Regarding School Finance from Senator Karin Brownlee

By Senator Karin Brownlee, Republican from Olathe

What is the higher priority? Should the Legislature send $143 million more to schools or preserve the form of government our forefathers carefully designed over two hundred years ago? The separation of powers doctrine is fundamental to maintaining our free society because it maintains a balance of powers with the judiciary unable to control the budget. That is until last Friday when the Kansas Supreme Court blurred the lines and came out with a ruling that the Kansas Legislature should appropriate an additional $143 million to the K-12 schools, for starters. The Court expects $568 million more after that.

A few school districts in Kansas sued the state because of their perception that the state is under funding them. This suit worked its way through the Kansas courts to the point that the state Supreme Court in January mandated the Legislature to address some specific areas to ensure an equal education for all Kansas students. The Legislature responded by voting to send an additional $142 million to our schools with some of the additions targeting the specific needs. This is the largest increase to schools since 1992. Out of our $4.9 billion budget, about $2.6 billion will go to schools in ’05-’06.

The school lobby in the Kansas Capitol is possibly the strongest lobby under the dome. I have seen bills pass initially one day only to get squished like a bug the next day on a final vote because the Kansas Association of School Boards (KASB) and the Kansas National Education Association (KNEA) deemed the bill a threat to their way of life. Because of the strength of this lobby, it is hard to sort fact from fiction when discussing school finance.

You have probably heard that the base state aid per pupil (BSAPP) has not kept up with inflation. What are the facts? BSAPP is only one part of the school funding formula and there isn’t a district in the state that only receives this amount. It is always multiplied by weighting factors which increases this number significantly. Since the school funding formula was rewritten in 1992, state, local and federal funds increases for K-12 have surpassed the consumer price index (CPI) every year. Kansas spends about 54% of its state budget on our schools. On average, other states spend about 35% of their state budgets on K-12. The next time someone tries to convince you that the Legislature is shortchanging our schools, you might keep these facts in mind.

Additionally, Kansas students perform quite well when compared to students in other states. Over the past few years, our schools have ranked in the top ten states in many categories. In some areas on nationalized tests, our students are ranked even higher. Lack of quality is not driving the push for millions more to schools.

I write all of this to make the point that the true need may not be the hundreds of millions of dollars that the state Supreme Court is mandating. Certainly our schools would make use of any money sent their way. However, the need for balance in state spending is critical to maintain a positive climate for families and businesses. Frankly, this struggle is no longer about school funding. The greater need is to maintain the balance of powers and not allow a court to tell the Legislature who gets how much money. That is the exclusive duty of the Kansas Legislature.

Corruption in the Public Schools: The Market Is the Answer

Corruption in the Public Schools: The Market Is the Answer
by Neal McCluskey
Click here to read the article.

This is an excellent article that shows how free markets can provide the best education for our children.

On the surface, it would seem that having government bureaucrats in charge of educating children would produce good results. For a time in America, it did. But not now. As Milton Friedman said in his commentary “Free to Choose” published in the Wall Street Journal on June 9, 2005:

“A Nation at Risk” stimulated much soul-searching and a whole series of major attempts to reform the government educational system. These reforms, however extensive or bold, have, it is widely agreed, had negligible effect on the quality of the public school system. Though spending per pupil has more than doubled since 1970 after allowing for inflation, students continue to rank low in international comparisons; dropout rates are high; scores on SATs and the like have fallen and remain flat. Simple literacy, let alone functional literacy, in the United States is almost surely lower at the beginning of the 21st century than it was a century earlier. And all this is despite a major increase in real spending per student since “A Nation at Risk” was published.

“A Nation at Risk” was published in 1983.

The executive summary of “Corruption in the Public Schools”:

One of the most frequently voiced objections to school choice is that the free market lacks the “accountability” that governs public education. Public schools are constantly monitored by district administrators, state officials, federal officials, school board members, and throngs of other people tasked with making sure that the schools follow all the rules and regulations governing them. That level of bureaucratic oversight does not exist in the free market, and critics fear choice-based education will be plagued by corruption, poor-quality schools, and failure.

Recently, news surfaced that appeared to justify critics’ fears. Between the beginning of 2003 and the middle of 2004, Florida’s Palm Beach Post broke a slew of stories identifying corruption in the state’s three school choice programs. The number of stories alone seemed to confirm that a choice-based system of education is hopelessly prone to corruption. But when Florida’s choice problems are compared with cases of fraud, waste, and abuse in public schools — schools supposedly inoculated against corruption by “public accountability” — choice problems suddenly don’t seem too bad.

So which system is more likely to produce schools that are scandal free, efficient, and effective at educating American children? The answer is school choice, precisely because it lacks the bureaucratic mechanisms of public accountability omnipresent in public schools.

In many districts bureaucracy is now so thick that the purveyors of corruption use it to hide the fraud they’ve perpetrated and to deflect blame if their misdeeds are discovered. However, for the principals, superintendents, and others purportedly in charge of schools, bureaucracy has made it nearly impossible to make failed systems work. Public accountability has not only failed to defend against corruption, it has also rendered many districts, especially those most in need of reform, impervious to change.

In contrast to our moribund public system, school choice isn’t encumbered by compliance-driven rules and regulations, which allows institutions to tailor their products to the needs of the children they teach and lets parents select the schools best suited to their child’s needs. And accountability is built right in: schools that offer parents what they want at a price they are willing to pay will attract students and thrive, while those that don’t will cease to exist.

From the conclusion:

When examples of fraud, waste, or abuse are uncovered in school choice programs, they typically set off firestorms of criticism from people who oppose educational freedom. Critics quickly hold up any example of malfeasance in choice schools as proof that the market can’t provide the level of accountability supposedly guaranteed in public schools. But public schools’ accountability, as has been demonstrated constantly in districts around the nation, is a myth. Worse, it’s a myth whose propagation not only blinds people to the system’s failure to control corruption but also ignores bureaucracy’s disastrous toll on educational effectiveness. Ironically, though, there is a way to have both educational effectiveness and accountability, and it’s the very thing people who oppose school choice most fear: true choice-based education.

The school productivity crisis

As the Kansas Legislature prepares to meet to consider school financing, it is a good time to reflect upon the state of our public schools.

