Four legislators say their no votes on tax increase legislation are solid. Kansas. Sen. Molly Baumgardner of Louisburg, Sen. Caryn Tyson of Parker, Rep. Kevin Jones of Wellsville, and Rep. Jene Vickrey of Louisburg spoke to about 100 people at a Paola Chamber of Commerce breakfast on Saturday. Congresswoman Lynn Jenkins also attended.
Both Kansas chambers last week passed a tax increase bill that many believe Gov. Sam Brownback will veto. The legislation passed short of the votes necessary to override a veto.
Vickrey said he voted against the tax increase, because the state is spending too much money.
“In 20 years looking back, our spending has increased every year but two,” he said.
One state spending reduction was the result of the withdrawal of federal stimulus funds, which were designed to be temporary.
“We’re at close to 2 percent growth this year,” he said. “It’s a problem that we’re spending too much money over 20 years.”
Legislators took written questions, and many asked about school issues, including school funding and public retirement plan payments. The Kansas Public Employees Retirement System has an unfunded liability of about $9.4 billion. The Governor’s budget proposal defers a $97 million to the public pension system.
Underfunding KPERS isn’t new. Former Govs. Joan Finney, Bill Graves, Kathleen Sebelius, and Mark Parkinson all underfunded KPERS during their tenures, even when the state had funding available.
Jones explained that when previous legislators have deferred KPERS payments, and the state has extra revenues, legislators typically spend it all, because the KPERS’ bill doesn’t come due for decades.
“You raise taxes this month, we’ll probably spend it all and then when it comes time to pay KPERS, we’ll probably push it off,” he said.
Jones is reluctant to approve any school financing formula that might not meet constitutional muster. Legislators used block grants to fund schools for the last two years, after scrapping a school financing formula that was repeatedly litigated. Legislators are still awaiting the outcome of a case before the Kansas Supreme Court to determine whether current school funding is adequate.
“One of the concerns is the actual litigation,” Jones said. “We could increase our funding double, and does it go back to litigation?”
One proposal Jones said the legislature may consider would give money directly to the state board of education and that body would determine funding amounts for the state’s 286 school districts.
“The state board would decide where it’s going to go,” Jones said.
Baumgartner said one goal is finding a funding solution that gives districts more flexibility in how the money is spent.
Jones said budgeting is a balancing act.
“What are you willing to let be cut in your life?” He asked. “It’s painful. It hurts to live within our means.”