiment that took 330,000 people off the income tax rolls in the state, and lowered tax rates to a very rock-bottom rate. It had devastating effects. It was fiscally irresponsible, it was fundamentally unfair, and it devastated essential services. We had three credit downgradings, we were $1 billion in the hole every year, which isn't a lot for Washington, but for a budget of $6 billion, that's a huge amount of money. So, over the last few years, Kansans, through their votes, have indicated they wanted a change. This year, what we were able to do through -- all Democrats don't think alike, all Republicans, whether they be moderates or conservatives, don't think alike. So, there was a process that we were able to repeal and reform that.
Traynham: Yeah, let's talk about the process. That was, I assume, a bipartisan effort to come together to figure this out for the greater good, if you will. Can you walk us through that process Can you walk us through how -- I'm making this part up -- Republicans and Democrats rolled up their sleeves and said, ""Look, we have to figure this out and put partisan interests aside for the good of the state""
Ward: It started with the first part of that, which is, most of the people who came to Topeka in January of this year knew we had to make some changes. The state was in a fiscal crisis. We didn't put partisanship aside totally. There was some rough parts. 'Cause, like I said, everybody doesn't agree. We had to work through those disagreements, and we were able to do that in a way that made people feel comfortable they weren't betraying political principles or values, but still got a job done. And I think what makes this -- This proves that democracy can work, that the voters picked people, sent them to do a job, and those people, while disagreeing, did the job. "
"Twenty-five million Americans pay more than half of their income to rent. A discussion with Ali Solis of Make Room
on efforts to give a voice to America's working poor and work toward a collective solution to help our economy thrive.
Interview recorded September 6, 2017. Hosted by Robert Traynham.
Read a partial transcript of this interview below:
Traynham: 11.4 million households in America spend more than half of their income on rent and utilities. And as the nation's population continues to grow, so will the number of overburdened renters. Hello, everyone and welcome to ""Comcast Newsmakers."" I'm Robert Traynham. Joining me is Ali Solis, president and CEO of Make Room. Ali, welcome to the program. It's always good to see you. Let me start off by stating the obvious -- More and more Americans feel squeezed. They're working harder for less, in terms of what they bring home. As I mentioned a few moments ago, a lot of people -- too many people -- are spending half -- half of their income on utilities and rent. How can this be
Solis: That's right. This is a growing crisis in America, where we have 25 million Americans, eight million children, two million seniors impacted by this crisis. And they are, you know, paying, as you mentioned, more than half of their income to rent. And this is a problem that's growing. By 2025, we expect that we'll have 15 million households.
Traynham: 15 million
Solis: 15 million households, and that's assuming that we can keep pace with rising rents and address --
Solis: Exactly -- rising rents and utilities.
Traynham: So, here is the magic question. How can we -- How do we address this So we know what the problem is. And what's interesting about this dilemma, I find, is that it's not that people are not working. They're working. They're contributing to society. But if they can't keep ends -- They can't make ends meet, what's the solution
Solis: Yeah. Most of these families are working, often, two and three jobs just to make rent affordable. And the problem is not just one that we're seeing in big urban centers, like San Francisco or New York, but it's affecting small towns, small communities. I was just in Erie, Pennsylvania, a place where people wouldn't think that there was an affordable rental crisis, or Detroit, Michigan. So this is a challenge that's impacting communities big and small.
Traynham: You know, Ali, I want to hit pause there for a second, 'cause I think this is really important to stress what you just said. This is not just a New York, San Francisco, Miami, you know, major metropolitan city issue. To your point, Erie, Pennsylvania, some of the rural areas in this country are also being affected by this.
Solis: That's correct.
Traynham: So let's talk a little bit about Make Room, specifically what do you do, and how can you help address this problem
Solis: So, Make Room is a national organization whose purpose is to un-hide this human suffering that's happening behind closed doors for all of these millions of Americans. We're trying to give voice to a population that isn't necessarily well represented. They are the working poor in America. And so we are sharing their stories, and we are asking overburdened renters all across the country to join us through our digital platform to be able to have regular conversations with their policymakers at the local and federal levels.
Traynham: So, you mentioned sharing stories, and for the folks that are watching this at home, or, perhaps, maybe, on their smart device, if you have a story that you would like to share, Ali, how can they do that
Solis: Well, we'd encourage you to go to www.makeroomusa.org and share your story. We provide incentives. We also provide information so that you can meet neighbors in other communities that are struggling with similar stories. And we also have policymakers engaged through the platform, as well, because it's important for them to understand what's happening in these communities. "