These are my answers to the Kansas Chamber PAC survey:
April 21, 2014
Kansas Chamber PAC
35 SW Topeka Blvd.
Topeka, KS 66612
Dear Ms. Kriegshauer,
I have your received your letter and survey regarding my views on “issues important to lowering the costs of doing business in Kansas and strengthening the Kansas economy.” Thank you for your interest. I found a lot of the questions in the survey to be loaded and biased, so I’m not going to answer them, but I would still like to tell you what I think.
1. Any candidate or elected official who announces in advance that he or she will never raise any tax under any circumstances is being irresponsible. A responsible legislator will weigh the benefit of each proposed expenditure and the burden of each source of revenue on businesses and individuals, and find the proper balance between those two things on a case-by-case basis. That is what I intend to do if I am elected to the legislature.
2. Low tax rates have no causal relation whatsoever with prosperity. If that were the case, Alabama and Afghanistan would be economic powerhouses, and Sweden and Massachusetts would be impoverished– but they are not. What is really necessary for prosperity is a good educational system, good infrastructure, and a good social safety net. Having these things won’t guarantee prosperity, but not having them will guarantee a lack of prosperity. Of course, the state should strive to provide these things as efficiently possible so that tax rates are no higher than necessary.
3. I’d be all for supply-side economics, if it worked. Unfortunately, there is no evidence that it does, except perhaps in extreme cases like the Kennedy/Johnson tax cuts of 1964, where the top marginal tax rate before the cuts was 91%. The predictable result of big tax cuts in Kansas today — where tax rates are already too low to fund core government services — is a long-term weakening of the state economy and an acceleration in the massive shift in wealth from the poor and middle class to the wealthy that has been happening in this country over the last 30 years.
4. Treating employees well is good for business. Workers who receive good wages and good benefits and have a reasonable amount of job security are more loyal to their employers and are more productive than workers who don’t have those things. Workers who are paid well spend more in their local communities and generate demand for local businesses. This was understood in this country 70 or more years ago, and that greatly contributed to American prosperity in the decades following World War II. The erosion of that common understanding has led to a hollowing out of the middle class in recent years. I strongly support the right of employees to organize and engage in collective bargaining.
5. I oppose the elimination of the state income tax because it is the only significant non-regressive source of income available to the state. Even though all of my personal income comes from an LLC, I would support a repeal of the provisions of last year’s tax law that exempt income from LLCs and other pass-through entities from state taxation. I would also support legislation that would transfer a small percentage of state income tax revenue directly to city and county governments.
6. One of the questions in your survey states that “only 55 cents of every tax dollar spent on schools in Kansas is spent on instruction,” and asks: “Would you favor increasing the percentage of funds that are spent on classroom instruction while reducing the amount spent on non-instructional costs?” According to the US Census Bureau, the actual amount of Kansas school budgets spent on instructional costs is 61.92 percent. In addition to administrative expenses, non-instructional costs include support staff like librarians, counselors, and speech therapists, transportation, food service, utilities, and building maintenance. Factors that can cause those costs to vary among districts are the age of the buildings in the district, the number of special needs students, and the population density of the district. A rural district with aging buildings, for instance, will have higher transportation and maintenance costs than a suburban district with newer schools. Reducing non-instructional costs could mean doing away with things like the WRAP program, a project which has placed counselors in some Douglas County schools and which, among other positive benefits, has probably prevented a school shooting incident. I think that an arbitrary one-size-fits-all cap on non-instructional costs would be bad public policy. Decisions on school expenditures should be made by local school boards that are accountable to local voters.
Thank you for the opportunity to share my views with you. I look forward to working with you to help build a prosperous Kansas that our children and their children will be proud of.
Dennis “Boog” Highberger