This interview (How to Improve School Productivity? Caroline Minter Hoxby) with noted Harvard economist Caroline M. Hoxby teaches us that American public schools have poor and declining productivity. As she states:

The main symptom of the productivity crisis is the fact that productivity has fallen almost 50 percent in the past 30 years. We measure productivity by dividing a measure of student achievement by per-pupil spending in inflation-adjusted dollars. Regardless of which achievement measure we use, we find a decline in productivity of 40 to 50 percent. This is because achievement has been flat or slightly declining, while costs have been escalating rapidly.

When asked how schools are able to increase costs without increasing the quality of the product, she responds:

Schools don’t face enough competition. Just imagine competing grocery stores. If one of them decided to increase its prices but offer exactly the same products, people would go to the other grocery stores and the store would quickly go out of business. Unfortunately, parents do not have sufficient opportunity to change schools so that they can say, “My school is more expensive than before and it doesn’t seem to be doing better than other competing schools. Therefore I’m going to send my child to another school.” In other words, competition in the education industry is too weak to be an effective brake on costs.

Regarding teacher unions:

… the teacher unions can be very demanding for their members, who often want contracts that are not best for students. There’s no effective brake on the teacher unions because they are not forced to negotiate contracts that permit their schools to remain competitive. There is just not much of a competitive marketplace out there.

On class size:

The evidence suggests that class-size reduction has no effect on student achievement. There are literally hundreds of studies of class size, which have been very effectively reviewed by Eric Hanushek, that suggest that reducing class size does not raise achievement.

I have a study in which I examined every change in class size at every elementary school in Connecticut over a 20-year period. In schools, class size varies from year to year because enrollment varies. Therefore, with 20 years and 800-some schools, there is a tremendous amount of variation in class size to examine.

I found there was no effect of class size on achievement at all, even when children were in small classes for all six years of elementary school.

There really is only one study in which a class-size reduction improved student achievement: the Tennessee STAR experiment. But the effect on achievement was tiny–a 10 percent reduction in class size raised achievement by two one-hundredths of a standard deviation in achievement test scores.

More importantly, in the Tennessee STAR experiment, everyone involved knew that if the class-size reduction didn’t affect achievement, the experimental classes would return to their normal size and a general class-size reduction would not be funded by the legislature. In other words, principals and teachers had strong incentives to make the reduction work. Unfortunately, class-size reductions are never accompanied by such incentives when they are enacted as a policy.

Also, it is worth keeping in mind that class-size reduction is very expensive. A 10 percent reduction in class size typically costs about $850 per year per student. For such a large amount of money, we could fund programs that are much more likely to raise achievement.

Reducing class size is a perfect example of a policy that the teacher unions like, but that lowers school productivity. The unions like it because each teacher has less work and more teachers have to be hired.

On school choice and vouchers:

From 1998-1999 onwards, the schools that faced the most competition from the vouchers improved student achievement radically–by about 0.6 of a standard deviation each year. That is an enormous, almost unheard-of, improvement. Keep in mind the schools in question had had a long history of low achievement. Yet they were able to get their act together quickly. The most threatened schools improved the most, not only compared to other schools in Milwaukee but also compared to other schools in the state of Wisconsin that served poor, urban students.

Milwaukee shows what public school administrators can tell you: Schools can improve if they are under serious competition.

A theme that appears in Dr. Hoxby’s remarks is that competition is the way to improve schools. The way to create competition is to give parents real choice in where and how to educate their children. Providing substantial, meaningful vouchers is a way to do this.

Beneath the Radar

Beneath the Radar
by Richard Nadler

On June 3, the Supreme Court of Kansas issued a ruling requiring the state legislature to appropriate an additional $853 million per year to Kansas schools, K-12. The basis of the decision, said a unanimous court, was a clause in the Kansas Constitution: “The legislature shall make suitable provision for finance of the educational interests of the state.”

The increase equals roughly 20% of the state’s entire general revenue budget.In comes at the end of a fifteen year period during which Kansas’ expenditure per pupil doubled, exceeding the rise in consumer prices by 29%.

In 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court refused, in San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez, to “equalize” school spending. No trend better illustrates judicial activism than the steady stream of state school finance decisions that followed. From Connecticut to California, liberal courts have broken legislative budgets and spending caps.“Equalization” has served as a pretext for tax increases in some states, and for attacking local control of schools in others.Indeed, “school finance litigation” has become a multi-billion dollar business, commanding its own corps of specialty lawyers and expert witnesses.

To a large extent, these developments passed beneath the radar of conservative opinion makers. The fights are sporadic and local.Moreover, conservative icons want no part of them. Victory against the education lobby carries a political price; grumbling acquiescence to a court does not.Thus, the most prominent conservatives in Kansas – men like Attorney General Phill Kline, Sen. Sam Brownback, and Sen. Pat Roberts – have absented themselves from public debate over the Kansas court’s actions.

The rationales state jurists present for assuming control of legislative functions have become bolder.In its June 3rd decision (Montoy v. Kansas), the state supreme court spills as much ink justifying its jurisdiction as its remedies.The latter are predictable and formulaic:more money for public education; less local control for district patrons.But the former are bold and exciting.In explicating their takeover, the Kansas Supremes cite a growing body of literature from law journals and other states, as well as their own precedents.Fans of republican government should take note.

In the Sunflower State, judges, legislatures and schools co-existed for a century and a half without it entering the heads of the first to replace the role of the second in appropriating for the third.But today, Kansas courts assume a right to determine public policy on the basis of the presentations of litigants before the bar.Explicitly adopting the rationale of a Kentucky court, the Kansas justices quote it:

“…[In this case] we are asked – based solely on the evidence in the record before us – if the present system of common schools in Kentucky is ‘efficient’ in the constitutional sense.… To avoid deciding the case because of ‘legislative discretion,’ ‘legislative function,’ etc., would be a denigration of our own constitutional duty.To allow the General Assembly (or, in point of fact, the Executive) to decide whether its actions are constitutional is literally unthinkable.”

In other words, the “record” that is presented in the course of litigation not only can, but must, replace the form of “fact finding” that goes on in state legislature.To refrain from a decision based on the limitations of the knowledge base available through litigation is “unthinkable.”

In fact, the imperfection of the legislative process provides the rationale for intervention.“Specifically,” say the justices in Montoy, “the district court found that the financing formula was not based upon actual costs to educate children, but was instead based on former spending levels and political compromise [Italic mine-RN].”

