This has been an interesting week for the Kansas Legislature — starting with a budget proposal put forward by Gov. Sam Brownback.
Brownback is calling for a significant influx of funding into education — $600 million over the next five years to be precise. He did not offer up how he would have the state pay for that increased funding — though has adamantly stated tax increases are not part of his grand plan.
The 2017 Legislature, despite Brownback’s veto, voted to raise the state income tax by $1.2 billion over two years in an attempt to balance the state budget after years of revenue shortfalls. Shortfalls that started after a massive tax cut package he championed.
According to reporting by the Topeka Capitol-Journal, private budget briefings for Republican lawmakers showed Brownback prefers to reduce state payments to the pension system and permanently sweep highway funding while increasing funds for schools.
Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, R-Overland Park, called this a "brutal parting gift."
In a statement issued this week, Sam wrote: "While I recognize the proposed budget has drawn criticism from legislators on both sides of the aisle, complying with the Supreme Court’s school finance decision is not optional. I support the rule of law, and I will not stand to see schools closed because of inaction on our part."
What the heck took you so long, Mr. Brownback?
The Legislature has lost more than a dozen times. Over and over again the court has told the Legislature it has failed to uphold article six of the state constitution. In the last election, some targeted the justices during elections and started spouting the "power of the purse" line — constitutional requirements ignored or not.
Of course, Brownback also advocated for amending the Kansas Constitution to avoid future school finance litigation. That is completely unneeded and unnecessary. What is needed is a governmental body willing to understand civics 101 (the role of the court) and the intestinal fortitude to comply with court findings.
Now, in the waning months of your time in office, you talk tough about complying with the court. What took so long?
We have some of the same questions as lawmakers who are so upset this week — namely, how will this get paid for. We don't question the need for funds, or the why they would be appropriated. We question where the Legislature will get those funds, and if this plan will finally satisfy the court after decades of lawsuits and losses by the state.
We also question what took you so darn long to start replying, in earnest, to court findings. We wonder what other state-funded programs will be decimated, and why those will have targets painted upon them.
— Kansan editorial board