Republican Governor candidate Jim Barnett got an earful of concerns during a visit to Pratt July 27.
Jim Barnett, Republican candidate for governor, got an earful as he visited Pratt Feeders and members of the Pratt Area Chamber of Commerce on July 27.
Barnett told Ken Montgomery, Pratt Feeders manager, and Jerry Bohn, Pratt Feeders part owner, that the new governor will have to replace staff to get a functioning government going in Kansas.
He said he is willing to work with anyone who can help solve the state economic problems. He has been impressed with how locals have stepped up to meet needs when state finances were falling short.
Barnet wants to even up the three-legged tax stool of property, income and sales tax and not have so much depending on property tax.
He would like to have a sign across I-70 that says "We're an Ag state and Proud of it."
Montgomery described the daily operations of the feedlot and said it was difficult to find experienced help to run the operation. It takes from 10 hours to 12 hours for daily operations.
Pratt Feeders handles mostly Kansas beef but have, over the years, had beef from every state except Alaska and Hawaii. They have also handled cattle from foreign countries.
Operations at Pratt Feeders relies on immigrant workers and that is always a challenge at the state and federal level, said Jerry Bohn, Pratt Feeders part owner, who also has heard the Kansas Department of Health and Environment has struggled to find engineers for design work.
Barnett said finding laborers is a constant issue he has heard during his tour.
Education needs strong state financial support so they can train the work force needed in Kansas, Barnett said.
Bohn said the state needs better infrastructure to get product to market more efficiently. That was another issue Barnett had heard at other meetings. To meet that need and get U.S. 54 four-lanes across Kansas will require fixing the Kansas budget and that will be a challenge for the next governor.
Montgomery said water rights was also an issue for the feed lot since they have high water usage. This part of the country has better water situation than in western Kansas but this area needs to save water resources for future use.
Barnett said it was important to build water reserves for the future of Kansas.
Following his visit to Pratt Feeders, Barnett met with several Pratt Area Chamber of Commerce members in the Chamber office. Barnett told the Chamber members he saw changes in the state legislature a year ago and decided to run for governor. He spent a lot of time touring the state to find out if support was there for his run.
He has been impressed with the way Chambers have stepped up while state funding has dropped and come up with good solutions to issues.
Barnett was asked how do chambers help start the economy growing? He said several areas needed attention including immigration and the work force, up grade the infrastructure, help with medical costs and the tax structure that is hurting the economy.
Dwane DeWeese, Pratt Community College Board of Trustees member, said two year colleges and tech schools work on a very tight budget and have had minimal increases in salaries. They haven't had an increase in state funding since 2008 and the colleges need to be able to provide adequate salaries for their employees.
As a farmer, his taxes have increased 22 percent on his irrigated land and that makes it a crunch to pay taxes, DeWeese said.
Barnett said the state legislature did the right thing with the tax bill and it will help Kansas revenues.
He wants the education system in Kansas to be state supported. Pratt Community College President Michael Calvert said 60 percent of their funding comes from taxes the college levys and 21 percent comes from the state.
Cotton producer Stewart Briggeman shared insights into the expanding cotton industry in Pratt County. When he started farming cotton in 1999, he had 140 cares in dry land. It did so well he put more acres in cotton. Last year was his second best year financially with a lot of his success attributed to cotton. A group of producers bought the cotton gin last year and have high hopes for success.
In the meantime, cotton continues to gain popularity in Kansas. In 2016, 30,000 acres were planted to cotton. In 2017, the estimated cotton acres is from 90,000 to 100,000 acres, said cotton producer Kent Goyen who revealed that irrigated cotton takes half the water necessary for irrigated corn.
Both Goyen and Briggeman agreed they were not getting much help from Kansas State University with cotton.
Barnett said the state needs more research on crop development including cotton.
Jack Kennedy, Pratt Regional Medical Center patient services, said there was a split between urban and rural populations and there are many urban people that have no concept of rural life.
Barnett said he was hearing the same thing and he was hearing several words over and over: one; unite; work together. This has led to his campaign slogan: One Kansas.
"We have to unify. That's the only way we'll solve our problems," Barnett said.
Part of that unification will help another issue in Kansas of how does the state retain young people, a topic also tied directly to education funding.
Pratt Feeders is located four miles north of Pratt on the former Pratt Army Air Field, has 35 employees plus a couple of college students each summer, has a capacity of 40,000 and will run from 85,000 to 90,000 head through the operation in an average year. There were 38,572 cattle on site when Barnett visited.
Barnett is engaged to Rosie Hansen. He grew up on a farm on the edge of the Flint Hills, has been a practicing physician for 35 years, served as a state senator from 2001 to 2010 and president of the Emporia School Board.