The rules-based actions that legislative bodies apply to base-line budgets are thus structurally suspect.A process so arbitrary invites review.But once a case has been presented, how are the constitutional duties of the three branches of state government defined?Once again, the Kansas court cites its Kentucky peers:

“The judiciary has the ultimate power, and the duty to apply, interpret, define, and construe all words, phrases, sentences and sections of the Kentucky Constitution as necessitated by the controversies before it.It is solely [italic added by the Kansas justices – RN] the function of the judiciary to so do. This duty must be exercised even when such action serves as a check on the activities of another branch of government or when the court’s view of the constitution is contrary to that of the other branches, or even that of the public.”

Now, the relevant entries of Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary define “Apply” thus: a) “to bring into action, to put into operation or effect (as in a law);” andb) “[to] put to use, especially for some practical purpose.”

These phrases describe the traditional function of the executive branch in our state constitutions.What the Kansas Supreme Court has substantively claimed is an exclusive right to make law on any case brought before it.The constitutional oaths state executives take, like those of legislators, are in vain.

States are a particularly promising venue for this brand of juridical monopoly.The Kansas Justices cite a 1991 Harvard Law Review article to explain:

[U]nlike federal courts, state courts need not be constrained by federalism issues of comity or state sovereignty when exercising remedial power over a state legislature, for state courts operate within the system of a single sovereign.”

So our “single sovereign” is liberated from lesser sovereignties, as well as the constitutional claims of its co-equal branches of government.

For how long can the court claim this license? Harvard Law explains: “… the Court too must accept its continuing constitutional responsibility… for overview… of compliance with the constitutional imperative.’

To summarize:The public policy dicta of a state court need not be constrained by the messy squabbling of elected legislators, nor by facts neglected by the litigants-at-bar; nor by the constitutional duties of its co-equal branches; nor by lesser political subdivisions; nor by time itself.

It was a persistent dream of socialist and fascist thinkers of the twentieth century to replace the noisy, class-influenced machinery of democracy with a professional corps of experts who would design economic and social institutions in the interests of the people.In Montoy, the Kansas Supremes set their hands to it.But the best they could produce was a rehash of fragments of the legislature process, ripped from their moorings in popular sovereignty.

The court adopted a single study by a single committee of the legislature.The justices treated its proposals as law, and rammed them down the throats of all concerned.Montoy’s policy prescriptions – more funding for public schools, less local control – would have surprised the U.S. Supreme Court justices who rejected a “remedy” in 1973. For the majority, Justice Powell wrote:

It is also well to remember that even those districts that have reduced ability to make free decisions with respect to how much they spend on education still retain, under the present system, a large measure of authority as to how available funds will be allocated. They further enjoy the power to make numerous other decisions with respect to the operation of the schools.The people of Texas may be justified in believing that other systems of school financing, which place more of the financial responsibility in the hands of the State, will result in a comparable lessening of desired local autonomy. That is, they may believe that along with increased control of the purse strings at the state level will go increased control over local policies.

But then, Powell was constrained by those silly federalist principles.

— Richard Nadler is president of America’s Majority, a not-for-profit dedicated to building the demographic base of the conservative movement.

Wearing a Black Robe to Make Sausage

Wearing a Black Robe to Make Sausage
by Bob L. Corkins
April 22, 2005

Want to create new laws without legislators? Then watch the Kansas Supreme Court for the next few weeks to see how it’s done.

Like pride for trophies on a mantle, trial lawyers boast of cases where they convinced a court to declare the birth of a new duty. Persuade a jury that somebody owes a responsibility to someone else, even if there’s no agreement, precedent, or statute providing a basis, then collect damages after showing the duty was breached.

If the decision holds up on appeal – Presto! – a new law is born. You don’t even need to mess with a jury when a single judge is tabbed as the official “finder of fact”.

Plaintiff school districts found just the judge they were hoping for when they filed their billion dollar Montoy v. State case challenging the fairness of Kansas’ K-12 education funding plan. The trial judge ruled that the state aid formula was both inequitable and under-funded. The Kansas Supreme Court now appears ready to uphold that result, but with one major twist in reasoning.

Any discrimination of our laws is traditionally evaluated with the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause. In the Montoy trial court’s opinion, disparities in K-12 funding caused “a clear denial of equal protection of the laws in contravention of both the United States and Kansas Constitutions”.

Many disagree with this conclusion and formed solid legal reasons for their disagreement. How? By applying well known standards that the Judiciary has reinforced for generations when interpreting Equal Protection.

When the Supreme Court did this for the Montoy appeal in January, it specifically reversed the trial court by writing “We conclude that all of the funding differentials as provided by the [Act] are rationally related to a legitimate legislative purpose. Thus, the [Act] does not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Kansas or United States Constitutions.”

It would seem, then, that the only question left is whether Kansas’ overall spending on K-12 is enough to satisfy Article 6 of the Kansas Constitution by being “suitable”. The Supreme Court agreed with the trial court that current funds are not suitable, then gave the Legislature a few months to make it good.

Further word from the Supreme Court was issued, perhaps ominously, on April 15, tax day for millions of Americans. It ordered additional briefs responding to many questions, including demands for justification of: disparities in K-12 funding between districts; the “weighting” of some categories of students more or less than others; failure to automatically increase special education funds by annual inflation; and, all disparities based on actual costs per pupil.

All are Equal Protection questions. Are these really the same judges that just gave the finance plan a clean Equal Protection bill of health? The Court throws logic out the window when it says all funding differentials are rationally related to legitimate purposes, then sneers that they are the result of political bargains.

Explanation: the Court’s upcoming decision will probably make new constitutional law.

The Court’s only remaining path of legal reasoning to indict the K-12 formula is with Article 6 which says “the legislature shall make suitable provision for finance”. There is no legal precedent for interpreting this phrase. None from Kansas; only a couple other states that use the term “suitable” in this context and none of their cases offer guidance either.

Thus, the Supreme Court is free to declare that “suitable” means whatever it chooses. Maybe they’ll pluck from their favorite dictionary definitions. “Suitable” could easily become like Equal Protection on steroids, meaning anything the Court might eventually consider “fair”. There’s no current standard for evaluating it, so the Court can use it to reject any fix the Legislature might negotiate. At least when the plaintiffs first filed suit, they were shooting at a stationary target. And when the trial court ruled, however wrong its conclusion, at least it was using an established legal standard.

Worse still, consider the Court’s deep inquiry into the fairness of finance plan details. Its recent questions sound like those posed by someone wanting to micro-manage the Legislature’s response. But the separation of legal power is not like that strip of border grass that sometimes you mow, sometimes your neighbor does. It must be a constitutional firewall.

