Amid new tax cuts , slashes to education may materialize

Alex Sonnich Washburn Review

For Kansas college students, the cost of going to school may be on the rise. And although the state’s attention is fixated on taxation, new tax cuts and education cuts will go hand-in-hand.

In an ambitious State of the State speech earlier this January, Governor Sam Brownback outlined some of the measures his administration plans to pursue this year. Among these proposals are continuing to expand on last year’s controversial tax plan, eliminating the state income tax and expediting the appointment of appeals judges.

Absent from this is the potential impact deep tax cuts are expected to have on higher education. Recently, Brownback’s budget office recommended an eight percent reduction in funding to colleges throughout the state. This comes as the administration directs state agencies to plan for a 10 percent reduction in their overall budgets for the next fiscal year.

In his State of the State address, however, Brownback claimed these tax cuts, aimed at fully eliminating the income tax, will not affect education.

“The glide path to zero will not cut funding for education, higher education and important safety net programs,” said Brownback.

After four years of education budget reductions, there may not be much left to cut. The state has cut base funding a total of $511 million between fiscal years 2009 and 2012, $300 million of which came in 2010 alone. This reduction to funding has left many schools to resort to layoffs, cuts to various programs, and increasing costs where they can.

To further underscore the administration’s education woes, a January court ruling in Shawnee County demanded the administration increase education funding by roughly $400 million. In its statement, the three-judge panel stated that the administration cannot claim to be unable to properly fund schools as it continues to cut income taxes.

“It seems completely illogical that the state can argue that a reduction in education funding was necessitated by the downturn in the economy and the state’s diminishing resources and at the same time cut taxes further,” said the Shawnee County District Court panel in their statement.

Cuts to higher education funding may be approaching as the administration lays out its budget for the next fiscal year. Last September, the Board of Regents proposed an increase of $47.1 million, about 6.2 percent, to the administration for consideration. In November, however, Brownback deemed the increase unlikely, and his budget office recommended an eight percent decrease instead.

It is unclear what will be in store for education funding this year, but details are expected to emerge as the administration lays out its budget and tax proposals to lawmakers this legislative session. Brownback remains convinced, however, that Kansas serves as a model for the rest of the nation.

“When our country seems adrift, Kansas leads,” he said during the State of the State address. “In an era when many believe that America has lost its way, Kansas knows its way.”