The 2015 Kansas State Legislature is over half finished and the members are facing some real challenges in the budget.
The 2015 Kansas State Legislature is over half finished and the members are facing some real challenges in the budget. The legislature meets for 90 days by law. The task facing them is monumental.
In between watching March Madness with my grandson and listening for reports out of Spring Training to see what the Royals are doing, my attention has turned to the Capital. Kansas has been a leader in education and transportation. It is the hope of many Kansans that this will continue to be the case. Money is only one aspect of the equation, but is a very important one.
The idea of giving school districts a block grant goes back to the Nixon administration. President Nixon believed that local officials in individual states knew best what their needs were and therefore knew best where their money should be spent. So, money was given without strings attached. For instance, money was spent on much needed road repair. However, in Missouri money was used by the county to help build the Truman Sports Complex. At the same time, the schools continued to deteriorate. At the time I thought the block grant idea was good, and so did many others. I still feel that way up to a certain point. Should entertainment come before education?
The present education law was constructed very carefully using some specific principles. It takes into account rural districts and urban school districts as well. I am not an expert on school finance, but just because I do not always understand it doesn’t mean it should be thrown out. The present law seeks to equalize the funding. Rural areas often seem to get more revenue proportionately, but their expenses involve a multitude of transportation costs. If these were not met, students would have to be shipped to other locations at even greater expense. The same is true of other costs as well. Much of the school formula was proposed by the late Senator Joe Harder of Moundridge along with others in the Senate who were friends of education. The present formula also addresses such topics as special education.
Special education is one of the areas that private schools cannot provide for and many parents cannot afford. Public education is the only way their needs might be met. Public education seeks to provide an opportunity to all children. Other chances are given to children in areas of sports, arts and music that private schools might not be able to provide for. I am aware of this through reading and listening to friends, and knowing that my grandchildren face these same obstacles in a private school in Oklahoma. Private schools provide many opportunities that dedicated parents work very hard for, but not all parents can afford to have their children attend.
What is fair school taxation? In Kansas, property, sales, and income taxes have in more recent times supported public education. A balance of those three taxes helped ease the burden of the tax on any one segment of society. By removing the income tax, the Kansas economy has shifted the tax to the other two types of taxes.
The property tax and sales taxes will now carry the burden of the taxation. There is a proposal to pass an excise tax of greater means on cigarettes and alcohol. Now, even if this would pass, the so-called “sin” taxes would probably not be enough revenue for education in Kansas. The alternative in Kansas has usually been to increase the property tax. The burden then often hits hardest on those individuals who own property. Several years ago a concerted effort was done to relieve the burden of taxation on the land owner. The sales tax is a tax that falls most heavily on lower incomes unless there is an exemption on the tax for food and clothing.
That leaves us with income tax. I used to think because we pay a federal income tax we should not be taxed with a state income tax. I do not think that anymore. A progressive income tax spreads the burden around so the poor are not hit as hard as they normally would be. To combine the three taxes together, all segments share fairly in raising revenue for our schools and our roads plus all the many things government is responsible for.
By eliminating the income tax in, a way we have inflicted ourselves with the difficulty in raising the revenue we need. Kansas has been known for its excellent schools and roads. Money is only one of the parts of the equation that makes it that way, but it is a vital part. It is my hope and the hope of many Kansas citizens that a solution will be found during this 90-day session.
—Dwight Goering lives in Moundridge.