By Kansas State Representative Reid Petty
Kansas Governor Sam Brownback gave the annual State of the State Address on Wednesday night at the State Capitol, and what we learned is what great shape Kansas is in.
When Governor Brownback took over we faced a $500 million shortfall, and that was with major tax increases from the previous administration. As the Governor enters his fourth year in office and as he has signed tax cuts into law the state now has a surplus.
When the Governor took office in January of 2011, there were fewer workers in Kansas working in the private sector then there had been since 2001. Since that time Kansas has created almost 50,000 private sector jobs, and the unemployment rate has gone from 6.9 percent to 5.1 percent. That is the tenth lowest rate in the U.S.
The Governor and legislature have now also balanced three budgets in a row. Kansas is now in the top ten in employment, and was recently listed as one of the top ten states to make a living and the top ten for the lowest cost of living.
In January of 2011, Kansas had the second highest income tax rates in our region, while today, tax reforms have moved Kansas to the second lowest income tax rates in the region.
While the Governor talked a lot about these exciting numbers, his primary focus in his speech was edcuation. As we all await the State Supreme Court’s decision on the school fiance lawsuit in which several school districts across the state have sued the state asking for in excess of $400 milllion, education will obviously be the top headline this legislative session.
The Governor brought up some excellent points when it comes to the funding Kansas already provides to K-12 education in Kansas. Kansas already spends over 50 percent of its total budget on K-12 education. That puts Kansas fourth among all states in the percent of the total budget that goes to education.
When it comes to funding from all government sources, schools in Kansas received on average this year an all-time record $12,781 per student.
I also agree with the Governor when he stated that the legislature who is elected and who does their work out in the open is should be who decides what is appropriate funding for education, not unelected judges who make decisions behind closed doors. It would set a dangerous precendent for the courts to start deciding what is adequate funding for different parts of government.
The other area of education that Governor touched on was all day kindergarten. Currently the state funds half. Under his proposal the state would fully fund it. The cost of this would be around $16 million in the first year, increasing to $80 million per year once it is fully funded in the fifth year. This issue sort of took the legislature by surprise, and I’m not sure yet if I will be able to support this proposal.
Kindergarten is not mandated by the state. It is optional. Currently most districts in the state already have it and the state funds half of it, while the district or parents fund the other half. I tend to believe it would make more sense for the parents to fund it since it is their kids, rather than other citizens since attendance is only optional.
The House of Representatives leadership team have already decided to do a study on all day kindergarten before the House decides rather or not to take any action on the proposal. I will be interested in seeing what the results of that study are before making a final decision on the issue.
The Governor also addressed the Rural Opportunity Zones Program which will provide $2 million for housing and other things to help rural areas grow. Even though Liberal may not get to be apart of this because we have become too big to qualify, it is still exciting for Western Kansas because it will help create growth.
Kansas now has 2.9 million citizens, and thanks to the current policies of the Governor and the legislature the state is growing quickly and will soon top the 3 million mark. While times may be tough natiowide, times in Kansas are good. The numbers clearly show that Kansas is in great shape and is heading in the right direction.