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Archive for Saturday, July 20, 2002

Candidates rank education their top economic priority

July 20, 2002

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— Questions about the state budget crisis and its impact on taxpayers and state agencies dominated a forum featuring five candidates for governor.

About 300 people at the Thursday night event sponsored by the Kansas Women Attorneys' Assn. heard comments from Republicans Dave Kerr, Tim Shallenburger, Bob Knight and Dan Bloom, who face an Aug. 6 primary, and unopposed Democrat Kathleen Sebelius.

Assuming the state continues with a budget shortfall of $500 million or more, Kerr, president of the Kansas Senate, described how this year's Legislature cut the budget by $423 million and raised a variety of taxes.

Knight, the mayor of Wichita, said the Legislature "did a good job of cutting taxes, but not a good job of holding down expenses."

Shallenburger, the state treasurer, said he would work to make state government as efficient as possible. He said he had reduced the general-fund portion of the treasurer's budget by 25 percent.

Bloom, a businessman and former school superintendent at Eudora, said he expected the budget deficit to be closer to $900 million or $1 billion. He said funding cuts for state agencies were inevitable and proposed increasing the assessment rate on residential properties from 11.5 percent to 13 percent to raise more revenue.

Bloom would keep the tax assessment rate the same for Kansas businesses.

Sebelius, the state insurance commissioner, said she would initiate a review of state spending but that her priorities would be to fund education, health care and economic development.

All the candidates gave highest priority to funding for schools.

"My No. 1 priority is to see to it that all Kansas kids receive an excellent education no matter where they live," Kerr said. "Education and a strong Kansas economy simply are inseparable."

"The notion that you'd gain efficiency by cutting spending on kindergarten through third grade that's a false economy," Knight said. "I won't support cuts in public education."

Sebelius said the criteria she would use in deciding where to make cuts was guided by her funding priorities: education and caring for citizens in the state's care.

Shallenburger said the state could save money by eliminating its pool for vehicles and paying state employees mileage instead of providing them with official state vehicles. He also opposed across-the-board budget cuts, calling that "lazy budgeting."

Kerr said the state could save money by moving to a two-year budgeting system giving lawmakers more flexibility in dealing with budget issues.

"There are a few irreducible things education, public safety, disabled Kansans, vulnerable kids and elderly people," he said. "Beyond that everything has to be looked at."

Knight said he would institute financial allotments that state agencies would have to live with.

If the state had no choice but to raise taxes, Kerr said, that would require a careful balance so businesses wouldn't stop coming to Kansas.

He and Shallenburger said that, rather than raising taxes, the key was developing the state's economy so Kansans would have more money to spend and the state would benefit from greater sales-tax revenue.

"The solution is lower taxes to spur economic growth," Shallenburger said. "We have to stop growing government, and in bad economic times we have to grow our economy."

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