Archive for Tuesday, January 7, 2003

Educational funding top concern

Lawrence business leaders seek changes to state’s formula for schools

January 7, 2003


Changing the state's formula for financing public schools and creating more programs to attract high-tech companies are the top two legislative priorities for area businesses, according to a new survey.

Tim Holverson, vice president of public policy for the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce, said area businesspeople clearly were concerned about the state's education system when they filled out the chamber's annual survey of legislative priorities.

"Hands down, that issue won going away," Holverson said. "I think people in Lawrence are looking at the dollars we put into the system through our income and property taxes and feel like we're not getting our fair share back."

Holverson said he also sensed many businesses thought the state's education system was underfunded. The survey did not determine what percentage of respondents would be willing to support a tax increase for public education, but it did show they favored higher income and property taxes in that effort.

Holverson, who serves as the chamber's chief lobbyist, said he would work to encourage legislators to change the school financing formula during the next session, which starts Monday. But he said it likely would be an uphill battle because legislators would be preoccupied trying to solve the state's budget crisis.

"I'm guessing with all the other issues, they're not going to have the time or the energy to direct to it this session," Holverson said. "Do I wish they would, though? You bet. I think the system has been doing a disservice to all the residents of this part of the state."

The survey showed 84.8 percent of respondents supported making changes to the school financing formula. Only 4.8 percent opposed making changes.

Also ranking high in the survey was the idea of creating economic development incentive programs to attract high-tech industries to the state. Nearly 92 percent of respondents supported the idea, which ranked as the second-highest priority behind the education formula.

Holverson said chamber officials didn't have any specific plans for new economic development programs, but they hope to discuss ideas with Gov.-elect Kathleen Sebelius and her staff.

As part of its annual survey, the chamber also asked several questions about local issues, but chamber officials declined to release the results.The survey polled members on hot-button topics such as support for a sales tax to fund the chamber's ECO2 effort, the living wage issue, floodplain issues, a possible development moratorium and a second downtown parking garage.Chamber officials offered no timeline for releasing the results.

"We just want to be creative," Holverson said. "We want to meet with the companies and meet with the administration and find out what they need to stay here and grow and prosper.

"But if it has a price tag associated with it, we know it will be a pretty tough sale."

Chamber, city, county and school district officials are meeting with area legislators at 8 a.m. today at the Eldridge Hotel for their annual Legislative Priorities Breakfast, where they'll discuss the survey and other issues.

Holverson said 213 of the chamber's approximately 1,750 members responded to the survey.

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