A Wichita Eagle op-ed by Kansas State School Board Member David Dennis (Fund balances won’t save schools) and another by Rhonda Holman dispute evidence that Kansas can make it through the current financial situation by making use of large fund balances in state agency accounts.
In his op-ed, Dennis writes that while he doesn’t disagree that Kansas schools have $700 million in funds excluding capital and bond payments, he writes “That fact by itself is very misleading. Each account must be analyzed separately.” He then proceeds to list some of these funds, their balances as of July 1, and what the fund is used for.
This recitation, however, doesn’t qualify as “analysis.” An analysis would look at the change in fund balances over the course of a budget year, and the trend of the balances over years. Dennis doesn’t do any of this. Of course, that type of material doesn’t make it into most newspapers.
Evidence gathered by the Kansas Policy Institute has found that statewide, these fund balances have grown by 53 percent over the last four years. For the Wichita school district, these balances have grown from $74 million to $94 million over the last four years. These funds grow when more money is added to them than is spent — strong evidence that schools have been receiving more money than they have needed.
So we have a member of the school spending lobby disputing the availability of these funds and calling for more tax revenue to be spent on schools. Not much new here.
What’s more disturbing is Wichita Eagle editorial writer Rhonda Holman’s recent editorial (Work together to solve budget crisis). It doesn’t come right out and say that the idea of using fund balances to make it through a tight spot is bogus. Instead, Holman shades her claims, using phrases like “If that were true” and “But a very different — and more realistic — scenario faces Parkinson and returning legislators.”
This is after slamming the think tank that found these balances and promotes their use as “conservative.” (Believe me, that was meant as an insult.)
It’s neither conservative nor liberal to look at facts.
But the fact that these fund balances are available — and the fact that they’ve been growing in recent years — isn’t comfortable for big-taxing and big-spending liberals in Kansas. First, the growing balances mean that these funds have been stocked with more money than has been necessary.
Second, for agencies to draw down these fund balances means that they’re going to have to be more careful in managing their finances and accounts. It’s easier to operate with large fund balances, no doubt, but many Kansans right now are operating on tight household budgets. We should expect government to do the same.
Then, if we find that Kansas can make it through this tight spot without tax increases, that deprives Kansas government spenders of future tax revenue. After all, if new taxes are implemented now, they’ll probably be around after the economy recovers, providing even more tax revenue for Kansas government to spend.
Tough economic times ought to provide an incentive to look for ways that government can become more efficient. But hardly anyone in Kansas government is looking for savings. In the case of Kansas schools, planned performance audits were canceled last year because school administers were too busy working on budget cuts. School districts could voluntarily participate in the audit — Derby did — but the Wichita school district didn’t participate.