One of the court’s questions last week was more revealing and politically charged than the rest. What’s the “constitutional significance” of failing to name a future source of K-12 funding? The answer should emphatically be “None”. Only judges pretending to be legislators would ask that question in the first place.

###

Bob L. Corkins is executive director of the Freestate Center for Liberty Studies. The Freestate Center is a nonpartisan, not-for-profit, Topeka based research institute for advancing the Constitutional principles of limited government, individual liberty, free enterprise and traditional family values. Freestate is organized under IRS ‘ 501(c)(3).

More from Rep. Frank Miller

A press release from Kansas House Member Frank Miller, Republican from Independence.


Further Regarding The Sebelius Court Order
June 9, 2005

Thank you for your many responses to my last press release. I appreciate getting both those that agree with me as well as those that disagree with me. The responses are running about half agree and half disagree, however most of the “disagrees” are from educators. The pile of agree responses cut across a broad range of constituents in my district. As far as my meetings with individuals, the consensus is running almost 100% agree that the Sebelius Court has overstepped its authority. Let’s face it – most voters want to hold their elected legislators responsible for making laws, levying taxes, and appropriating funding. Who wants to have a few non-elected judges make these kinds of decisions?

Some have asked me “have we read the Constitution” – the answer is “YES”. Some say the legislature must obey the Sebelius court if they have a genuine concern for the children – the answer is “we do”, but we also have a concern for the parents of the children, and for those couples who have no children and retired citizens. The amount of tax that comes out of the pockets of the parents also hurts the children.

The really big problem is not about money! The really big problem, which has been imposed upon the Legislature by the Sebelius Court, is a “Constitutional Crisis”. If we acquiesce even in one small amount to this court order then we have agreed with the court and set a precedence that will make next year and all future years more difficult for the legislature. I do not want to leave that kind of legacy for the legislator that will follow my steps. For this reason I have no plans to acquiesce to the court.

The really big funding problem will come next year 2006-2007 when the court has ordered that the legislature fund the entire funding increase recommended in the Augenblick & Myers report of $853 million. One constituent suggested that we raise the cigarette tax to pay for this increase, which would necessitate increasing the present tax of $0.79 per pack to about $8.00 per pack. Kansas would collect zero revenue from this levy since no one would buy their cigarettes in Kansas. I fear many citizens and Supreme Court judges have little understanding of the magnitude of tax increase that would be needed to fund this kind of spending. So here goes! According to the Kansas Legislative Research Department, any one of the following tax increases would yield the required $853 million:

The current State Sales tax of 5.3% would be increased to about 10%, and local taxes would be added to that. Here in Independence that would be a tax increase from 7.55% to about 12.25%! Or the current State property tax of 20 mills would be increased to 65 mills! The current local LOB taxes would remain unchanged and in place. Or the State could impose a 45% surcharge on every person’s income tax!

None of these make any sense and would definitely make Kansas the “CHAMPION OF HIGH TAXES” in our five-state area. It would spell economic suicide for small business and according to projections from Beacon Hill Model – Flint Hills a loss of about 20,000 jobs. Currently our population growth is stagnant at best and school enrollment is actually declining, but these kinds of tax increases would cause a sucking sound to resonate all over Kansas and our schools as families move out to lesser taxed states.

“We are using scare tactics” some will say! Or, “we are overly negative”, others will cry! “No”, what has just been stated is REALITY, and the best way to turn something bad into something good is to first recognize truth and then act on correcting the problem. We need to make major reforms in our schools and our government in order to make them more efficient and eventually lower taxes across the board. A tough business-minded governor could force this to happen, but it would not be easy. We need to pass the TABOR (Taxpayers Bill of Rights) bill in 2006, but that is another subject I will be discussing more during the summer.

It is very important that I hear from you and that you let your voice be heard by your representative and senator on this Sebelius Court Constitutional Crisis issue.

To contact Rep. Frank Miller write, telephone, or email to P.O. Box 665, Independence, KS, 67301, Tel: (Home) 620-331-0281; Email [email protected], or see webpage www.frankmiller.org.

Base School funding on research, not feelings

On the surface, it would seem like smaller class sizes would produce better educational outcomes. Intuitively, this makes sense.

Research tells a different story, however. Research by Harvard economist Caroline M. Hoxby titled “The effects of class size on student achievement: New evidence from population variation”, The Quarterly Journal of Economics 115 :4 (2000), 1239-1285, which can be read here: http://www.economics.harvard.edu/faculty/hoxby/papers/effects.pdf makes a different conclusion. Some quotes from the study:

I identify the effects of class size on student achievement using longitudinal variation in the population associated with each grade in 649 elementary schools. I use variation in class size driven by idiosyncratic variation in the population. I also use discrete jumps in class size that occur when a small change in enrollment triggers a maximum or minimum class size rule. The estimates indicate that class size does not have a statistically significant effect on student achievement. I rule out even modest effects (2 to 4 percent of a standard deviation in scores for a 10 percent reduction in class size).

Using both methods, I find that reductions in class size have no effect on student achievement. The estimates are sufficiently precise that, if a 10 percent reduction in class size improved achievement by just 2 to 4 percent of a standard deviation, I would have found statistically significant effects in math, reading, and writing. I find no evidence that class size reductions are more efficacious in schools that contain high concentrations of low income students or African-American students.

As we in Wichita and Kansas prepare to make important decisions on school funding, let’s use research, not feelings, to make informed and rational decisions.

Kansas Supreme Court Bypasses Voters Right to Representation

Following is a press release from Kansas House Member Frank Miller, Republican from Independence. I think he assesses the situation accurately.


Supreme Court School Finance Decision
Press Release 6/6/2005

Kansas Supreme Court By-Passes Voters Right to Representation

I am shocked and very alarmed that the Kansas Supreme Court by a unanimous decision would so boldly by-pass the authority of the legislature and directly appropriate funding for governmental functions. This is just another step in the dangerous abrogation of the Constitution and a further increase in the activism of our courts. Meaning – our courts across the Nation are taking over the role of the legislature, i.e. making laws and ordering government spending. The Kansas Supreme Court judges are appointed by the governor and are not elected officials. Legislators are elected by the people and the constitution places the responsibility of appropriating funding for all functions of the Government with the Legislature.

