The Waiting Game

While the lawmakers are off on their Spring Break (the Legislature reconvenes on April 27th for the "veto" session), we find ourselves both exhausted from the sprint of the session, and relieved at the sudden "hurry up and wait" place we find ourselves. We thought it would be nice to take a deep breath and check in on the main themes we laid out for this session back in early January.

Public Education

This session we have seen a lot of legislation relating to public education. A bill to ban Common Core standards (and high achievement classes like AP and IB) was defeated. Attempts to further allow taxpayer funds to be used for private and parochial schools was turned away. Attempts to shift responsibility for education financing from education experts to those more beholden to the Governor were stopped. Bills to reduce the state's share of school district improvement projects were slowed. And a poorly thought out plan to consolidate schools districts was shunted aside. Unfortunately, a bill to effectively eliminate teachers unions is still waiting for action.

But the biggest news is the fate of the bill to resolve the "equity" question from the KS Supreme Court. Ruling that the current school finance system, the block grants, were unconstitutional, the courts required that the Legislature fix the equity question by June 30. The Legislature did pass a bill just before going on break, but experts believe it will not satisfy the courts. The Governor has yet to sign it, and the Court can't rule on it until he does.

In addition, at the very last moment, a complicated bill (HB 2741) was filed to establish a new school finance system, one that allows tax money to go to private schooling, that pulls money back from extracurriculars and sports, that is juts as complicated as the much maligned formula of old, but does not accomplish nearly as much. Whether it will be taken up or not, we do not know. 

And so we wait.

Budget and Taxes

As we all know, Kansas has a revenue problem. Kansas revenues fell off a cliff after the income tax cuts in 2012, and despite continual cutting of services and stealing from other departments, we have yet to get back to even. This year, we are again in a hole, with revenues this past Friday falling short again, and several months yet to go. The Legislature passed a bill early in the session that covered the hole back then, but they didn't put the shovels away, and the hole dos gotten deeper once again. They passed a bill to give the Governor the power to delay payments to KPERS, the state's retirement system, on the order of $100 million. It remains to be seen if that is enough.

We will need to see revenue reports for the rest of the fiscal year, to see just how much we need to "raise" from existing allocations. And, of course, we need to see what the courts say about our "budget neutral" equity fix for school finance, above.

And so we wait.

The Courts

During the session, the moderates in the Legislature managed to beat back a Constitutional amendment to change how Kansas Supreme Court Justices are selected. It would have gone from a merit system, where legal experts had a say in who was qualified for the position, to a purely political appointment, where the Governor would have chosen who he liked. That was gratifying to see. It was also heartening when last year's bill to withhold the Court's finances if it ruled against the administration, was itself ruled unconstitutional, and the Governor grudgingly signed into law a fix for the Court's budget.

But still on the Legislature's plate is a bill to expand impeachment offenses for Supreme Court Justices, to include such vague offenses as "trying to usurp the powers of the other branches of government." Will it pass the House? And, of course, the elephant in the Statehouse is the second half of the school funding lawsuit, regarding "adequacy." Whenever that drops, it could add hundreds of millions to the State's responsibilities.

We wait to see.

What's Next?

Whether the radical right in the Legislature manage to push through their agenda on schools, taxes, and the courts, we are sure to see these issues come up again as the primaries near in August. Those same legislators will argue that they supported public schools, that they will never raise taxes (the record-breaking sales tax last year notwithstanding), and that they are here to protect Kansans from a court system drunk on power. We will hold them accountable during the election season and at the ballot box.

After the veto session, our work will not be done.

Right now we wait. And we meet, and talk, and plan, and we get ready.


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