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Archive for Friday, October 5, 2001

Tax increase, gambling must fill education gap, House speaker warns

October 5, 2001

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— The state must either increase taxes or legalize more gambling if wants to increase spending on public schools, House Speaker Kent Glasscock said Thursday.

Glasscock said the state's budget problems are so serious that legislators will be forced to consider cuts in other parts of the budget if they want to avoid a cut in education spending.

The speaker, a candidate for governor, made his comments a day after SRS Secretary Janet Schalansky disclosed she has imposed cost-cutting measures to eliminate an estimated $123 million shortfall over the next 21 months in the Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services.

"It looks pretty grim," said Glasscock, R-Manhattan. "We've got a very serious budget scenario facing us. I don't think, at this point, it can be overstated."

Aid to public schools is the single largest item in the state budget, and the Legislature appropriated more than $2.6 billion to the Department of Education for the state's 2002 fiscal year, which began July 1.

The current budget for SRS and its five hospitals is more than $1.8 billion.

The state does expect to collect about $150 million more in tax revenue in fiscal 2003, which begins July 1, 2002, than during the current budget year.

However, Glasscock said, the money would be more than gobbled up by commitments legislators already have made or unanticipated costs.

As examples, he cited a $27 million increase in costs from the health insurance plan for state employees; $20 million for employee raises and pensions; an extra $47 million for highway projects, and $40 million for state universities and community colleges, promised as part of a restructuring of higher education.

Legislators would either have to break those commitments or cut other programs to keep aid to public schools the same if the state does not find additional revenue, Glasscock said.

Education advocates argue big increases are necessary, in part to raise salaries enough to recruit and retain good teachers. The State Board of Education has proposed a three-year plan for increasing spending $1.1 billion.

"If public education is going to be enhanced or funded adequately, we will have to have a tax increase or some other added revenue," Glasscock said.

Asked what he meant by other revenues, Glasscock mentioned expanded gambling. Efforts to allow slot machines or other games of chance at race tracks or other locations have failed repeatedly in recent years.

The only place casino gambling is legal in the state is on the four Indian reservations in northeastern Kansas. Revenues from the Indian casinos go to the tribes, not the state.

"I think the budget situation is serious enough that it places public education in a very precarious spot," Glasscock said. "We can't allow that to occur."

Glasscock's statements appear likely to create conflict with other prominent Republicans. Senate President Dave Kerr, R-Hutchinson, told The Lawrence Journal-World on Wednesday that he doesn't think a tax increase is likely because the national economy is in a recession.

During this year's legislative session, Glasscock repeatedly said no tax increase would pass, and he was at odds with Gov. Bill Graves, who proposed an increase for education.

Two weeks ago, Glasscock said, "I would like to put all options on the table." Later, he added his support for any tax increase would depend on the money would be used.

"It's clear at this point that the fiscal 2003 budget will be heavily embattled," Glasscock said Thursday. "We will not have enough money to meet anywhere close to the projected needs."

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