Archive for Monday, November 25, 2002

Lawmakers, state school officials brace for cuts

November 25, 2002

As of Monday it was anybody's guess as to how much school funding would be cut.

State Rep. Kenny Wilk, R-Lansing, said Monday morning that he expected Gov. Bill Graves to announce funding cuts that day. However, the governor's office later said the announcement probably wouldn't come until Tuesday.

Last Thursday, Wilk, as well as state Sen. Bob Lyons, R-Winchester, and two members of the state board of education, Janet Waugh, Kansas City, Kan., and Sue Gamble, Shawnee Mission, attended the Tonganoxie school district's November patron advisory council meeting.

When it comes to cuts, education is a sure target, Wilk said.

"Education, grades K-12 is 52 percent of the state general fund," Wilk said. "It's 68 percent with higher education included, so two-thirds of the state's general funds goes directly to education."

Wilk, who is chairman of the house appropriations committee, said that financially, the state is in a position it has never been in before. He predicted that by June 30, 2003, the state would fall $310 million short of being back to a zero balance. That amounts to about 7 percent of the amount of the state's budget, he said.

"We cannot print money and we cannot deficit-spend," Wilk said. "We must and we will balance the budget it's going to happen. The current governor understands that and has a whole list of scenarios to go through. I actually think he is serving the state well in stepping up and taking actions."

One thing is certain budgets will be cut.

"So the sooner you know, the better, and the more time you'll have to respond, the better off you're going to be," Wilk said.

The cuts will be across the board.

"Anybody that touches the state general fund will have budgets cut," Wilk said.

Kansas is not alone in state budgetary crises, Wilk said.

"I will tell you that 40 other states are right where we are at," he said.

Sen. Bob Lyon said the cuts to public education may have a bright side.

"I think there's a lot we can do in terms of challenging the structures of our educational institutions," Lyon said. "Some of them involve money and some don't. : Maybe the silver lining may be to look at what are some ways that we can really achieve excellence and go to the next plateau and have a real vision that may not mean some more dollars in terms of students."

Lyon said the state could change the way schools are funded.

"There's no way that you can convince me that Topeka, Shawnee Mission and Tonganoxie schools have the same aggregate needs for funding," Lyon said.

However, Lyon, as well as the state school board members, acknowledged that Kansans likely will have to start paying higher taxes.

"The Legislature has historically avoided cutting funding and raising taxes, and there is no other option at the moment," Lyon said. "The time has come to roll up your sleeves and do what is best for the state of Kansas."

Waugh said she had heard that some school districts, and some states, predict future prison populations by looking at second grade reading levels.

"It's pay now or pay later," Waugh said. "The only escape for these children is education and we must fund it."

And Gamble said Kansans have not been overtaxed.

"We are a state that is pretty average, taxwise," Gamble said. ": I don't think there's anybody sitting in this room that says 'I love taxes,'" Gamble said. "But what I look at with my taxes is am I receiving the kind of services that I expect and am I living in a community that has the quality of life that I want to live in."

Benefits cost money, and that can mean raising taxes, she said.

"Do I want to go back to poorhouses? Do I want to go back to a time when families depend on commodities?" Gamble said. "I think we have chosen on a quality of life and if that is what we want as Kansans, then I think we are going to have to afford them."

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