Column distorts state stand on schools
As a Kansas school teacher for 33 years, in public and private high schools and also private and state colleges, I felt compelled to respond to Bob Woelk’s mischaracterization of what the Kansas Legislature is attempting to do with the House bills he described in last week’s paper (“Free Falling,” March 13).
To quote Mr. Woelk: “One of the bills would no longer allow teachers to deduct union dues from paychecks.” This is simply untrue. What occurred in the past is that dues for political action from the KNEA were deducted from teacher’s paychecks automatically. A teacher had to request that they not be deducted.
I can tell you from experience that heavy pressure was exerted when I asked that these funds not be deducted from my pay. I was told I was freeloading on the efforts and finances of other teachers. Since we are a right-to-work state, I had the freedom to be independent from the KNEA and did not yield to that pressure.
Mr. Woelk also decried the reduction from 30 to five, the number of “mandatory” negotiable items from collective bargaining. Schools are under a lot of pressure from many sources to improve education. School boards oftentimes have their hands tied from school reform because of the KNEA.
Good teachers cannot be rewarded because the KNEA opposes any merit pay for good performance, what Mr. Woelk calls “sweetheart deals.” School boards need the flexibility to implement things like merit pay without the interference of those whose main concern is union power.
Finally, to address Mr. Woelk’s concern that Kansans do not adequately finance education: In Kansas, spending for the 2012 school year averaged $12,656 per pupil, as reported by the Kansas Department of Education. This is roughly 26 percent higher than what was spent in 2005. How many of us have enjoyed a 26 percent pay increase in that time period? You take an average class size of 20 students and it is easy to calculate that over a quarter of a million dollars is spent on those kids in a year.
Rather than criticize the fine people of the state of Kansas with words like, “Why do the current legislators dislike public school teachers?” or “Why have Kansas educators, long considered an asset, suddenly become a liability?”, Mr. Woelk might want to say “thank-you” for the generous support taxpayers have shown to our children.
The House Taxation Committee voted Thursday, March 8, to go forward with a bill (HB-2285) to remove certain types of business fixtures from the tax roles. Under the pretext of clarifying the law that has existed for more than 100 years, they are redefining fixtures on behalf of two companies.
This bill was introduced after being requested by two companies (registered in Delaware but doing business in Kansas; Delaware has no corporate taxes) whose 10-year property tax abatements had expired.
Within three months of losing their appeals to the Kansas Court of Tax Appeals, they had enough clout to get legislation introduced to “clarify” the law, which will result in a large portion of their property being non-taxable.
The bill, as rewritten, will benefit about 30 businesses who will receive a significant tax break. Local governments will lose approximately $75 million of tax revenue statewide that can only be compensated for with levy increases on residential and small-business property owners.
A bill under similar circumstances was passed in 2006 with the stated purpose of “encouraging business expansion and business relocation to Kansas.” This bill also cost local governments millions of dollars.
Research has indicated that no one at the state level seems to be monitoring to see if the stated purpose of this bill was achieved. I was able to find out that since becoming law, the mass layoff—50 or more people—by Kansas businesses has dramatically increased, according to the Kansas Labor Information Center, and to this day is above 2006 levels.
These exemptions and others have done nothing but shift the tax base and thus the burden. In 1996, residential real estate properties constituted 37.9 percent of the tax base. This has grown to 48.02 percent in 2012 and will exceed 50 percent if this new bill passes.
It can be argued the federal government is spending this country into debt, but Kansas is “exempting” it’s citizens into debt by accommodating large and powerful companies.
Rep. Kasha Kelly, a Tax Committee member, was quoted as saying, “counties should reduce spending and tighten their belts.” I think Kansas citizens would be better served if the Legislature stopped “tightening the noose.”
Marion County commissioner