School Lawsuit Likely to Resume After Election
By Karl Peterjohn, Kansas Taxpayers Network
School finance lawsuits have been a driving force behind state spending policy for almost two decades in Kansas. The July 28 Kansas Supreme Court ruling only ends the latest and most expensive school finance lawsuit. This decision only creates a brief pause until the inconvenience of the 2006 election is behind us in just over 100 days.
The Democratic and liberal dominated Kansas Supreme Court issued their latest spending edict that almost invited another school finance lawsuit. Ending the case was the court’s latest effort to end the close scrutiny and political controversy concerning the ethical misbehavior, improper communications, and irregular proceedings that have dogged this case since it arrived at the Kansas Supreme Court.
Kansas lawsuits to raise state spending began in the 1980′s and the end of the Montoy case is a legal victory for Attorney General Phill Kline and the state school board but this entire legal mess is a terrible loss for Kansas taxpayers and the future of this state’s economy. One of the legislators running for Governor, Senator Jim Barnett, R-Emporia reacted to the decision saying, “Unfortunately, the decision neither approves nor disapproves the recently passed school finance bill, clearly indicating that the Court expects further involvement in school finance decisions.”
The increased fiscal uncertainty and risk contained within this legal house of mirrors will keep Kansas operating in the economic slow lane for the indefinite future. Kansas already has high tax rates in addition to being a low income state.
The sizable local property tax hikes contained within the legislation the court approved provide another problem for the already overburdened Kansas taxpayer. The cumulative cost over five years from the latest school finance lawsuit will be well over $2 billion. Ironically, the teachers unions, school administrators and the rest of the government school spending lobbyists continue to claim that Kansas spending on public schools does not keep up with inflation. Actually, Kansas spending for public schools far exceeds any and all inflation measures.
The school finance lawsuits have had a major negative impact on the Kansas economy. The Kansas and Arkansas school finance lawsuits have also led to copycat litigation in neighboring Oklahoma. Texas’ school finance lawsuit contrasted significantly with Kansas by creating a huge $15 billion cut in property taxes that nets out to an overall $11 billion tax cut there. Texas did increase teacher salaries as well as expand some school spending too.
Kansas school finance litigation has spawned another massive spending spree that has led the legislature, with today’s court approval, on a three year spending plan that will tie the hands of future legislatures and is not fully funded. This spending plan depends on state tax collections growing. If the growth in tax revenues slows, than higher taxes or some other revenue source, can you hear the casinos calling, must be found.
The dismissal of the Montoy case is a disappointment to spending advocates who were looking for this to be a perpetual increase for government school spending. The ethical violation charges and improper judicial behavior complaints that have touched all of the members of the Kansas Supreme Court to varying degrees during the last year are a prime reason the court wanted this case terminated. The judicial activism the court displayed in 2005 had disappeared in today’s ruling.
The latest edict from the Kansas Supreme Court indicated that increasing state public school spending by over $2 billion between 2005-06 and 2008-09 was approved with this cautionary note when the court said, “The sole issue now before this court is whether the legislation passed in 2005 and S.B. 549 (this year’s school spending bill) comply with the previous order of this court. If they do then our inquiry ends and this case must be dismissed. A constitutional challenge of S.B. 549 must wait for another day.” Hang onto your wallets and purses because another lawsuit will appear soon.