The first domino falls

The plan we described at the beginning of the Kansas legislative session is starting to fall into place for Governor Brownback and his allies. There were three legs to this plan: reducing school finance, eliminating resistance from the judicial branch, and continuing to slash taxes.

Reducing school funding is well underway. The passage this week of the block grant funding bill eliminates the previous funding process, the formula that weighted funding by actual need for each school district. Block grants are decided at the whim of legislators, as evidenced by the amendment pushing a little more money towards some school districts whose legislators were unsure of their support. In the end, they supported the bill. Block grants reduce the funding that actually goes to districts, while "raising" education funding by including pensions that were not part of the previous funding system. And all bets are off when the Legislature actually has to appropriate money to pay for these grants.

The second leg of the plan, reducing the "obstructionism" of the legislative branch has begun in earnest. A panel of judges had the temerity to suggest on Friday that they might block implementation of the block grants, given there is a lawsuit regarding the previous formula still unresolved. Should the case finally be decided, and should there be any required remedy (increasing school funding) the court would like to see that remedy actually awarded.

Basically, the Legislature tried to invalidate the lawsuit by creating a new and untested funding scheme, and the courts said, "Nice try, but no." How angry did this make the anti-education crowd? Jerry Lunn, R-Overland Park, actually suggested (it may have sounded like a threat...) that the budget for the judicial branch could be reduced if the state has to pay more for education. So the hackles are still raised, and the Legislature is still considering both constitutional amendments to change judicial selection, and a bill to lower the retirement age of justices, the quicker to be rid of Chief Justice Nuss and his ilk.

Which brings us to the third leg, the disastrous tax reductions of 2012. Much has been made of a suggestion that Governor Brownback might consider a tax-raising plan, but only on tobacco and alcohol. A legislative committee has talked about raising sales taxes to 6.3%, though with only tepid support. And House and Senate budget committees have discussed plans that would call for $200 million from... somewhere. These are all starting points, and the action will heat up in the next couple of weeks.

Get ready.

The school finance battle is not yet over, with even these block grants still needing to be funded. The legislative battle is still in full swing. And the budget battle is just starting.

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