Two state regents plead for higher state spending

Wednesday, two members of the Kansas Board of Regents said the 2010 Legislature should raise more revenue to support the state’s universities or face the possibility that some Kansas youngsters will be denied a university education.
Gary Sherrer of Overland Park, a former lieutenant governor, said further cuts in university budgets may force them to shrink, to reduce faculty and cap their enrollments. Doing so would force students denied enrollment to go to other states, which would mean those unable to afford the far higher out-of-state tuitions would be unable to continue their educations.
“Without additional revenues, we are going to do serious and long-term damage to our educational institutions,” Sherrer said.
Dan Lykins, a Topeka attorney, agreed and offered some practical advice. He told AP writer John Hanna that when state revenues were healthy in past years, legislators repeatedly approved tax breaks for businesses and individuals and said there are “dozens of exemptions” to the state’s 5.3 percent sales tax.
The state has already had four rounds of budget cuts and Gov. Mark Park-inson will announce still another round designed to keep the budget in balance next week.
The state’s public schools are also feeling the budget reductions but don’t have the same options. They must continue to hold classes for every school age youngster. All they can do to stay within their budgets is increase local taxes a smidgen or cut the quality of the education they offer by firing teachers, eliminating some offerings and increasing class sizes. The public schools could also be forced to cut costs by eliminating league sports that require out-of-town trips. Doing so would also make it possible to trim faculty by reducing the number involved in competitive sports.
A far better response would be to increase state revenues, as Sherrer and Lykins suggest, by repealing previous tax reductions and sales tax exemptions.
Some legislative leaders protest that doing so would slow economic recovery and argue that taxes should never be increased when the economy is slow.

THE RESPONSE to this argument should be apparent.
The very same representatives and senators who now refuse to consider raising state income when the need to do so is screamingly obvious are the ones who voted for the tax reductions and sales tax exemptions that make today’s budget crunch so much more crippling.
In their philosophy, there is never a proper time for the state to raise more money — and tax reductions are always a brilliant strategy.
Today they argue that the recession affects everyone. The state should “just hunker down,” take its lumps and wait for things to get better.
Perhaps that makes sense in some areas of state spending. But not in education because children must progress every year in order to achieve their potentials. Eliminating all-day kin-dergarten, for example, does damage to 5-year-olds that can’t be undone: they won’t be 5 again.
Reducing the quality of the state’s public schools in 2010 can reduce the amount learned by all of the children attending school that year. Many of them won’t catch up. The damage done can be permanent.
That’s not a chance Kansas should take with the generation that will be leading the state a few short years from now.

— Emerson Lynn, jr.