It would really only be newsworthy if House Budget Chairman Harry Moberly called a press conference and said “We have been overspending in Frankfort for many years. Our public employee fringe benefits program is tens of billions of dollars in the hole and we have accumulated billions more in bonded indebtedness just to buy votes. We’re sorry and we will cut the nonsense immediately.”
November revenue figures out this morning for Kentucky’s state government continue to indicate overspending — and not a revenue shortfall — plagues efforts to balance the budget.
According to Acting State Budget Director John T. Hicks, combined General Fund and Road Fund receipts last month were $31,016,766 higher than in November 2007.
In the fiscal year since July 1, receipts are $45.1 million higher now than at the same time in 2007.
Again, cutting out wasteful policies like prevailing wage and corporate welfare and straightening up the accountability issues with K-12 education spending should come well before any of the currently threatened tax increases.
Congress and the White House appear to have worked out a $15 billion auto bailout.
From the Associated Press:
“Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said he was concerned that Democrats were proposing a package that “fails to require the kind of serious reform that will ensure long-term viability for struggling automobile companies.””
“With their approach, “we open the door to unlimited federal subsidies in the future,” McConnell said.”
Hold that thought, Senator.
While Kentucky school officials are talking about maybe losing 4% of their state funding, Kansas schools this month got a 25% haircut:
It comes as quite a shock for a Kentuckian to see the Kansas education official say that they had been able to make it work.
Could the same thing fly in Kentucky? We don’t really know because fiscal accountability in Kentucky schools is so bad.
Kentucky’s Constitution requires a system of free public schools, but that is probably a surprise to most parents. On December 9, 2008, the Kentucky Office of Education Accountability (OEA) reported to the legislature’s Education Assessment and Accountability Review Subcommittee that most schools charge students widely varying amounts for dues, fees and supplies. The OEA also noted that there are inadequate standards and no real accounting for these programs, and that federal laws are being violated.
Parents get hit with all sorts of school expenses. For example, Kentucky’s schools require parents to spend personal money for student supplies such as pencils, paper, glue and scissors.
In addition, schools often collect fees and dues for such things as clubs, parking, and team memberships. Examples cited in the OEA’s presentation included an average fee to join middle school dance teams of $190 (Yes, that is only the average) and a nearly as high $165 average fee for a middle school student who wants to be a cheerleader. Furthermore, data I extracted from Table 3.7 in the OEA report (Report not yet on line — see the table below) shows that per-pupil fees can be very different even in schools with generally equal poverty rates (note the three high schools highlighted with the red arrows — eligibility for the federal free and reduced cost lunch program is a commonly used indicator of student poverty rates)
Detailed information about the dues and fees system is lacking because the accounting of these programs is wild, uncharted territory. The OEA indicated that the Kentucky Department of Education has no standard reporting process to monitor dues and fees programs. While the OEA didn’t mention it, that opens the door for fraud and abuse, which has occurred in the past with these sorts of funds.
The OEA did mention another legal issue, saying that some schools hold student education records hostage to force parents to pay dues and fees. That, the OEA points out, is a direct violation of the federal Family Education Rights and Privacy Act.
The OEA also jumped on the eternal hot button topic under KERA – equity in funding for schools. With total fee revenues in the seven sample high schools running from a low of just $2,620 to an astronomically high $313,492, some kids clearly get a lot more from school than others. Thanks to the absence of reporting, the KERA funding system doesn’t see this inequity at all.
If your school charges outrageous fees, and especially if they hold student records hostage for non-payment, we’d like to hear about it. Let your legislator know, too.
Gov. Steve Beshear told reporter Pat Crowley:
“Obviously, if I reach that point where I feel we can’t do this whole thing by just cutting, (the cigarette tax) is one of the obvious areas I would turn to,” he said. “I think the vast majority of people support an increase in that tax anyway, it would give us substantial revenue and it would give us some great health benefits.”
Clearly, a “majority” of people prefer getting government checks rather than paying taxes, but that doesn’t make it right or good. Further, to figure that a cigarette tax increase will raise “substantial revenue,” one must ignore the lost retail activity from the people in five surrounding states who will no longer come to Kentucky for cheaper cigarettes. And how great are the revenues going to be if people either opt for the “health benefits” of not smoking or the alternative of black market or online cigarette purchases?
The big spenders in Frankfort will have Cheshire Cat grins for sure if we fall for this flimsy reasoning and open the door to tax hikes in a fake attempt at resolving our overspending problem.