Top Kansas Conservative Once Called For A Tax Hike To Boost Education

Jul 21, 2016

Kansas Policy Institute President Dave Trabert delivering an editorial when he was general manager at KAKE TV in Wichita.
Credit YouTube

The man who has testified dozens of times in the Kansas Legislature saying that public schools are over-funded, administrators and some teachers make too much money and school districts operate inefficiently, once called for lawmakers to raise taxes to improve schools.

Dave Trabert now runs the Kansas Policy Institute and is a powerful voice among conservative lawmakers. On its website, KPI calls itself "an independent think-tank that advocates for free market solutions and the protection of personal freedom for all Kansans." 

But in a previous career Trabert ran KAKE television, the ABC station in Wichita, and was the face of the station's editorials. According to a video that just surfaced, he went on TV on Nov. 20, 2002 and said Kansas needed to raise taxes to put more money into education. “We just can’t get there without a tax increase,” Trabert said staring right into the camera.

The editorial starts with Trabert saying many in Kansas want to spend more on education but they don't want to pay higher taxes or see state services cut back. He then mentions an "independent study commissioned by the Legislature " that called for an additional $850 million for education.

Trabert is referring to a study done by consulting firm Augenblick and Myers released in May 2002. The A&M study, as its known, called for the state to spend $5,811 per student in base state aid. The current figure is $3,937.

Trabert, who is a fan of the 2012 tax cuts to exempt 340,000 businesses from paying state income tax, also made a plea for tax fairness in his editorial.  "But not everyone can afford a tax increase, so whatever is done must be based on the ability to pay.”

Trabert now says the whole editorial was a mistake. "When I took that editorial position, I had not studied school spending; we took the Augenblick & Myers report at face value, as we did school districts’ claims of being underfunded," he said in a statement.  "Shame on me for not putting a team of researchers on those claims. It’s a mistake media continues to make on a daily basis but that’s no excuse my lapse in judgment."

Trabert says the A&M study he relied on in 2002 was flawed and that "No one knew then that schools were using some of their aid to increase cash reserves."

Trabert certainly seems confident of his position in the video. He said KAKE would be closely following the upcoming 2003 legislative session. “Here’s our pledge to you. Whatever the majority decides 'KAKE On Your Side' will do everything we can to make sure the Legislature represents you and no one else.”

The video was posted on YouTube by Game On Kansas, an advocacy group that has called for additional state money for schools and is working to elect moderate legislative candidates.

Sam Zeff covers education for KCUR. He's also co-host of KCUR's political podcastStatehouse Blend. Follow him on Twitter @samzeff.