A tiny tax can save school funding

The Kansas Legislature will meet Wednesday to wrap up the 2009 session. It will consider vetos — all of which, in my opinion, should be upheld. It will also consider revising the budget downward to keep it balanced despite forecasts of a $328 million deficit. Legislators must, under constitutional law, cut spending or increase revenue to keep the budget balanced.
The House Appropriations Committee has voted to cut school financing by $113 million; The Senate Ways and Means Committee wants a smaller reduction of $76 million. They should compromise and keep education funding level by raising income.
Some states have solved similar budget shortages by levying a temporary surcharge on corporate and personal income taxes. That would be the fairest, least disruptive course to follow in Kansas.
State income taxes aren’t paid by those who don’t have decent incomes. Because the Kansas tax is mildly progressive, a surcharge would collect the most from those most able to pay. Businesses not making a profit would pay nothing.
An academic argument can be made that raising taxes — any taxes, by any amount — would aggravate the recession.
Academically, this may or may not be true. From a practical standpoint, however, raising an additional $328 million to keep a budget of more than $13 billion balanced would not be felt. Keeping school funding level by raising $113 million more (House vote) or $76 million (Senate version) would be an even smaller pinprick.
An economist might also point out that taking money from higher income Kansans and Kansas businesses and recycling it through the public schools and institutions of higher learning would be a wash, recession-wise. The effect on the economy of putting the money to work in schools, where it would be quickly spent, rather than leaving it in the hands of individuals and corportations surely would be so small as to be impossible to measure.
The message a surcharge would send to the people of Kansas, to students, to families and to educators is that education is truly a first priority for Kansas government and deserves its No. 1 place in the budget.
Go ahead, lawmakers, break the pattern. Exercise leadership for the sake of the kids and the Kansas of tomorrow.

— Emerson Lynn, jr.