Judicial Scandal Grows As $3 Billion Public School Spending Bill Advances
By Karl Peterjohn, Kansas Taxpayers Network, www.kansastaxpayers.com
The Kansas legislature’s school spending spree is racing the latest developments in the judicial-legislative misconduct scandal over school finance in Kansas. The outcome of this race could influence the size of the spending spree going on at the Kansas statehouse right now. The latest revelations on the school finance scandal brings the governor into the story. Senate President Steve Morris has now informed at least some in the statehouse press that he told the governor about his meeting with Supreme Court Justice Nuss and Senator Pete Brungardt.
Morris cannot recall exactly when he spoke to the governor and how much of the details of his luncheon meeting with Nuss he relayed to her. What makes this story compelling is not only the governor’s involvement, that has been percolating at the fringes of this story ever since she told legislative leaders last summer that the court was going to come down hard on them the next day–and then the court did so but as another vivid reminder of the culture of arrogance among this state’s bipartisan, self described “moderate” leadership in this state.
The governor’s ties to the Supreme Court through her former chief of staff Joyce Allegrucci who is married to long time Supreme Court Justice Donald Allegrucci is obvious for anyone who has any common sense. Governor Sebelius’ knowledge about the outcome of the court’s most recent edict in this case frustrated legislative leaders like house speaker Doug Mays and pro-tem speaker Ray Merrick last summer.
When the governor expressed her “outrage” over the revelation of the Nuss-Morris-Brungardt school finance luncheon it now appears that she was probably more upset about it being revealed to the public than about the contents of the meeting. She already knew about the meeting from her buddy, the nominally GOP senate president Morris.
Senate Minority Leader Tony Hensley now admits that he knew about the meeting in sometime shortly after the meeting was held in March. Hensley did not see a problem with this meeting and this view demonstrates the culture of arrogance that exists in Kansas government. If Hensley did not see it as a problem, I’m sure that he was happy to share his knowledge with legislative friends who share his support, as a public school teacher/KNEA member, with an additional $3 billion spending spree. This is going to total $6,650 per pupil or $133,000 per classroom (assuming 20 kids per class) in new spending over these five years.
What is compelling today about this latest revelation is being connected to the timeline of events. March 1 is the luncheon meeting between the court and legislative leaders. March 2, a Thursday, the senate leadership plan (the four main senate leaders including two attorneys, senators Morris, D.Schmidt, Hensley, Vratil–with Schmidt and Vratil being the lawyers) for spending billions (SB 584, the senate leadership plan has a five year price tag beginning with the increased spending from last summer of $3.2216 billion) through the 2009-10 fiscal year is made public! Is that just a coincidence??? That’s the Kool-Aid the “moderate” i.e. Leftist leadership in this state’s judicial/executive/legislative branch wants you to believe.
A day after the Nuss revelation appeared, and only about 10 days ago, the Chief Justice Kay McFarland went to a lunch with the powerful chair of the senate’s spending, Ways and Means Committee, Senator Dwayne Umbarger. Supposedly nothing more controversial than the weather, families, and judicial budgets were discussed then according to Umbarger, but the following week Umbarger’s got the latest school spending spending plan for his fellow senators to consider. Another coincidence â€¦ yeah â€¦ sure.
Another revelation is the open records requests that are being made and now denied. The Kansas Supreme Court is refusing to release any information from documents and email being sought by legislators who are upset at this scandal. Similar open record requests are also being made to the governor’s office concerning communications between the Sebelius administration and the KS Supreme Court too.
Stay tuned on the request to the governor’s office because the exemption the court is using to stonewall any requests does not extend to the executive branch. The culture of arrogance is also being exposed as the court refuses to provide anything to the public.
Legislatively, the Kansas house is taking up the latest school spending plan later today (May 1). Their original version was actually about $40 million a year more expensive than the senate’s propsal (HB 2986). The special house school finance committee’s latest school spending proposal is slightly smaller than the senate plan but the price tag is still approaching $3 billion over five years. The out year funding sources for either the house and senate plans are not visible–these folks are acting like they are congressman who can get the federal reserve to cover for them. If state revenues continue to grow at 10 percent or more a year and the rest of the state’s budget is largely frozen, they might be able to thread this fiscal needle between now and 2010, but a lot of unusual events would need to occur for this to happen.
Just in case this needle is not threaded, then the governor wants to try and use this legislation as a lever to try and get gambling expansion revisited too. Governor Sebelius has close ties to ex-Wichitan and now-Nevadan Phil Ruffin who owns the Wichita Greyhound Park and Kansas could still become the first state to have state “owned and operated” casinos created under a previous piece of legislating from the bench by the Kansas Supreme Court that ruled that the 1986 vote on creating the state lottery also meant that five “state owned and operated casinos” would be permissible under their interpretation of the infinitely flexible Kansas Constitution. No one among the casino advocates has come up with a way for gambling expansion to generate more than about 30% of this $3 billion proposed spending spree.
The stage is being set for a tax hike similar to the governor’s 2004 property, income, and sales hike that was backed by her legislative allies like senators Hensley and Morris and the rest of the spend and tax crowd in Topeka. Hensley has his own plan for raising income and sales taxes too. Liberals in both parties have a variety of tax plans that will appear shortly after the inconvenience of this year’s gubernatorial and house elections are behind us.
A $3 billion public school spending spree is ultimately going to be a fiscal boat anchor thrown into the hands of the Kansas economy that is struggling to stay afloat right now. This state’s economy is already performing well below the national average in terms of productivity, population growth, and average income per Kansan. This new fiscal burden will destroy this state’s economy leaving a growing percentage of tax consumers as the foundation for Kansas’ economic future. This is going to be grim as we become the next New York or Ohio on the prairie. The success of suing for more spending is going to continue as the school finance spending plan will not significantly diminish the variances in state funding for the mid-sized school districts led by Salina and Dodge City public schools that started this case with their extra tax dollars. That means we’ll get another lawsuit filed soon and this fiscal litigation game will begin again.
God help Kansas because the power establishment in Topeka is fiscally destroying this state while demonstrating a culture of arrogance that is a national model for what should NOT be done. Kansas struggles economically but the new spending commitments being made today will harm this state’s economy for the next generation. This is similar to the harm Governor Sebelius’ father imposed when John Gilligan was governor of Ohio for four years in the early 1970’s. Like father, like daughter. As Ohio went, so goes Kansas now.
The irony is that the disastrous school spending in Kansas City, Missouri under earlier judicial activism in the 1980’s, albeit in the federal courts, proved disastrous in terms of student achievement and performance back then. Now Kansas is repeating this mistake. The mess in Kansas City is being exported statewide to Kansas. While there was plenty of corruption in Kansas City back in the old Pendergast days there was never a judicial scandal that cost the people billions to pay for on a statewide basis.