I am not a lawyer, but have read enough of the US and Kansas Constitutions to believe that the Supreme Court has stepped way beyond its powers when it mandates the Kansas Legislature to increase spending and taxes as they are now ordering. The Court order states “We (the Kansas Supreme Court) further conclude, after careful consideration, that at least one-third of the $853 million amount reported to the Board in July of 2002 (A&M [Augenblick & Myers] study’s cost adjusted for inflation) shall be funded for the 2005-06 school year”. One third of $853 million is $285 million. The legislature has already appropriated an increase in spending of $142 million (largest single year increase since 1992) for the school year 2005-06, but did not increase any taxes. Thus to comply with the court’s order we must add another $143 million to our latest budget amount by July 1, 2005! The Court further states that the legislature must appropriate the full amount of $853 million for the school year 2006-2007. We must recognize that this is Kansas Supreme Court ACTIVISM AT ITS WORST!

Bear in mind an increase in the current budget of an additional $143 million (142+143 = $285 million) may require a per capita annual increase in taxes for a family of four of approximately $208! Next year the minimum increase will be a whopping $853 million resulting in an additional per capita annual increase in taxes for a family of four of approximately $1240! However, this increase is contingent on findings and timeliness of a Post Audit study. Total funding for K-12 education has already been increasing two times faster than the inflation rate for the past five years! This latest Supreme Court order if fully implemented will put the State into a “SUICIDAL ECONOMIC DIVE”!

I strongly urge you to let me know by telephone, letter, or email your answer to the following question: “DO YOU THINK THE KANSAS SUPREME COURT HAS MADE A GOOD OR BAD DECISION?”

To contact Rep. Frank Miller write, telephone, or email to P.O. Box 665, Independence, KS, 67301, Tel: (Home) 620-331-0281; Email [email protected], or see webpage www.frankmiller.org.

Disgraceful decision will hurt Kansas

This is a reprise of a January 10, 2005 column, which is worthwhile to read again.

Disgraceful Decision Will Hurt Kansas
by Karl Peterjohn, Executive Director, Kansas Taxpayers Network

The Kansas Supreme Court’s school finance decision is deeply flawed both in substance and in procedure. This five page judicial edict (www.kscourts.org see case no. 92,032) announced January 3 is designed to pressure the legislature into voting for more spending for public schools without saying by how much. Many tax and spend advocates are now claiming the court is requiring a tax hike, but no such specific language is contained within this decision.

This claim is supposedly based upon language contained within the Kansas Constitution and various statutes enacted in Kansas. This Constitution itself is unchanged since the 1994 Kansas Supreme Court decision that said the school finance system was constitutional. At that time, state school spending was almost $700 million a year less than it is today. This decision is inconsistent with the 1994 case and the school spending facts between 1994 and now.

Neither this legal edict or any language within our state constitution suggests whether increased school spending of four percent or fourteen percent or forty four percent more will make anything constitutional. The only positive for Kansas taxpayers in this ruling was the court’s decision to keep this case out of judicial activist Terry Bullock’s courtroom and Bullock’s explicit billion dollar spending and tax edict.

Plaintiff and trial attorneys for the school districts that brought this lawsuit are already claiming that a billion dollars in additional state spending is required. The leading plaintiff attorney is Alan Rupe who has been involved in all of the school finance lawsuits in Kansas going back to the 1980’s and has been repeating this claim. Ironically, the Augenblick and Myer study (A&M) that the plaintiffs rely upon in their lawsuit uses a much smaller figure. The actual A&M report, which is often discussed but seldom actually quoted says, “we are suggesting that total (public school) spending needs to increase by $229 million,” (page ES-4).

So the court came up with a judicial edict that said state spending on public schools was inadequate without saying by how much. The court went on to say that some unspecified increase in spending might not be enough to make it constitutional either. This is a strong indication on how the rule of law in Kansas is being replaced by the rule of a new super-legislature that consists of seven black robed lawyers. It is interesting to note that 57 percent of this court/super legislature, or more than twice the statewide average of 26.8 percent of registered voters in Kansas, are registered Democrats according to a check of public records.

The Kansas Supreme Court managed to come up with this ruling despite a lack of evidence in any of this litigation that Kansas spends less per pupil on public schools than our neighboring states. In fact, anyone who wants to check the federal government’s figures will see that Kansas spends more than our surrounding states despite having lower income than the national average. In some of these surveys Nebraska is ranked as spending as much or slightly more than Kansas but all of the other neighboring states get by with much less government school spending. A couple of days after this decision was released a national survey by Education Week confirmed that the government school system in Kansas is adequately funded. Kansas received a “B” grade on this scorecard for funding (see www.edweek.org).

A few days earlier the latest state data came out showing that Kansas’ average spending grew 3.8 percent in 2003-04 or $341 per pupil to average of $9,235. In 2004-05 the schools have budgeted school spending to grow by 10 percent, breaking the $10,000 per pupil mark. The average per pupil (FTE) in Kansas will have $10,162 spent during 2004-05 according to this most recent Kansas public school budget data.

However, the court’s unsigned and non-final edict lacked many of the important characteristics of judicial rulings. This edict was unsigned by anyone and news articles claim that such an edict must be unanimous to be issued this way by the court. Of course, this is not guaranteed as a final decision either. So this decision is vague concerning the state’s constitutional language and leaves important legal issues unspecified beyond a general decision that more spending is required with the court positioning itself to second guess the legislature’s after first adjournment and April 12.

Last month the court was narrowly and bitterly divided when it overruled its own 2001 decision by a 4-to-3 margin on the constitutionality of the Kansas death penalty. At least in that decision, Kansans were able to find out where the judges actually stood and there was a signed opinion.

In theory Kansas voters are supposed to have a say on judicial positions. However, since judicial retention elections were established in 1958 in Kansas, not a single appellate or supreme court member has ever lost their position after a retention election. These judicial appointments are almost as good as getting an explicitly lifetime federal judicial appointment. The pay and pension perks are similar and only slightly smaller too. Four of the Kansas Supreme Court judges had judicial retention votes in 2004 and will continue on the court for terms for at least six more years assuming that none resign or leave the court for other reasons.

The basis for this government school finance decision is the court’s vague position on what this constitutional language, “The legislature shall make suitable provision for finance of the educational interests of the state,” means. It is very clear that the Kansas Constitution does not mean that the judiciary system in Kansas should try to make a mess out of Kansas schools like federal judge Clark did in the Kansas City, Missouri school system beginning in the 1980’s and that continued for years.

