Thursday, January 9, 2014

Kansas Chamber poll: Taxes, school administration spending too high

By SCOTT ROTHSCHILD, The Lawrence Journal-World

TOPEKA, KAN. — Kansas business owners say both taxes and the amount of money spent on school administration are too high, according to a new survey commissioned by the Kansas Chamber of Commerce.

But the school funding question was based on an often-disputed statistic. And the growing number of business owners who think taxes are too high comes after historic tax cuts by the state.

On the question about taxes that fund state and local government, 57 percent of business owners and executives surveyed last month said they pay too much in taxes, according to the survey released Tuesday. That is up from 50 percent in 2012.

Chamber President and Chief Executive Office Mike O'Neal said the result shows that the state needs to keep cutting taxes and fight against any effort to repeal some of the recently approved tax legislation.

"We need to keep plowing ahead, and our business community is telling us that," O'Neal said.

Under Gov. Sam Brownback, the state has cut income tax rates and exempted from income taxes non-wage business income for almost 200,000 business owners. Further income tax cuts could take effect as early as tax year 2019 if tax revenue sources increase.

Brownback has said these cuts will stimulate the economy, but critics say the cuts benefit mostly the wealthy and will deprive schools and social services of needed revenue.

On the issue of school funding, the survey said, "Currently, only 55 cents of every tax dollar spent on schools in Kansas is spent on instruction. Would you favor increasing the percentage of available funds that are spent on classroom instruction while reducing the amount spent on non-instructional costs?"

Seventy-three percent said they would favor increasing the funds available for the classroom while reducing non-instructional costs.

But according to the Kansas Department of Education, 61.92 percent of school operating expenditures is spent on instruction, as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau, and that doesn't include librarians, counselors, speech therapists and other supports.

O'Neal defended the use of "55 cents of every tax dollar," saying, "If it's under dispute, it's because there is something wrong with the department's own definition of instruction."

The survey was done by the firm of Cole Hargrave Snodgrass and Associates. The firm surveyed 300 business owners and executives across the state. They have been doing the survey each year for the Kansas Chamber since 2004.

The chamber uses the poll to help shape its legislative agenda, said O'Neal, the former Kansas House speaker. The 2014 legislative session starts Monday.