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Report from Topeka, June 29, 2005

Thank you again, Karl Peterjohn of the Kansas Taxpayers Network, for your insights into the Kansas Legislature’s special session.


The legislative special session is going to reach a crucial turning point today at the Kansas statehouse.

A group of tax and spend Republicans, lead by Rep. Ward Loyd, Rino-Garden City met with Governor Sebelius and received her blessing for a $161 million school finance spending bill that will be debated and voted upon in the Kansas house today. Last year, Loyd begged Democrats to re-register before the August primary so they could vote for him in his tough primary race. Loyd barely won that contest.

If this spending bill passes the legislature will have begun surrendering their fiscal authority to the Sebelius dominated Kansas Supreme Court. While Governor Sebelius only appointed one of the current six judges on the court, Justice Carol Beier, her chief of staff is married to another judge on this court, Justice Donald Allegrucci. In addition, Governor Sebelius has been working to enact the court’s $1 billion edict to increase school spending in the Montoy school finance case. In April, the governor endorsed the school districts position opposing the $142 million school spending increase approved by the 2005 legislature and which became law without the governor’s signature. She is backing the court’s usurpation of fiscal power in this state by her actions.

The house is scheduled to come in at 11 AM this morning and this debate is likely to be long and acrimonious. The key will be whether or not there are 63 fiscally responsible house members who will reject this fiscal folly or not. This issue, and potentially the future of representative government in Kansas, is definitely in doubt.

If this spending package is passed the session will then move to trying to figure out how to raise roughly $75 million to finance this abomination in the fiscal year that begins Friday, July 1. Proposals to expand gambling or raise taxes will be on the table. The $86 million windfall the state received earlier this month will be spent but a lot more money will be needed.

This spending growth will be chump change compared to the revenue that will be needed to finance the rest of the court’s June 3 edict. The incredible irony about this matter is that the 15 school districts sued the state board of education over school finance funding and the court rules against the legislature and the taxpayers of Kansas–none of whom are parties to this lawsuit. None of whom are allowed to speak in front of this arrogant court. In fact, legislative lawyers were specifically denied the opportunity to address the court during oral arguments in May.

This court is treating the legislature with contempt.

Sadly, the liberal Kansas press, as well stated by the Wichita Eagle’s editorial of June 26, 2005 that is headlined, “Calm Down,” and subtitled,”Judges do have authority on schools,” begins, “Those clamorous groups advancing on the Kansas Supreme Court with torches and pitchforks should pause and take a long, deep breath. That includes the Wall Street Journal editorial board, which opined portentiously last week that the six ‘unelected and unaccountable’ judes of the Kansas Supreme Cort had violated the separation of powers and formented a constitutional crisis..” and continued, “..In their carefully argued and precedent-based opinion, the Kansas Supreme Court justices addressed the authority issue directly, citing similar education battles in other states such as Kentucky…”

Sadly for the Wichita Eagle, the Kentucky Constitution is not phrased the same as the Kansas Constitution’s public school provisions. What is significant is the fact that six appointed judges (four are registered Democrats and one of the two Republicans used to represent the Salina school district that is promoting this school finance lawsuit) have usurped legislative budget authority by ordering the legislature to spend $143 million in additional funds by July 1, 2005. In addition, one moderate Republican lawyer who chairs the house judiciary committee, Rep. Mike O’Neal, warned the house federal and state affairs committee June 28 that the court has created a clear and present danger by continuing to issue orders to the legislature that is not a party to this lawsuit. The court has not actually gotten around to overturning its 1994 ruling that school finance is constitutional and is operating under “interrim” rulings. The court’s January 3 interrim edict conflicts with the court’s June 3 edict.

Unfortunately, the Kansas house recently rejected a proposal to provide a constitutional amendment (73-to-50 with 84 votes needed to send it to the voters to ratify it) that would clarify that fiscal authority lies with the legislature and not with other branches of Kansas government and stop this judicial usurpation.

Kansas is in danger of a judicial oligarchy that is being supported by a governor who is deeply indebted to the government school spending lobby that is promoting this litigation and her Democrat legislative allies. The governor and the school spending promoting legislators deeply believe that the end justifies the means and the court’s actions are promoting public policy outcomes supported by these officials. Legislative skeptics are asking these legislators how they would feel about the court’s decision if the court was ruling that spending should be reduced instead of increased? This appeal to logic does not seem to be having much of an impact as of June 28.

The real question is whether or not the average Kansas taxpayer is paying attention and cares about this critical fiscal fight at the statehouse. There are so many distractions. Besides the usual summertime diversions Wichita is still digesting the Dennis Rader atrocities and his 10 murder convictions. The transfer of Boeing Commercial Aircraft to Onex Corporation is transforming what used to be this state’s largest private employer in Wichita. In the Kansas City area General Motors recent announcement that it will be cutting 25,000 jobs over the next few years could definitely impact the car assembly plant in that area. The legislative sessions normally end in late April or early May so this is an unusual event that is not at the forefront of the news coverage in many parts of this state.

Fiscally concerned Kansans should contact their legislators (this might be hard considering that some legislators have not turned on their email) by calling or writing (state capitol, Topeka, KS 66612).

It is interesting to note how invisible Governor Sebelius has been in this special session. The governor called this special session but provided legislators with only a single sheet of platitudes when they arrived back at the statehouse. The “behind-the-scenes” meeting I mentioned above on June 28 (which was also reported in the news pages of the June 29 Wichita Eagle) between a bipartisan group of tax and spend legislators and the governor shows how far she has walked away from her 2002 campaign promises for fiscal conservatism and opposition to raising taxes. Like a lot of candidates who decline to sign KTN’s Taxpayer Protection Pledge, she walked away from her promises of fiscal responsibility once she took her oath of office.

Here’s one example of her tax and spend behavior. The governor took a temporary sales tax hike that her predecessor had set at 5.3% and made it permanent. Sadly, all too many legislative Republicans voted for this back door tax hike. The sales tax rate was supposed to phase back down to 5.0 percent based upon the 2002 tax changes.

In addition, the state’s General Fund is going to exceed $5 billion for the very first time if the governor gets her way on the state budget. Remember, it was 1981 when the state had its first $1 billion General Fund budget. Kansas’ All Funds budget (which includes KDOT, Medicaid, and other off-budget items) topped $11 billion for the very first time this year.

The future of Kansas remains at risk and is dependent upon the fortitude of a majority of the Kansas House of Representatives today.

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