State of the State: Kansas
Here, we celebrate freedom.
This week, Governor Sam Brownback delivered his plans for the Sunflower State in his state of the state address.
The governor started by highlighting some of Kansas’ recent accomplishments, including a boost in the funding rate of the state’s public employee retirement system (KPRS), higher wages and an increase in business filings.
Brownback said, “We have controlled spending, reformed tax policy, and reduced burdensome regulations.” Kansas’ multi-year effort to reform its tax code has become the most-discussed of its kind in recent years.
Unfortunately, the truth behind the recent Kansas tax reforms was obscured by pundits pushing big government agendas. In time, however, with appropriate prioritization of spending, Kansas’ economy is primed for strong growth. In chapter four of the upcoming eighth edition of Rich States, Poor States, the ALEC Center for State Fiscal Reform took a behind the scenes look at Kansas’ tax reform efforts in order to glean lessons that can be taken away. Progress is underway, albeit more slowly and incrementally than some demand. However, tax reform is merely one side of the fiscal coin. To sustain its tax cuts and create greater economic opportunity, Kansas must implement stronger spending reforms, as other tax-cutting states like North Carolina have done. The eighth edition of Rich States, Poor States, which includes a full case study of Kansas, will be released next week.
Looking forward, Brownback also emphasized the need to reform Kansas’ education system, saying, “ Education in the 21st century can no longer be based on 19th century models.” According to Brownback, despite spending $4 billion on education, “not nearly enough goes toward instruction.” Brownback went on to call for a redesigned education funding system that recognizes and rewards good teachers.
The idea that education spending can be refocused toward teachers and away from other costs is not unrealistic. In fact, a decades-long trend of increasing education spending has not resulted in demonstrably higher performance for many students. Misspending is rampant, often to the detriment of students. Rethinking the education model is long overdue.
Governor Brownback went on to welcome legislation that would strengthen the local property tax lid and hasten its implementation. Indexing the rate of property tax increases to inflation can be an effective way to limit government, which is admirable, but as ALEC has pointed out for years, taxes and spending are two sides of the same fiscal coin. State lawmakers should also be vigilant to protect against overspending by local units of government.
While the debate over Kansas’ tax reforms may continue to loom large, there remains ample opportunity for thought leaders in the legislature to set priorities and create a plan of action that respects hardworking taxpayers.
This is an entry in the ALEC Center for State Fiscal Reform series, “State of the States 2016,” which will perform analysis of tax and budget issues raised in every state of the state address delivered by America’s governors. Check back frequently over the coming weeks to see the results for your state.