Parkinson seeks two tax hikes to secure the future

Gov. Mark Parkinson asked for a one penny increase in the sales tax for the next three years and a whopping hike in the tax on cigarettes in his State of the State address Monday night. He based his case on the prospect of a $400 million budget deficit that would cripple the state’s universities and its public schools if it is not offset with additional revenue.
The cigarette tax would come up from 55-cents a pack to the national average, $1.34 a pack. The tax on other tobacco products would quadruple to 40 percent.
The combination of the two tax hikes would raise about $378 million in the fiscal year beginning July 1 — almost enough to cover the anticipated deficit.
Gov. Parkinson, who has said many times that he will not seek re-election, said raising the state’s income would allow it to restore some cuts to the public schools, fund the regents universities and community colleges at current levels and prevent further cuts in social services such as aid to the disabled.
“Now is the time to protect what we have. Now is the time to stop cutting education, public safety and aid to the elderly and disabled,” he said, in what most capitol watchers will praise as an address that was as eloquent as it was candid.
The governor praised the 165 members of the House and Senate for dealing with the nationwide recession in the last two years in a rational way, then called upon them to continue to do so with the future in mind.
He recalled that he attended the public schools of Wichita, graduated from Wichita State University, went to law school at the University of Kansas where he met his wife-to-be, Stacy. They were married while still in law school, then “had a blast practicing law together” and went into the nursing home business, which prospered.
“Stacy and I have lived the American dream and we have lived it without ever leaving Kansas,” he said.
“I tell you this not to boast of our good fortune; I tell you this because I want to make sure that future generations of Kansans have the same opportunities as Stacy and I. We are able to live this life because legislators and governors decades ago decided that building great public schools and universities was the right thing to do. We are able to live this life because in Kansas, you didn’t have to be rich to go to a good school or go to college.
“Now I’m asking you to make the same decisions for future generations to come. I’m asking you to give our children’s children the same opportunities that Stacy and I and all of you have had — the opportunity to live the American dream without leaving the state.”

AS GOV. PARKINSON pointed out in his address, a failure to keep funding level for the state’s public schools will be a disaster. Some schools will close. Most of the others will be forced to eliminate teachers and classes, increase class sizes and reduce the quality of education across the board.
He didn’t have the time to talk about the long term effects.
A student goes to only one of the 12 elementary school grades at a time. If he is cheated of a good education in any of those years, that loss can carry forward throughout his education, perhaps throughout his life. A school that must cut staff and increase class sizes in 2011 because of additional cuts in funding can’t get back to par quickly. Rather than losing one year, it may lose two or three before it can rebuild its faculty and provide an adequate education once more.
What is true at the public school level is also true for the six regents universities that have done so much to give Kansas a reputation for educational excellence.
Monday night, Gov. Parkinson said he had studied recessions and depressions and discovered that what turns a recession into a depression is that people give up. He urged the lawmakers and the people of Kansas to refuse to give up and instead become determined to whip today’s problems and march into the future with confidence.
He asks for a penny more on the sales tax and a tax on tobacco that will raise money while it encourages smokers to quit a life-threatening addiction. He believes that investment will buy a
better future for today’s youngsters and those to come.
He made a very convincing case. Kansans should let their lawmakers know they agree and are willing to do their share to move forward — and are not about to roll over, play dead and let the recession win.

— Emerson Lynn, jr.