Education funding and tax reform were two topics Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback featured in his State of the State address in Topeka last night.
Kansas politicians can’t talk about education these days without mentioning taxes, which provide the state with revenues it needs to fund education. Both tax revenues and the education dollars that depend on those revenues have been in short supply since the beginning of the recent economic downturn.
Speaking of school finance reform last night, the governor said, “It is time to do the new school finance formula and to do it in this session.”
Members of the legislative branch of government should act now, he said. If they don’t, this summer the judicial branch may rule that the existing school funding formula doesn’t allow for an adequate public education and thus rule the current formula unconstitutional.
“It is past time to get education dollars out of the courtroom and into the classroom,” Brownback said.
When he spoke of taxes, the governor called for a lower individual state income tax rate for all citizens. He also would like to do away with the tax on most small business income. And he asked the legislature to limit the growth of state expenditures, applying surplus revenue to further tax reductions.
“This will get us ever closer to the pro-growth states with no state income taxes, which are among the country’s strongest economic performers,” Gov. Brownback said.
The governor’s ideas about income taxes impeding economic growth echo those in a publication — “Rich States, Poor States” — that credits him as author of its foreword. This book is a publication of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC is a politically conservative not-for-profit organization that — among other activities — provides model legislation to members. Both state legislators and representatives of private industry are members of ALEC.
Although Gov. Brownback wants to cut income taxes — which provide about half of the state’s revenues — it is unclear how he intends to fund public education if he does so.
In addition to tax reform, school funding is expected to be a focus of this year’s session of the state legislature, which convened Monday. Gov. Brownback released details of his proposed plan for rewriting the public school funding formula last month, so information in his State of the State speech was not new. And yesterday, Kansas Democrats countered him with a school funding plan of their own.
Instead of using any excess state revenue to lower taxes, they propose diverting much of that money to public education.
“We believe that the school funding cuts in recent years have gone way too far. Before new corporate tax breaks are signed into law, excess state revenue should be used to restore funding to our schools first.”
In his speech, Rep. Davis contended that the best way to improve the state’s economy is to invest in education rather than cut taxes.
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