State Legislator Calls For Utility Surcharges To Fund Education

A Republican leader in the Kansas Senate says he’ll propose a fee on all utility bills in the state to help fund education.

Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, a from Overland Park, says his plan calls for a $3 monthly fee on residential electric, gas and water bills in the state. Those with all three utilities would pay $9 more a month. For commercial customers, the monthly fee would be $10 per bill.

The whole package would raise $150 million a year, according to estimates.

Denning said, “Everybody wants to pay for their schools. I’m convinced of that.”

The Legislature returns to work Monday with every big issue, including school finance, still unresolved. Lawmakers have to close a projected $900 million budget gap over the next two fiscal years and find millions more for public education to satisfy the state Supreme Court.

Denning says a utility fee is not only broad but manageable and stable.

Schools take well over 50 percent of the state budget.

While Denning says he’s fine with the regressive nature of the fee, other lawmakers are not.

Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Democrat from Topeka, says the fee will be a “difficult sell” in the Legislature.

He said that to put a surcharge on utility bills would be a hardship for the elderly on a fixed income.

Hensley says he would rather raise income taxes to not only balance the budget but put an extra $150 million a year into K-12 public education.

While the Senate has no school funding plan on the table, the House is working on a bill that would add $150 million a year into school funding over the next five years for a total of $750 million.