VIEW FROM THE HILL

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN PAUL PENNER
Kansas taxpayers, it is late August. Do you know where your hard-earned tax dollars are going?

For now, the educational budget battle between the courts and legislature is over. In the long term, it’s not over, not by a long shot.

Locally, the majority of voices with the courage to speak up are those directly or indirectly employed within the educational system. Who would blame them? They are among the beneficiaries of the multi-million dollar windfall.

Elsewhere, there is silence. To my knowledge, even when the editor of the Free Press invited commentary on this subject, there has been no public response.

Even if there is opposition to the Supreme Court’s decision, the public’s silence is understandable.

Privately, I overheard one educator remark to another “I know the taxpayers don’t like it, but it sure helps us do our work.”

Who, in his or her right mind, would oppose spending more money on educational programs for our own children? Who has the courage to argue against that?

To express such an opinion seems despicable, to say the least. That’s like campaigning against mom and apple pie-only to end up with pie on your face and all angry mothers waiting in line to take their turn using you for target practice.

On the other hand-dare I say it?-one can rightfully argue that education is not our only fiscal and social responsibility in the state. In support of this notion, currently, more than two-thirds of all state tax revenue-not including local property tax revenue that goes directly to each school district-is consumed by education.

That means all other programs must compete for the few millions that are left over. Who is to say they are less important and less vital to the well being of our people, including the welfare of our own children?

This brings us back to the taxpayer and reality. Here are a few points to consider.

— The legislature’s last-minute reprieve with extra dollars was largely due to an increase in tax revenues and not from transferring money from other programs -which would have been next to impossible to do. Most non-educational programs have already been cut and resources stretched to their limits.

In addition, there is no practical guarantee this additional funding source will be available the next time a school district or two decide to sue when they don’t get what they want.

— The constitutional debate between the two branches of government has not been settled. Some people believe the State Supreme Court overstepped its bounds in its decision to force the legislature to come up with more money. Others disagree.

— Future economic development plans have suffered even greater than education from this fiscal crisis. From a local perspective, our infrastructure is in dire need of repair and improvement.

For instance, many dirt roads have not been upgraded since they were built, well over a half century ago. Yet, modern farm equipment, including loaded semi-trucks weighing more than 40 tons must travel down roads and cross bridges designed for model T Fords and horse-drawn wagons.

As I drive machinery to certain fields, I must drive on roads that are little more than glorified cow paths. In contrast, can anyone find a school classroom in this state, let alone this county, that must work with “unimproved” 19th century” assets?

Improving our infrastructure not only has an important economic component, but also a safety component. Good, rural roads to farms mean less intrusion onto major highways by farm machinery, which lowers the risk of farm/non-farm highway accidents.

n As a taxpayer and a businessman, with the rise in energy prices and property tax increases that never seems to end, I can only tolerate a certain level of red ink before fiscal prudence demands a drastic change.

n As a group, Kansas taxpayers cannot absorb potentially volatile property tax rate increases, nor should they tolerate inequitable income tax increases to fund educational programs at the expense of everything else.

The battle lines are drawn. The combatants are these: on one side, the taxpayers, represented by duly elected representatives and senators, not to mention their own legal council.

On the other side, there will be special-interest groups and their paid, legal representatives, which, by the way, will ultimately be paid for by-you guessed it-the taxpayers at large.

Prudence and common sense dictates a responsible approach by our elected representatives when addressing the needs of the taxpayers and other constituents of Kansas.

In addition, silence among taxpayers should not be interpreted as an endorsement of one policy or another.

On one hand, I find it hard to believe responsible taxpayers would ever oppose educating our state’s most important asset, our children.

On the other hand, one cannot assume those same taxpayers would choose to neglect other, equally important, services provided by the state, which also directly and indirectly affect our children.

The challenge, however, is finding taxpayers who are willing to speak up for balance and fairness-not only for and between school districts, but also for non-educational programs that we, the taxpayers of the state, believe are vital to the well-being of all Kansas residents.

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