Former Kansas budget director Duane Goossen fired up the spin yesterday in a guest column for the Wichita Eagle. Goossen writes that those saying excessive state spending is a problem are telling a tall tale.
The former budget director is the one offering misinformation, according to Dave Trabert, president of the Kansas Policy Institute.
“Duane Goossen says a lot of things when he is not in a public position to be held accountable,” Trabert said. “Anytime Mr. Goossen wants to have this discussion out in public, he can name the time and place. I’ll be there.”
The 2017 Kansas Legislature passed the largest tax hike in state history with the biggest budget and spent every dime, but Goossen writes legislators who opposed the tax increase are tax-cut apologists.
“Here’s the test: If the talk was credible, the talkers would be able to provide a coherent list of spending to be cut from the state budget. But they don’t,” Goossen writes. “…If Kansas spends too much, what should be cut? Name it. Education? Highways? Health services?”
Trabert offered a few ways to cut state spending. For example, a study commissioned by legislators determined school districts are sitting on $200 million more in cash reserves than necessary. Even if school districts retained a generous 15 percent in cash reserves, the state could cut $196 million from the budget. State universities, Trabert noted, are holding $70 million that they haven’t spent.
“Since taxpayers forked over that money to universities, lawmakers could have cut their aid to universities and let them spend money they’d already collected,” Trabert said.
Legislators paid lip service to a few budget cutting recommendations from the study, but none passed. One proposal would have streamlined the way health insurance is purchased by school districts.
As proposed, some school employees would see changes to their benefits, Trabert explained.
“But there was a simpler way,” Trabert said. If state employees contributed to their health insurance at the same percentage as the national average, the state would save $40 million per year.
“That’s without any benefit changes,” he said. “That’s just charging their fair share.”
A second proposal would allow group purchasing for public schools. It died in legislative committee. It would have cut the education spending, but not in a way that touched the classroom.
“Expenses in the Kansas budget almost all go to education, human services, highways, and public safety. No easy cuts there. Citizens want and expect those services,” Goossen writes.
“You never cut services. You cut the cost of the services,” Trabert said.
Lawmakers decided to increase spending and taxes instead of cutting costs, a decision
Goossen cheers. He warns that lawmakers are likely to return to taxpayers’ pockets in the future.
“…Future expenses are far more likely to go up than down as lawmakers work to get school funding back to an adequate level and undo the damage from raiding the highway fund,” Goossen writes. He doesn’t mention that despite passing the largest tax hike in state history, legislators also swept money from highway funds.
Trabert said the excessive spending is in part, because there aren’t many people in the Capital representing citizens. For example, Goossen works for the Kansas Economic Center for Growth, an organization that partnered with other lobbying groups with members who earn their livings on taxpayer funding like the Kansas National Association of Educators, the Kansas Organization of State Employees.
“It’s always easier for legislators to raise taxes instead of making government operate just a little bit more efficiently,” Trabert said. “It’s also the hypocritical way out. Many legislators campaigned on the regressive nature of the sales tax increase, and what did they do? They balanced the budget on the backs of low and middle income people. They gave low and middle income people double-digit tax increases.”