Paying additional taxes to address long-overdue maintenance for state-owned buildings isn't a pleasant prospect, but it is preferable to the alternative of allowing the deterioration of those buildings to continue unchecked.
Faced with a maintenance backlog for university buildings of about $598 million, the Kansas Board of Regents agreed this week to support a plan that would raise the state sales tax by 1/10 of a cent and add 1 mill to the state's property tax levy to help pay the repair bill. The entire plan would raise $1.5 billion over the next 15 years to shore up buildings on state university campuses, which make up about two-thirds of the buildings owned by the state.
The tax increases will be a hard sell, especially during an election year. Property taxes are particularly unpopular with the public and many state legislators. The sales tax would be slated to expire in 10 years, but experience warns that such taxes seldom go away as scheduled. Once any state or local government entity grows accustomed to the revenue from such a tax, officials usually find a reason to extend the tax for the same purpose or some other pressing need that develops. Kansas residents will have to insist that the tax sunsets as planned.
There also is likely to be anger about how the state allowed itself to land in this position. Why wasn't maintenance money budgeted every year to prevent such a backlog? Why were universities allowed to assume that the state would pay for continuing maintenance on buildings they constructed using private funds?
In an effort to deflect some of that criticism, universities are committing to finding the funding to cover annual maintenance costs for any new privately funded building projects. That money will have to be gleaned from their operating budgets or through private fundraising efforts. Building maintenance might not be a particularly popular target for university donors, but it's important to protect capital investments whether they are publicly or privately funded. One solution might be to place a higher priority on building maintenance than on adding new structures.
There always are many demands for state dollars but it's simply foolish not to properly maintain state buildings. This is not just a university problem. Major state office buildings in downtown Topeka, including the Docking state office building, have been allowed to fall into such disrepair that it may be more economical to tear them down and rebuild them than to renovate them.
Perhaps some way can be found to address the maintenance backlog without raising taxes, but if not, the state must bite the bullet and take the necessary action. It's just poor business to allow property to diminish in value because it isn't properly maintained.