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Questionable benchmarks, or the facts?

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From Kansas Policy Institute.

Questionable Benchmarks Betray Real Facts


By Steve Anderson

It is amazing to anyone who knows the facts that one of the state’s progressive groups, Kansas Center for Economic Growth (KCEG), is blaming the tax cuts for what they perceive as funding cuts to multiple services when comparing state funding between 2008 to 2013. It appears that not only did KCEG play fast and loose with the facts but they choose to outright ignore facts that disprove their claims.

KCEG chooses to use 2008 as a year to start their comparison. That is not surprising as Governor Kathleen Sebelius’s budgets were noted for spending. The 2008 budget spent not only every dollar that came in to the state’s coffers it also consumed nearly all the huge 2007 ending balance of $935 million. This resulted in every service that state provided being at risk during the recession and a spending binge that left the state with a NEGATIVE ending balance of $27 million in 2010. KCEG apparently believes that if is OK to spend money you don’t have! Fortunately for Kansans, more responsible budgets were passed in subsequent years. Kansans can breathe a bit easier knowing that the last budget year ended with a substantial ending balance ensuring continuity in their services.

KCEG makes the claim “Kansas has sharply reduced state support for schools, libraries and other community services in recent years, forcing towns and cities to cut programs that Kansans depend upon or raise more money locally to sustain them. While the cuts by the state were initially prompted by the Great Recession, the substantial income tax cuts Kansas lawmakers enacted in 2012 and 2013 are draining even more resources and making it nearly impossible to replace vital aid to Kansas communities.” The inconvenient facts are that the tax cuts KCEG blames for these spending reduction were NOT in effect in 2012 and only for 6 months in 2013 with an estimated fiscal impact of approximately $260 million according to the Kansas Legislative Research Division.

When you begin your claims with a questionable benchmark and an outright falsehood it is tempting to just stop there but KCEG wasn’t done with their lax adherence to the truth. Here are a few more of their “claims” and some inconvenient facts KCEG would like you to ignore.

They continue to alter the facts to fit their story when they go on to say, “Total state aid to school districts has been reduced by over $263 million since fiscal year 2008, an 8 percent cut.” But, when you check their data you find they “conveniently” left out $354 million in just FY-2012 going to the teacher’s pension system in KPERs; money used to secure the funding for current teacher’s benefits when they retire. If KCEG believes funding teacher’s retirement is not fundamental to retaining teachers I would encourage them to ask teachers if they will continue teaching in Kansas if their retirement won’t be there when the time comes.

But they weren’t done there. KCEG attacked Kansas governmental state spending for what they asserted was a reduction in local health care funding of 12% by the state. This conveniently ignores the fact that state spending on Medicaid — which is almost all spent in the local community for the local citizens in their hospitals and health care system — grew in just two years from $713 million in FY-2010 to $1 billion in FY-2012. This state spending on Medicaid created another $1.8 billion in federal funds in FY-2012 alone that were spent within community’s hospitals and health care service providers. You would think KCEG would be pleased that the state is increasing spending on the state’s most needy citizens. However it seems KCEG believes in funding institutions, in this case local health departments, and not services (i.e. health care for citizens).

I could continue to point out more cases of KCEG creating their own reality but it is probably more important to mention the reality they most conveniently ignored. What decrease in services could they show which actually negatively affected citizens? For example, KCEG claims that mentor programs for new teachers and professional development for current teachers damaged public education but what effect on actual student outcomes can they show to substantiate that claim?

KCEG makes statements such as “Local governments wrestling with how to stretch budgets” without showing the harm of having local governments being required to justify and allocate budget dollars with an eye to being efficient. Let us not forget these are citizens’ tax dollars KCEG is talking about and those very citizens are having to do just that in their personal budgets every day.

Here is a question for KCEG: Is it more important how much governments spend or how well they produce positive outcomes for citizens with the services they do provide? I think most would agree with me it’s not about dollars but instead it should be about services that make a difference.

KCEG doesn’t have to spend other people’s money to fund the institutions and/or programs they say are important. Here is something to consider for the supporters and members of KCEG who believe the state tax cut is creating harm — there is a provision in state tax law that allows them to pay as much in taxes as they wish. They can choose to ignore the tax cuts and give more money to bureaucrats in Topeka. Or, they could simply contribute to the local library, or health department directly if they believe there is a problem. I, for one, will respect and praise any individual who voluntarily makes either or both of those two choices out of a commitment to their ideals.