I, Government

I, Government
Published in The Freeman: Ideas on Liberty, October 2002 by D.W. MacKenzie
Click here to read the article.

This article illustrates just how large government at all levels has become.

Do we really want governments so powerful that they can do the things described in this article?

How have we let this happen? Will we ever be able to shrink the size and intrusiveness of government? Even under a president who labels himself a conservative, government spending has grown rapidly. Even the most modest proposals to take away power from the government and give it back to the people appear to have no chance of success. The proposal for social security private accounts is an example of this.

The Invasiveness of Government

TRACKSIDE
by John D’Aloia Jr.
May 31, 2005

Trackside last discussed the use of the legislative process to feed the insatiable itch for power that overtakes elected officials. This past session a majority of Kansas state senators demonstrated the itch by passing SB45, a bill that would have given local jurisdictions the means to instantly collect past due property taxes by making the delinquency a cause for a court judgement against all the landowner’s resources to settle the tax debt.

As stated in that Trackside, the ability to condemn or control private property is another route to increasing the power of government. With the Endangered Species Act (ESA), those who covet power found a mighty sword to use against both individual landowners and society. The ESA is infamous for its use as a means not to protect critters but to give government and narrow interest groups power over how citizens use their land and how they spend their money. Examples abound – one of the latest revolves around the endangered Riverside fairy shrimp in California. The Riverside fairy shrimp is a fresh-water shrimp, one-half to one inch long, that lives in mud puddles after it rains. The City of Los Angeles is going to have to remove 1.3 acres of top soil, an estimated 468 tons, using hand trowels, to “transplant” endangered Riverside fairy shrimp eggs from the Los Angeles Municipal Airport (LAX for you frequent flyers) to a preserve being created at the closed El Toro Marine Corps Air Station, said preserve to be maintained by the city. The Federal Aviation Administration refused to allow a reserve for them at LAX because it would have meant having the area covered by water for several months a year, attracting birds that could be sucked into jet engines. The debate has been going on for six years. The cost was not stated. The fairy shrimp has locked up thousands of acres in California, taken it off-limits for development. The shrimp’s only value appears to be as an ecofascist tool for gaining control over private property and the use of tax dollars. This is not a productive use of the nation’s wealth or a rationale for making tax slaves of citizens.

Not satisfied with the success in using endangered species to gain power, the ecofascists have drummed up another kind of “species” with which to bludgeon landowners. SAFETEA, the acronym for the massive transportation bill working its way through Congress, is, as one would infer by its title and stated purpose, a bill to maintain and enhance the nations transportation infrastructure. Unfortunately, the Senate version of SAFETEA contains provisions more deadly to our freedom than a few million dollars recklessly spent on home-town pork with some remote nexus to transportation, provisions that if enacted will ultimately be expanded to degrade and erode property rights. Would you expect to find new ways in the bill for government to separate you from your property rights and your resources so they could be placed on Gaia’s high altar? Not really, but that is exactly what is buried in the Senate’s SAFETEA, sections that enlarge the already draconian ESA by creating an Invasive Species Act. The title says it all. The full power of the federal government and every law-suit crazed environmentalist will be brought to bear against invasive species and those who harbor them.

How is invasive defined? Not as gardeners define it – a plant that grows and expands wildly into areas not wanted. (Think kudzu vine.) No, the government definition of invasive is “not native”. While the SAFETEA invasive species provisions may “only” apply to highway projects today (thereby giving environmentalists a tool to shutdown highway construction), the readiness of The Clerks, egged on by interest groups, to expand their jurisdiction – mission creep – is a known phenomenon. Contemplate the implications of this definition. Like to fish for rainbow trout? Better enjoy it while you can. The feds have labeled it an invasive species as it is not native to North America. Own a German Shepard? Not native. Grow Bradford pears? Not native. Grow Kentucky bluegrass, tall fescue, or ryegrass? Not native. Hunt pheasants? Not native. Have goldfish in your pond? Not native. The list goes on and on, every item on it an opportunity for an environmentalist to paint a target on your property rights and your wallet.

See you Trackside.

The Mississippi beef plant has a lesson for us

Writing from Jackson, Miss.

Jackson, Mississippi has a lively talk radio station, WJNT, featuring both local shows and national shows. The hot topic of discussion on my trip to this city was what to do with the MCI settlement money, as the state had just negotiated a settlement with MCI of $100 million, for taxes MCI owed.

Some callers (and perhaps the host) suggested that the state use this money to pay for the “beef plant.” I was curious as to what this meant. Why, I wondered, would Mississippi be paying for a beef packing plant? After a little research I learned that Mississippi had guaranteed loans to develop a beef processing plant, in the name of economic development. The plant operated for just a few months before closing, leaving the taxpayers of Mississippi liable for the loans. The cost to the taxpayers was given as $54 million.

I am writing about this because I feel we need to be more watchful of economic development efforts that the state and local governments undertake using taxpayer money. It is easy to develop grandiose plans for endeavors that will employ many people and generate all sorts of economic benefits. But business is risky. Things don’t — strike that — rarely follow even the best plans. Often, it is the public treasury that bears the risk for a project, not the owners or direct stakeholders. If these people have the risk of the business underwritten by the public, rather than having their own funds at risk, they behave differently. We have ample evidence from recent news reports in Wichita that public officials don’t monitor the progress of both public and public/private projects as they should.

Proponents of issuing bonds, often in the form of industrial revenue bonds or IRBs make the point that the government is not giving the business the money. That’s true, and also a great relief, as Onex has asked for one billion dollars in bonds. But the government is guaranteeing the bonds, so that if the business fails, the government, meaning the taxpayers, have to pay.

How often does the government have to step in and pay for the bonds issued to a failing or underperforming business? We learn of the spectacular failures like the Mississippi beef plant. How many small failures does the government pay for that don’t make the news?

Following is an article from the Jackson Clarion-Ledger from May 1, 2005.

Is there still a beef plant in our future?
Legislature can easily fall back into its old ways

By Charlie Mitchell
Special to The Clarion-Ledger

VICKSBURG — Three questions regarding Mississippi Beef Processors:

How did Mississippi officials risk blowing $54 million in taxpayer money in this boondoggle?

Will anyone be going to jail?

Can it happen again?

Three answers:

Too few, intentionally or otherwise, knew anything about it.

That remains to be seen.

Yes, but not until the (heifer) dust settles.

