KEPC UPDATE: Special session rules, transportation summit conflict, higher ed & eco devo

In this issue …

  • Questions about the rules of the special session
  • Special session bumps into transportation summit
  • Higher education’s link to economic growth


Questions about the rules of the special session

The Kansas Legislature returns to the Statehouse September 3 for a special session designed to preserve the Kansas “Hard 50” sentence for first-degree murder.  Legislative leaders have vowed to limit the session to just that topic, along with a handful of the Governor’s appointments that apparently must have a confirmation vote, according to law.

But just how much can they limit the session?

Governor Brownback’s proclamation calls for a three-day session, ending by 5 p.m. on September 5th.  Many long-time Statehouse regulars doubt that Brownback has the legal ability to say what time the special session ends.

House and Senate leaders can control any new legislation that’s introduced and send it to a leadership-controlled committee where it will remain.

They cannot totally control amendments to legislation on the House and Senate floor.  If an amendment is “germane,” that is, relevant to the subject of the bill, it should be allowed to be debated.  It’s not far-fetched to imagine someone introducing a sentencing-related amendment that does not have to do with the Hard 50.  It’s possible that such an amendment might have to be allowed.

Finally, there’s a lot of legislation that did not pass the 2013 Legislature that is not dead.  It’s simply being held over to the 2014 session.  It would appear to be technically possible under the rules of the Legislature to make a simple motion to pass something.

For example, there are bills that have passed the House and Senate in different forms and still reside in a conference committee.  It’s possible someone could make a motion to adopt the other chamber’s version of a bill, sending it to the Governor for his signature, just as it would have been possible during the regular session.

Whether any of that happens will likely be determined by how well the leadership of the House and Senate can keep their troops in line and focused on the Hard 50 issue.
Special session bumps into transportation summit

Kansas Transportation Secretary Mike King sent out a note in July asking organizations to “save the date” of September 5th for a Transportation Summit to be hosted in Emporia by Secretary King and Governor Sam Brownback.  That puts the Summit on the expected third day of the Special Session on the Hard 50 issue.

Despite the conflict, KDOT says registration is full.

The event is being held to discuss “new and innovative approaches to transportation” in Kansas with transportation and business officials.


Higher education’s link to economic growth

The link between higher education and the economy is often cited, but rarely demonstrated with specifics.  Nevertheless, there’s a surprising amount of serious economic research which reveals substantial evidence of this connection.

We recently ran across one such detailed study.

Harvard Professor Robert J. Barro, ranked the 3rd most influential economist in the world, has done groundbreaking work on education and economic growth.  Barro studied roughly 100 countries around the world at different levels of economic progress during the time frame of 1960 to 1995.

He looked at factors like government consumption, the rule of law, public debt, and education levels and quality.

Barro says nonproductive government spending does lower growth.  The rule of law is important.  The amount of public debt doesn’t appear to be a significant factor.  He cites studies that investments in transportation have a positive effect and that research regarding tax systems is largely inconclusive because they are too difficult to measure.

However, Barro’s findings show a very strong connection between economic growth and higher education:

  • Secondary and higher education levels for males aged 25 and over have “a positive and significant effect on the subsequent rate of economic growth.”
  • An additional year of higher education “raises the growth rate on impact by 0.44% per year.”  That’s pretty good considering Kansas growth was 1.4% in 2012 and U.S. economic growth was 2.5% that same year.
  • “Data on students’ scores on internationally comparable examinations in science, mathematics, and reading were used to measure the quality of schooling.  Scores on science tests have a particularly strong positive relation with economic growth.”
  • Barro does not ignore the importance of K-12 education, saying, “Primary schooling is, however, critical as a prerequisite for secondary education.”

The country with the top GDP growth during this time period?

Barro identifies it as South Korea with an average growth rate of a whopping 6% – plus per year.   It’s no wonder why.

There was an unprecedented increase in primary and secondary education from 1975 to 1990.  A commensurate growth in tertiary education took place beginning in the 1990s and continues today.  The Asia Society says 86% of young Koreans enroll in higher education programs.

Barro’s research and conclusions are central to many of the economic and public policy debates of the last three decades.  A mass of other economic research backs up these findings.

I should add that Barro is no liberal.  He’s written for the Wall Street Journal and is recognized as an outspoken critic of Obama Administration economic policies.

History also supports the link between education and economic progress.

The noted economist Richard A. Easterlin found that primary education rates were higher in Europe and North America in the 19th century.  His research shows that education contributed to the economic rise of those regions of the world.  His findings were published in the Journal of Economic History in 1981.

Phillip Stevens and Martin Weale cite Easterlin’s research in their 2003 overview of “Education and Economic Growth.”  They note that, “The spread of formal school seems to have preceded the beginning of modern economic growth.”

So what does all this mean for Kansas?

Whether you agree that there’s waste at our Regents institutions or not, constant tuition increases make it more difficult for students to obtain a higher education.  That affects the quality and quantity of the labor force in a negative way.  If we increase the higher education level, we should see an increase in economic growth.  If we allow the average education level to decline, we will see a decrease.

Kansas should make a serious attempt to remove the growing obstacles to obtaining a higher education for those who want to pursue one, including prohibitive tuition and shortages of quality faculty.

No amount of tax cuts will offset the damage if this isn’t fixed.

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