'How much is enough?' is a political question
This week marked the return of the Kansas Legislature with the beginning of the 2018 session. In June of last year, the Legislature passed the largest income tax increase in Kansas history. And, it was regressive. From this tax increase, K-12 education received $488 million over the next two years.
Last session, a huge emphasis on K-12 dominated our time. After five months of education finance hearings with stakeholders providing testimony and five months of re-developing a new K-12 finance formula – there was bi-partisan consensus. A bill passed the House, the Senate, and was signed into law by Governor Brownback. All that, including an 8% annual increase for the next 3 years, and the Supreme Court declared the Legislature’s work ‘inadequate.’
I’ll concede that the courts are suited to determine equity – what is fair and equitable for our students across our state. However, I have quite a problem with the Supreme Court deciding adequacy – the question of ‘what is enough.’ How much is enough is a political question. In fact, the Kansas Court of Appeals in 1997 agreed with this notion and would not hear a finance case declaring it a ‘political decision.’ Unfortunately, times have changed and so have our courts. Because of this, Kansans will continue to pay the high cost of litigation (since 2004) to attorneys making millions of dollars off of taxpayers over what is and should be a political question -- ‘how much is enough?’ Funding K-12 education is, and will always be, the number one funding priority of our State. I love our schools! Let’s fund them! The question remains: ‘how much is enough?’ This question divides us, and without a Constitutional change, always will.
There’s so much about this that is troubling, but for now, let’s get to our options. What is the solution?
If the lawyers representing the plaintiffs (the schools) get their recommended ask, we would be required to add another $600 million to the schools. What would that require? Here is a list of options to consider to meet the $600 million school funding increase:
• Add ½ cent sales tax for the next three years
• Increase property tax 15-19 mills
• Increase income tax, at minimum, .9% each bracket ABOVE recent 2017 tax increase
• Cut every other agency by 18% (excluding K-12)
• Examples of agencies that would be cut: Reagents (higher education such as universities and community colleges), pre-k (early childhood programs), KDHE (Kansas Health & Environment), KDADS (Kansas Department of Aging & Disability), Corrections, Highway Patrol, etc. (NOTE: embedded within these agencies are programs that help with mental health, disabled, multitude of state services, water department, bond payments, foster care and the most vulnerable populations of our society)
• $96 million annually is used for students K-12 through Kansas programs BEFORE they enter the doors of the school each morning. These services would also receive an 18% cut.
• In the last three years, most of these agencies have already received 5% cuts.
With these facts in mind, with the options available to us, what would you like your lawmakers to decide? Let me know. More for schools? How – tax increases or 18% cuts to all other agencies? Are schools doing good? Adequately funded? Should we shift focus to other pressing needs such as mental health, foster care service improvements, roads, early childhood, reducing the cost of college, water & agriculture issues, Medicaid expansion? None of these are an option for consideration if an additional $600 million, on top of the recent $488 million, is required to fulfill the Court’s mandate for K-12 education. Let me know your thoughts!
There are many other important issues we’ll be dealing with this session from tax reform and transparency to our foster care system. Our State is full of diverse needs and diverse interests. The best way to benefit the wide array of needs represented in our State is to create the best environment for growing a healthy and vibrant economy.
This session, I’ll be in the same office – 165W. I have one new committee assignment this year: Appropriations. Along with joining the Appropriations Committee, I will continue to chair the Local Government Committee and remain on the Tax Committee and the Election Committee. My phone number at the Capitol is 785-296-3971 and my email is Kristey.firstname.lastname@example.org. Please stay in touch! Your opinion matters. And, if you are planning a trip to Topeka, let me know. I’d love to see you. And, thank you for the privilege of representing the 77th District!
Rep. Kristey Williams