The basics are clear. A few years ago, under the guise of industrial development, also known as “job creation,” state executive agencies, including the Mississippi Land, Water and Timber Board, partnered with legislative leaders to underwrite startup costs of the beef plant near Oakland in north central Mississippi.

Studies (ignored) showed there was little demand for such a plant and, sure enough, it shut down in November 2004, having operated only a short time for few customers. Officially, a need for $5 million more of the people’s dollars for “equipment repairs” was cited. That wasn’t provided, and the plant is now defunct, in default and the state of Mississippi has to sell it, perhaps for pennies on the dollar, or pay up in full.

Here’s a point to remember: Mississippi Beef Processors was not an abnormal act of the Legislature. It was, in fact, business as usual.

When such proposals show up, usually in the form of bond bills, they are, by coincidence, like cattle, run through the line. Few lawmakers ever ask the purpose for hundreds of millions of dollars being allocated in the public’s name — perhaps because they don’t want projects in their own communities questioned.

Anyway, now that the Oakland project is officially in the dumper, attention turns to who, if anyone, will be held accountable.

Recently, State Auditor Phil Bryant chose his words carefully in updating the state’s press about the work of an investigative task force composed of members of his staff, the attorney general’s staff and a few representatives of the FBI.

Bryant termed the investigation “very active,” but added there is no timetable, no deadline for completion of the review.

But then Bryant turned his remarks to something that could be more important — residual effects of the fiasco.

A specific example, he said, is that during the regular session after a bond bill proposing $500,000 for something called M-Quality was passed well below the radar of the state press, nine House members did ask Bryant for a background check.

M-Quality made headlines for a few days. Day One was a story about the House approval. Day Two was a report that M-Quality existed only on paper, and in very sketchy terms. Details didn’t matter, as it turned out, because on Day Three incorporators of M-Quality withdrew their request. The issue went away.

Bryant indicated respect for the Legislature in this matter, especially since nine (of 174 lawmakers) at least made an inquiry.

More significantly, in the one major initiative to which public funds were pledged this year — a SteelCorr plant near Columbus — extensive background reports were made conditional to the planned allocation of $25 million in state dollars plus up to $85 million more in years to come.

To get the money, SteelCorr had to agree to submit a business plan, officers have had to undergo background checks and credit checks, company financials had to be submitted and a market analysis for its product must be performed under the auspices of the state Institutions of Higher Learning.

Bryant says that’s the way it should be, and was pleased to report that portions of the allocation will also be reserved to pay for state audits of the company’s ongoing performance. Clearly a step in the right direction.

But is any of this law? Must all future gifts be vetted? Nope. Nothing official has been changed in how lawmakers operate, meaning there could easily be another Mississippi Beef Processors fiasco. Officials may feel spanked for now — but the sting will fade.

http://www.clarionledger.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20050501/OPINION/505010476/1200/OPINION02

Where Is Our Public Access Cable Television?

This is a letter I am sending to Cox Communications, plus government officials who I think can help.

Recently I was in Portland, Ore. I happened to notice that there was true public access cable television. I watched several talk shows covering a variety of topics. There were locally-produced music shows, featuring local bands.

This experience caused me to wonder why Wichita doesn’t have this type of community cable television access. I seem to remember that when cable television was new, that local governments were granted public access channels as part of the franchise agreement. In Wichita we have a few channels that are used by the City of Wichita and the local school district. It seems to me, however, that these entities use the channels for very little useful programming. Most of the time these channels are rolling the same stale and useless public service announcements, or the same photographs of downtown Wichita statuary for the past few years.

Can you tell me where I can learn about the history of public access cable television in Wichita? Better yet, how can we have a truly public — and therefore truly useful — channel in Wichita?

Ethics Require Two Recusals In School Finance Lawsuit

Thank you to Karl Peterjohn for your insight into the ethical mess that is our Kansas Supreme Court.

Ethics Require Two Recusals In School Finance Lawsuit
By Karl Peterjohn, Executive Director Kansas Taxpayers Network

Would you want to go to court and face a judge who used to serve as legal counsel for your courtroom opponent? That is one of the ethics challenges facing the state in trying to fight off the $1 billion school finance lawsuit in front of the Kansas Supreme Court. This court heard oral arguments again May 11 in this case. There are 15 school districts spending millions of dollars promoting this lengthy lawsuit against the state and its taxpayers.

In addition to this ethical challenge is the fact that the governor’s chief of staff is married to another judge on the Kansas Supreme Court. Would you like to go to court after being sued and face a judge whose spouse is the chief of staff to the person who is leading the challenge against you?

Governor Sebelius has been vocal in blasting the legislature’s very expensive increase of $140 million in state spending for public schools during this year’s legislative session. Sebelius said this massive spending hike was inadequate.

The governor did play Hamlet by not signing or vetoing the school finance bill into law and sending it to the Kansas Supreme Court. Governor Sebelius issued a news release blasting the legislature for being excessively stingy in raising spending for public schools and joined the 15 school districts in advocating higher taxes and spending.

The irony is the fact that the legislature’s spending increase was the largest annual increase during the Sebelius administration. Other legislators said that the $140 million increase was the largest this century. This was certainly one of the largest spending hikes since the current formula was created in 1992.

If you were being sued, and as a taxpayer you are, would you like to face Justice Lawton Nuss, who used to represent your legal challenger, and Justice Don Allegrucci, whose wife is the governor’s chief of staff in this $1 billion case being heard in the Kansas Supreme Court? Nuss was in the law firm that represents the lead plaintiff, the Salina public school district, until he joined the court in October 2002.

Since Justice Gernon’s April death there are now only six members of this court. Two of these judges need to recuse themselves for ethics problems unless we want Kansas legal ethics to become an oxymoron.

School district attorney Alan Rupe has criticized these ethical issues as being “ridiculous.” He has also publicly discussed the fact that this lawsuit involves him suing his ex-wife Carol Rupe who is one of the members of the state board of education. Litigation involving ex-spouses, former law firms, and high level state colleagues is not the way to resolve important public policy issues like Kansas school finance.

The average Kansan is not familiar with the judicial canon that says, “A judge shall not allow family, social, political, or other relationships to influence the judge’s judicial conduct or judgment.” This second canon also says that judges shall, “act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.” The average Kansan does know right from wrong and having judges with ties to one side of a lawsuit is an insult to fairness and will lead to a tainted decision if these judges participate. In fact, the court’s January 3, 2005 is already tainted by these two judges’ participation in that preliminary decision in the school finance lawsuit.

