Dedicating Income Tax to Schools is Just Pandering; There’s Also a Downside

Dave TrabertEducation, Tax & Spending

Dedicating income tax collections to school funding is the latest “Here, hold my beer” notion to come out of the Kansas Legislature this session, proving once again Thomas Sowell’s take on politics.  He said, “No one will really understand politics until they understand that politicians are not trying to solve our problems.  They are trying to solve their own problems — of which getting elected and re-elected are No. 1 and No. 2.  Whatever is No. 3 is far behind.”

The easiest path to election in Kansas is to pledge undying support for the institution of public education (not students, mind you, but the institution), and the farther one strays from that position, the less likely one is to solve Problems No.1 and No. 2.  The education lobby is demanding a ransom of nearly $1 billion more per year from taxpayers but the votes to accede simply aren’t there, so here comes the symbolism.   There are no upsides to this idea – only downsides.

Dedicating income tax collections to school funding won’t resolve the State’s legal issues over school funding.  Adequacy is not satisfied by having a dedicated income stream; the test is whether funding is reasonably calculated so students can achieve the Rose standards.  Some justices may take private pleasure in the notion but even if they publicly give it a nod, you can bet they will note that a decline in income tax receipts doesn’t absolve the State of its funding obligations.  But dedicating tax receipts effectively means there will never be relief from the onerous tax increase with which this Legislature is about to stick citizens because it would be seen as an attempt to cut school funding, and anyone proposing to do so would be charged with hating kids.  The education lobby will also declare that all income tax belongs to them, and since most legislators have no interest in making government waste less money, this pledge of fealty will only put more pressure on raising sales, excise and gasoline taxes.

Some legislators may say they need to dedicate income tax receipts to education to satisfy the Court, or to make some sort of deal or that old standby of ‘we have to govern’ but none of that holds water.  Compromise on variables (how much, when, etc.) is fine but one never compromises on principles.  Legislators can support students and citizens by demanding that schools be held accountable for improving outcomes and for making efficient use of taxpayer money so that Kansans aren’t unnecessarily taxed, but there’s precious little consideration for those principles in Topeka these days.

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