Schools, Local Government, and Taxes

Whether it’s for schools, other forms of local government, state government, or the federal government, taxes all come from the same source: the taxpayer. OK, so the federal government can literally print money, but other levels of government all demand funds from families. It would be great if they could find ways to economize and set priorities. Instead, the pattern of governments, and families, is to spend beyond their means.

Karl Peterjohn makes some points about school and local government spending in the following op-ed (Local governments are growing on tax steroids,” Wichita Eagle, August 2)

Some excerpts:

n 2006, Sedgwick County commissioners unanimously raised the county’s mill levy by 2.55 mills, despite a public outcry and uproar opposing this hike. Two commissioners were then removed from office in the 2006 elections because of the county’s property tax hike. This mill levy increase was on top of soaring property tax appraisals that provide additional taxes for the county’s proposed $386 million budget, a 5.8 percent hike.

The city of Wichita’s 2008 proposed budget is $495 million — an increase of more than $100 million from the $390 million budget in 2006. City spending is soaring, with a two-year increase of 27 percent and an increase over last year’s revised budget of slightly less than 15 percent.

The Wichita public schools are now proposing a 2-mill property tax hike (many other Wichita area public school districts are seeking more property taxes, too). This is on top of the $24.6 million increase in state tax funds for USD 259.

[snip]

Wichita public schools had massive spending growth during the past few years. The district’s first budget of more than $300 million was in 2000-01. The first $400 million budget was in 2005-06. The first official $500 million budget is this year.

If additional tax funds from Washington and pension tax funds from Topeka are added, these figures are much larger. The official USD 259 proposed budget is just less than $516 million. But if the “off budget” tax dollars are included, this figure grows to $577 million.

If all tax funds are included and enrollment remains the same as last year, spending will be close to $13,000 per full-time pupil. If only the “official” spending figures are used, the spending will be more than $11,600 per pupil.

The point about various forms of accounting for tax burdens is easy to miss. Call it state funds or local funds, they are all burdens on the economy. It’s imperative, then, that it be provided in a way that is not only effective, but efficient. In the business world, efficiency comes through competition. We need more of that in education.

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