Text of Majority Leader Ray Merrick’s speech to the Elephant Club on October 20, 2009.
Thank you for inviting me to speak to you today. It’s an honor to serve the people of Kansas as the Majority Leader of the Kansas House of Representatives.
I would like to spend a majority of my time with you today discussing one of the most important issues facing the legislature again this year and that is the state budget. Last year we struggled through some tough budget problems. This next budget cycle will be every bit as challenging.
I don’t want to rehash everything, but let’s take a look at how we got here and then build a vision for the future.
For the ten years that I have been in the legislature, I have warned my colleagues about the ramifications of poor budgetary policy and the impact these decisions were having on the state’s economy.
I have fought to keep budget growth down below 5% and have not been successful in doing so. Not counting last year, our budge has had an average increase of 8.1% per year since 2004. This has greatly outpaced population growth and inflation over the same period of time.
We don’t have a budget problem. We have a spending problem.
I have encouraged re-evaluating our appropriations process to make it more transparent. We accomplished this two years ago when we put the information on the internet for all to view.
We need to make sure our growth in government is limited and that we live within our means.
We have to get out of the habit of basing our spending on lofty projections and imaginary dollars that never materialize. A couple of years ago, the Governor included gaming proceeds, which we had not started collecting in her revenue projections, and still have not collected.
This is not about one or two fiscal years: we need to make budgeting and policy changes to ensure stability over time.
We had ample opportunity last year to make fundamental changes but failed.
We put a Band-Aid on a bullet wound when a group of House members joined with the Senate, Governor and Democrats and concurred with the Senate budget bill. The House Appropriations Committee had no input in the appropriations bill that passed. There was no compromise, which is always bad policy. The bill that passed had a lot of problems that would have been avoided if the standard procedures had been followed. For example, the Senate bill inadvertently cut the judiciary 14%, forcing a shutdown of our judicial system without the Governor’s later emergency action.
The way our budget process works is outdated. We do not get the Governor’s budget until several weeks after the legislature convenes. Since this is the document we work from, we are behind before we get started.
We have no real time in a 90-day session to dig into individual agency budgets. Usually it is the agencies coming in and telling us what increases they need for the next year. We do not have time to evaluate programs that have been added to see if they have accomplished the goals that they were supposed to accomplish.
The Speaker and I recommended that the interim committee days be spent on real budget and agency examination so we would have a head start into this year’s legislative session. The Senate leadership did not agree with this recommendation, so we did not get the time to spend on this important process.
We did have our House Appropriations Committee meet to get a head start on next year’s budget. Senate Ways and Means did not use the same opportunity to meet.
The state’s budget discussion cannot ignore the 53% and growing K-12 education budget.
Last year, House Appropriations presented us with a budget that made many cuts, some deep, but we have left the biggest part of our budget basically untouched, that being K-12 education.
We have never committed the resources to seriously evaluate every corner of our budget and make the changes the citizens of the state not only deserve but also should demand. We cannot trace dollars and their effectiveness in K-12 education, nor afford endless increases.
Since 1997, enrollment in Kansas’ schools has stayed flat at a barely noticeable increase of .08%. We have more than doubled our per pupil base state aid since the mid 90s by 245%.
How on earth does the KNEA say we have “devastated” K-12 education by our recent .02% cut? I believe next year’s spending is still more than 2008 levels even after the recent cuts. Yet the KNEA is already requesting an increase in funds when Kansas is bankrupt largely because of unaccountable and nontransparent spending increases on education.
Even with the increase in spending we have put into K-12 education, we have 31,000 college students taking remedial English, or math classes in college. These are classes they have to pay tuition for which were the responsibility of their public high school.
Blue Valley reported 1,877 students in a variety of at-risk programs for which they get very little state funding because of the flawed basis of not counting a student as at-risk unless the student is receiving a free or reduced lunch. I have always said, if Johnny can’t read, then Johnny is at risk. These funding formulas guarantee more dollars not based on outcome but on prejudices.
We need more local control of our K-12 educational system. One size does not fit all. Each district has unique needs that they are best suited to address. Local control should increase accountability.
We need a vision for the future.
We cannot tax ourselves into prosperity. I know this will be one of the first solutions suggested for our state’s financial problems. The easiest solution – instead of correcting the problems – is to raise taxes. This is already being discussed.
