Will a sales tax increase help Kansas?

So the Legislature has done it. Again. They’ve raised tax rates rather than cut spending back to the levels of a few years ago.

Gov. Mark Parkinson applauded the Legislature. According to the Lawrence Journal-World,

After the vote, Parkinson issued a statement, saying the increased tax would prevent “permanent damage to our children’s education, our communities’ public safety and the care we provide to vulnerable citizens.” He added, “No tax is a good tax, but a penny is a small price to pay for a state as great as ours.”

Parkinson trivializes the economic impact of the increase by calling it “a penny.” But I want to move beyond economic analysis to focus on the claim that not raising the tax would cause “permanent damage to our children’s education.” Parkinson, like most people, equates the size of a school budget with the education of a child.

If we’re going to have a government-run system of schools, they will of course require some money to operate. But I think the question of how much they need has gotten short shrift. Have, in fact, schools spend down their unencumbered balances to a prudent level? How about increasing the efficiency of schools? The Division of Legislative Post Audit tried to look at district efficiency, but districts put forth some political pressure, and the LPA’s work was called off. In its report on school funding, Augenblick & Myers ignored the more efficient districts.

In short, it’s entirely possible that Kansas is spending more money that it needs to on schools.  We don’t know for sure, but if that’s the case, a tax increase is unnecessary.

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