Leaders in both the Kansas House and Kansas Senate say increasing taxes to pay a Kansas Supreme Court-imposed ransom to school attorneys is unlikely.
Republicans Senate President Susan Wagle and House Speaker Ron Ryckman told the Wichita Eagle that there’s no appetite for increasing taxes again a year after legislators retroactively hiked income taxes. Despite the $1.2 billion tax increase, sweeping money from the highway fund, and shorting payments to the state’s public pension system, the Kansas budget is busted by 2020. Meanwhile, lawmakers will grapple with how to increase funding to public schools, thanks to a Kansas Supreme Court ruling. The October decision gave lawmakers a deadline of April 30 to adopt an equitable and adequate school funding scheme. Though justices stopped short of naming a dollar amount, officials and pundits estimate the state will need to add between $600 and $1 billion in new funding to satisfy the Court.
“It may be that some of those areas you mention which are terribly important but don’t have constitutional protections may have to suffer.”
That’s a tall order if leadership in both the House and Senate appear unwilling to increase taxes.
“My senators are dead set against increasing any taxes to comply with the court,” Wagle told the Eagle.
The Kansas Policy Institute mapped out how much lawmakers would need to raise existing tax rates in order to increase school funding by $600 million or more. If lawmakers chose to focus on property taxes, they would need to increase the mill rate going to schools from 20 mills to 39.5 mills, or a near doubling of the statewide property tax rate. If they opted to use sales tax rates to raise the money, it would require increasing state sales tax rates from 6.5 percent to 7.9 percent. The amount would give Kansas the highest sales tax rates–when state and local sales taxes are considered, too–in the nation. If lawmakers choose to increase income tax rates again, they would need to charge a 19.9 percent surcharge on incomes.
Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning told the Eagle someone will need to come up with a list of how to raise $600 million.
“If they want to put in $200 million a year–which is $600 million at the end of three years–they’re still going to have to come up with a way to pay for it,” he told the paper.
The other option would require lawmakers to cut funding to other state services. School funding already takes up half of the state’s $6.06 billion general fund budget. Across the board cuts of 18 percent for everyone else would be required to pour another $600 million into public school funding.
The school lobby doesn’t care that prisons, children services, or mental health programs might be cut at the expense of school funding.
“It may be that some of those areas you mention which are terribly important but don’t have constitutional protections may have to suffer,” Alan Rupe, the attorney representing plaintiffs in the ongoing school funding lawsuit, told the Wichita Eagle.