Businesses are struggling with a 26-year high in unemployment. About 120,000 Kansans are out of work. Government growth is out of control. Taxpayer funded positions were increased by 7,500 in the last two years. Kansas is at an all time high in taxpayer-funded positions with a total for all levels of government at 267,000 employees.
This makes us one of, if not the highest, public sector employers per population in the country. We are not out of debt and the government continues to grow even though we are at an already unsustainable level. We will be between $560 and $600 million in debt next year.
My vision for the legislature is to rein in government growth and unchecked policy habits.
The legislature is no longer in control of making policy decisions for the state. We allow the governor, department heads and the judiciary to make policy on our behalf. The legislature should be outraged that vetoes come so easily. A few special interests have been allowed to use misinformation to further their agendas at the expense of the rest of the state.
Now is the time to stand up for what Republicans can all agree on:
Personal freedom, personal responsibility and government accountability.
Now is the time to communicate to the public good government ideas.
We are the Party of job growth. We are the Party of opportunity. It should be up to the individual who earns his wages not the government to decide how it is spent. We will provide services and the help for those who cannot help themselves. We need to demand accountability and responsibility from all levels of government.
Here are potential ways how we get out of the deficit:
· Multi-year instead of single-year budgets
· Zero based budgeting processes
· Limited government growth
· Identify programs that have run their course yet are still being funded
· Restore agencies to their core missions
· Consolidate Juvenile Justice within the Department of Corrections
· Combine state law enforcement agencies into one agency
· Consolidate counties or cities with counties
· Consolidate smaller agencies into one agency
· Consolidate school districts (we now have about 300)
Here are some changes a forward-thinking Legislature can make to ease the burden:
· Meet every other year instead of annually – if Texas can meet every other year why can’t Kansas?
· Shorten the legislative session
· Require all bills be consistent with the US and State Constitutions
· Demand that agencies not make policy but enforce the will of the legislature as laid out in their charters
· Encourage businesses to come to Kansas by keeping our business and individual tax policies competitive
There is a lot of discussion about a new transportation plan.
If we pass a new plan, taxes will have to be raised – as they have in the past – to pay for it.
Before we rush into a new plan, we need to consider: more funding for roads does not equal economic development. Since 2004, our bonded indebtedness has gone from $424 million to over $3.6 billion. Much of this increase is for the just-completed transportation program. Not to mention the fact that the legislature has consistently robbed the transportation fund to pay for its other desired increases at the request of the Governor.
Some other things to consider before demanding a new comprehensive transportation plan:
o Kansas ranks #1 in both rural and urban highway condition
o Kansas has had a comprehensive transportation plan for the last 20 years
o Kansas’ roads are not well traveled
o We rank 15th in average state highway spending per capita
o Our per capita debt is higher than all of our surrounding states:
· Kansas – $1,202 per person
· Missouri — $675 per person
· Oklahoma — $493 per person
· Colorado — $315 per person
· Nebraska — $22 per person
o Kansas’ sales tax is already 2nd in the region
o Kansas’ income and corporate income rates are the 2nd highest in the region
o Kansas already has the 2nd highest gas tax in the region:
· Kansas – .24¢
· Nebraska — .26¢
· Colorado — .22¢
· Missouri — .18¢
· Oklahoma — .17¢
o We have spent considerable tax dollars on transportation since 1989:
· 1989 program $3.2 billion
· 1999 program $13.5 billion
We must protect personal property rights in Kansas.
A property owner should have the right to determine the use of their land. If annexed, a property owner must receive the goods and services promised by the cities. Voluntary annexation is always an option.
What is good government? To me it is responsibility and accountability.
· Is it Topeka’s business?
· Does it promote self-reliance?
· Is it responsible and can we afford it?
· Does it help savings and investment?
· Does it make government more transparent?
· Does it reflect our Kansas values?
· Does it increase or decrease the financial burden on future generations?
Unless we can answer these questions in the affirmative, we should probably not do it.
A couple of random thoughts before I close:
· I believe that family values begin at home, and it is the parents’ responsibility to guide their children – not the state.
· On healthcare, I believe you have the right to the healthcare that you choose and pay for.
Thank you for letting me speak with you today. I would like to leave you with the following quote from Dr. Adrian Rodgers:
You cannot legislate the poor into freedom by legislating the wealthy out of freedom. What one person receives without working for, another person must work for without receiving. The government cannot give to anybody anything that the government does not take from somebody else. You cannot multiply wealth by dividing it.
Again, thank you. If we have a few minutes, I would be more than happy to take some questions.