Dave Trabert

Guest Columnist

There’s a lot to not like for everyone in next year’s state budget but a recent Wichita Eagle editorial failed to recognize that budgets aren’t created from Santa’s wish list.

Cheerleading for tax increases to meet agency requests is akin to calling for more job losses. Two academic studies of last year’s sales tax increase said it would cost thousands of jobs, and they were right.  Kansas lost 15,000 private sector jobs between last June and March.

Jobs have been migrating away from high-burden states for years. Between 1998 and 2010, the ten states with the lowest state-and-local tax burden averaged 8.8 percent increase in private sector jobs, while the ten with the highest burden are only up 0.6 percent. Kansas actually employed fewer private sector workers in 2010 and was 0.6 percent below 1998 levels.  And we’ve lost more jobs this year.

Kansas isn’t among the top ten highest tax burden states but we’re rapidly moving in that direction. Kansas was ranked No. 23 based on 2008 tax burdens and is ranked No. 19 based on 2009 burdens. Kansans have since been hit with nearly $500 million more in sales, unemployment and property taxes.  State and local taxes grew at twice the rate of inflation between 2000 and 2010 according to Kansas Legislative Research and the Bureau of Labor Statistics; we’ll continue to suffer the consequences of economic stagnation until we start reducing the tax burden.

In criticizing the changes in K-12 funding, the Eagle editorial made a nice case for the education industry by focusing on one aspect of school funding but made no mention of the big picture.

Base state aid is just the starting point of the school funding formula and it certainly isn’t the only money schools receive from the state. The starting point of the formula might be at the same level as in 1999-2000 but the editorial failed to mention how total state funding has changed since then.

The Kansas Dept. of Education says total state aid to schools in 1999-2000 was $2.1 billion.

Total state aid in the Governor’s Budget Proposal, which was largely adopted, was $3.1 billion.  School administrators and local boards might not be getting everything they want, but could we at least be honest and say they’re getting a billion dollars more instead of implying that funding has been cut back to 1999-2000?  And by the way, total state aid is also increasing next year.

With soft revenues and requirements to spend more money on special education, KPERS reimbursement and higher shared costs of local bond payments, the amount available after those mandatory increases meant the starting point of the formula had to be adjusted downward.  But the state is still increasing total aid to school districts by more than $100 million next year.

The first order of business for the 2012 legislature should be to adopt an official state budget theme song – the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”

A $100 million dollar increase and legislative authority to transfer hundreds of millions from carryover cash reserves certainly gave districts what they need to continue operating next year as they did this year.

Dave Trabert is President of Kansas Policy Institute. He is a frequent speaker to business, legislative and civic groups and also does research and writes on fiscal policy and education issues.