After the 2009 Kansas Legislature ended its session in May (notwithstanding the formal closing in June), the Kansas National Education Association (KNEA, the teachers union) produced a document wrapping up the session and setting the stage for the future. It’s titled What’s next? (Legislatively speaking).
Kansans need to be aware of the agenda of this organization and its allied school spending lobby partners. Using an unimpeachable issue — “it’s all about the kids” — this organization seeks to increase spending on public schools at great cost to Kansas taxpayers. This is at the same time it works hard to keep the government school monopoly on public dollars for education in place, stomping out any form of school choice programs that are found to be cost-saving and effective in many states.
What’s really telling about this document is its complaining of the political power of groups like Americans For Prosperity and Club For Growth. That’s because without a doubt, the richest and most powerful lobby in Kansas is the school spending lobby. Browse through the finance reports filed with the Kansas Secretary of State, and you’ll see that the KNEA spends hundreds of thousands of dollars each year in support of candidates for the Kansas House and Senate, and other offices too.
The document criticizes Kansas economic development spending for not producing “economic expansion or significant job growth.” But the school spending lobby is quick to highlight the purported economic benefit of government spending on schools. They don’t tell us that a dollar spent on public schools is a dollar taken through taxation. If left in the hands of its original owner, economic activity would have taken place, too.
What is the problem in Kansas?
The KNEA and the school spending lobby believes that Kansas has a revenue problem. They call it a “structural deficit.” What it means is that Kansas taxes are not high enough: “The plain fact is that the tax policy of the legislature is designed to keep Kansas in a fiscal hole. … You see, the Kansas revenue system has something that tax folks call a ‘structural deficit.’ Structural deficits result when spending increases outpace revenue collections.”
Many Kansans, including Americans For Prosperity, believe that Kansas has a spending problem. According to Kansas state director Derrick Sontag, if Kansas spending had increased by even as much as 5% each year for the last five years, our state would have a $2 billion surplus.
Instead, spending has increased so rapidly that Kansas, at the start of this year, faced a $1 billion deficit.
The school spending lobby also believes that tax cuts are a “cost” to Kansas government that we can’t afford: “In a memo prepared by legislative research in response to a legislative inquiry, a list of 70 new tax cuts have been enacted between 2000 and 2008. Eighteen have come in the last four years with a total cost to the state through 2013 of $1.135 billion. This does not include $87 million in foregone revenue due to a decision to not decouple from the federal tax code last year.”
Instead of believing that money first belongs to those who earned it, the school spending lobby believes that letting people retain more of their earnings is an expense we can’t afford.
Where is the political power in Kansas?
The KNEA complains: “But it [increasing taxes] won’t happen until legislators put the good of Kansas ahead of an endorsement — and the political money that comes with it — by Americans for Prosperity and the Club for Growth.”
It’s ironic to hear the school spending lobby complain that their opponents are using “political money.” KNEA is one of the biggest spenders on lobbying in Topeka. Large school districts like USD 259, the Wichita public school district have their own full-time lobbyists — paid for by taxpayers. There’s all the campaign contributions, as mentioned above.
Plus, an endorsement by the KNEA is highly sought after. Candidates complete a lengthy questionnaire to earn its endorsement. That document is really more a manifesto telling candidates what they must believe and do to get the union’s endorsement and a contribution. You can read last year’s version by clicking on KNEA legislative questionnaire.
The single-minded goal of the school spending lobby is to spend so much that Kansas is put out of business. They aren’t shy about using political money — and taxpayer-funded lobbying and lawsuits — to achieve that goal.