An Eagle Editorial, "Freeze means big cuts" (Oct. 17 Opinion), said that gubernatorial candidate Sam Brownback's intention to freeze state general fund spending would cause big cuts in programs by not replacing federal stimulus money. The unspoken presumptions were that every government program and service is essential and that every program and service is being provided as efficiently as possible.
Most programs are never examined to determine whether they are effective, and independent efficiency studies are rarely conducted. Yet we're to believe that government could not possibly spend less money without wreaking havoc on taxpayers?
Governments commonly present taxpayers with "Soprano"-like ultimatums — either pay higher taxes or surrender necessary services — as though there are no other options. But there are countless options.
For example, eight consecutive studies conducted by the Kansas Legislative Division of Post Audit found ways that schools could operate more efficiently and still meet outcome requirements. State employees pay far less for medical insurance coverage than private-sector employees. The state spends millions of dollars on overtime, conference travel, organization dues and advertising campaigns. In 2009, it spent enough mileage reimbursement to fund 25 round-trips to the moon.
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Government not only can spend a lot less money, it must for the sake of the state's economic future. Admittedly, that sounds a bit alarmist, but consider the facts.
Private-sector jobs in Kansas increased just 5.2 percent between 1998 and 2008, well below the national average of 7.9 percent and worse than all but one neighboring state. We've also lost population because of domestic migration (U.S. residents moving in and out of states), representing 2.5 percent of total population over the past decade and the worst performance in the region.
At the same time, our state and local tax burden increased significantly. State and local tax collections jumped 59 percent between 1999 and 2009, but income available to pay taxes only increased 38 percent.
It's not a coincidence that Kansas underperformed in job creation and lost on domestic migration while the tax burden rose; it's part of a very clear national pattern.
Between 1998 and 2008, the 10 states with the lowest combined state and local tax burdens averaged 16.5 percent private job growth and gained 3.8 percent population from domestic migration; the 10 states with the highest tax burdens grew jobs by just 6.1 percent and lost 3.3 percent population from domestic migration. Tax burden rankings are provided by the Tax Foundation using fiscal-year 2008 data.
Kansas was ranked No. 21 but is now likely well inside the top 20, with nearly $500 million in increases just this year between sales, unemployment and property taxes.
By cutting spending and reducing the tax burden, Kansas can become a state that leads in job creation and attracts population, but only if we're willing to make the necessary changes.