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The next four years

The Next Four Years
By Karl Peterjohn

The gubernatorial race in Kansas is generating fewer negative ads statewide than a single Wichita area race for the Kansas House of Representatives. If this crude barometer of political sentiment is correct, Kathleen Sebelius will easily be reelected governor November 7.

For political prognosticators in the mainstream Kansas press this is as much a certainty as criticism of President Bush leading the nightly news or Senator Kerry sticking his foot in his mouth. A second term for Governor Sebelius is going to impact Kansans and for many of them it will be an expensive experience.

Governor Sebelius is already calling for increases in excise taxes. More tax hike proposals will appear after November 7. What will be interesting is seeing if the next Kansas legislature will finally be ready to pass the property, income, sales, and excise tax hikes she unsuccessfully sought during her first term. When Bill Graves was governor he got his tax hikes passed during his second term in office. Second terms have had a history of being rather ugly with both the Graves and Carlin precedents as a warning to any second term Kansas governor.

The governor’s tax and spending programs may rest on her success in getting like minded legislators elected November 7. Former Republican turned Democrat Cindy Neighbor is running for the legislature against conservative Republican Mary Pilcher Cook. A Neighbor victory will be a significant step towards raising Kansas taxes. The governor’s coattails for down ticket legislative races will be an important factor in determining the reception the governor’s next tax and spend proposal will receive at the statehouse.

The next Kansas budget covering all funds will top $12 billion. It took some budgetary sleight-of-hand to keep it under $12 billion this year. If spending growth expands in Governor Sebelius’ second term as fast as it did during her first, expect the spending to grow above $14 billion. If the judicially active Kansas Supreme Court continues to budget state spending, the growth could easily double and raise total spending over $16 billion.

More spending by lawsuit will become a common part of the Kansas governmental scene as the legislature becomes an increasingly secondary factor in setting state spending priorities. The next school finance lawsuit is going to be a factor in state spending during the next four years. Lawsuits directing other parts of the state budget will continue to be major events impacting Kansas government finances too.

Government job growth will be an increasingly important factor in Kansas. The school finance studies beginning with Augenblick and Myers indicate that the solution for improving Kansas public schools is more school employees. Despite the stagnant number of students, the solution is to expand the schools. Since some schools, like Wichita, already had 8,587 employees last year for fewer than 49,000 students, so lowering an already low six students per employee ratio seems unlikely to improve educational achievement. Costs will soar as will the taxes needed to pay for this profligacy.

Governor Sebelius is already proposing higher excise taxes to finance expanded Hillary-style state health care programs. In addition, Medicaid costs that require a state payment for 40 percent of the costs are growing rapidly with annual increases exceeding $100 million.

During their last Topeka debate Governor Sebelius and Senator Barnett were both asked what they would do if the state received a fiscal windfall. Senator Barnett cited his proposal to cut state taxes and said he would return the windfall to taxpayers. Governor Sebelius said she would increase state spending for school children.

Government will grow during the next four years regardless of who is elected. However, the size and rate will vary dramatically. Governor Sebelius’ reelection guarantees that Kansas government spending will soar. Economic growth will not be able to keep up with spending. Kansans need to get ready for some major “revenue enhancements,” to help Governor Sebelius fulfill her spending schemes.

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