The school districts are now using lawsuits to try and raise taxes instead of going through the legislature to raise taxes like everyone else. This has created the odious position that the taxpayer funded school districts are using tax funds to sue the state that is using tax funds to defend itself. The only guarantee in this case is that taxpayers will be the loser. If the judges who are not in compliance with their own judicial ethics rules continue in this case, the result will be a travesty of justice and a black eye for the entire legal profession in this state.

Rep. Todd Tiahrt and BTK

Congressman Todd Tiahrt has secured $1 million for use by the Wichita Police Department in the omnibus appropriations bill that goes before the House of Representatives on Monday.

The bill has already passed the Senate, Tiahrt spokesman Chuck Knapp said, and approval by the House is expected to be a formality.

While there are safeguards in place to make sure the money is used for certain purposes, Knapp said, “we’re just not able to comment on the details of the funding.” — From “BTK ‘clues’ breed theories” in The Wichita Eagle, December 2, 2004.

Here The Wichita Eagle reports that U.S. Representative Todd Tiahrt secured one million dollars from the federal government to help pay for costs related to the investigation of the BTK serial killer. Rep. Tiahrt was widely praised for this.

We should remember where that money came from. It didn’t fall out of the sky. It wasn’t free. It came from the taxpayers of the entire country. I suspect that many people in Wichita thought it was good that we got the nation as a whole to pay for the BTK investigation.

But think about what had to happen behind the scenes. Rep. Tiahrt must have lobbied for the money. Then the federal government collected tax money, only to send it back to Wichita. That, right there, is inefficient. A bureaucracy had to exist to perform that.

Then, of course, Rep. Tiahrt and Wichita aren’t the only ones looking for a federal handout. When other cities or states receive money in this way — a special payment to one locality for a special project — we in Wichita call it pork barrel spending. That’s exactly what Rep. Tiahrt engaged in to get us the money for BTK. He should be ashamed, and we should not laud him for it.

Thank You, Sedgwick County Commissioners

In an article in the May 12, 2005 Wichita Eagle titled “County plans no tax rate increase” we learn that “Sedgwick County’s property tax rates will stay the same next year and the county will be able to avoid layoffs and drastic cuts in programs, officials predicted Wednesday.”

Spending in next year’s budget will not contain “significant increases in spending.”

Before I go too overboard with thanks, I will remind readers that it was this commission that pushed for the sales tax increase for the downtown Wichita arena.

What’s the Matter with Kansas?

By Alan Cobb, State Director of Americans For Prosperity, Kansas

Many would describe that much of Kansas is in decline. Over 75 percent of the counties in Kansas have lost population just since 2000. Over half of Kansas’ counties have fewer residents today than 1900.

Recently, the Associated Press reported that Kansas is in real danger of losing a Congressional seat during the next reapportionment because of anemic population growth. Kansas population growth from 2000 to 2004 was only 1.7 percent while the nation as a whole grew 4.3 percent. Sedgwick County’s growth was only 2.3% during this time. Kansas’ annual growth of less than one-half of one percent should startle anyone concerned about the future of our fine State.

No matter how you measure growth, Kansas is struggling, particularly when compared to the other 50 states. Kansas is in the bottom ten among states in population growth, income growth and job growth.

Unbelievably, this century Kansas has lost 16,700 private sector jobs while the government sector actually added 15,000 jobs.

The same week it was reported that Kansas may lose a Congressional seat, the Tax Foundation released a study that stated Kansas has the 15th highest state and local tax burden. We are tied with New Jersey and higher than Massachusetts and California. Kansas has a higher tax burden than all of our neighboring states except Nebraska.

Recently the Center for Applied Economics at the University of Kansas compared every Kansas County that borders another State. Except for the Kansas counties bordering Nebraska, the Kansas counties fared worse than their neighbors in Missouri, Colorado and Oklahoma when measuring economic activity, income growth and population growth.

Of the top twenty states in population growth this century, all but two states, Utah and Hawaii, have lower tax burdens than Kansas.

I have heard a Kansas legislator comment that that’s just the way it is; Kansas is a rural, Great Plains state and rural, Great Plains states aren’t growing. I do not believe that is true, but even if it were, I am not ready to accept that.

What are we to do about our population predicament? First we must decide that the lack of economic growth is a problem. And we must be brutally honest about the solutions. Is more government spending and taxation the solution? Are more government owned and constructed buildings the solutions for Wichita or Salina or Lakin?

Are we, as a State, willing to honestly assess our State’s strengths and weaknesses and make the necessary policy changes needed for growth?

Without any changes to the path we’re on, rural Kansas faces a bleak future.

I am not willing to accept the declining status quo as the best we can do, and I don’t think most Kansans are either.

What are we prepared to do?

Ethics Require Recusal in School Finance Lawsuit

We should be thankful that there are people like Karl Peterjohn to tell us of things like the conflict of interest he reports in this article. An important question we should be asking is why our newspapers and other news media in Kansas have not reported this.

Ethics Require Recusal in School Finance Lawsuit
By Karl Peterjohn, Executive Director of Kansas Taxpayers Network

The Kansas Supreme Court will hear oral arguments again in the school finance lawsuit brought against the state by 15 Kansas school districts. The May 11 oral arguments will eventually be followed by a written decision by the court.

On January 3, 2005 the court delivered an unsigned 3 1/2 page edict that created a fair amount of head scratching at the statehouse over what exactly the court meant at that time. Now that the court has shrunk with the death of one judge, Justice Gernon, the Kansas Supreme Court’s six remaining members will be deciding this case. However, there is a problem with one of the judges.

The Kansas Supreme Court’s second canon of rules requires that its members, “shall respect and comply with the law and shall act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.”

This rule goes on to state, “A judge shall not allow family, social, political or other relationships to influence the judge’s judicial conduct or judgment.” These are important principles for the administration of justice in this state.

These rules bring us to Justice Don Allegrucci, a long time member of the Kansas Supreme Court who needs to recuse himself from this case because of his family situation. Justice Allegrucci’s wife Joyce is Governor Sebelius’ Chief of Staff. His son, Scott, has until recently been a high level appointed official in the state Department of Commerce.

Governor Sebelius’ position on the school finance law is clear. April 5 she said, “I believe the legislature’s school funding plan is neither responsible nor sustainable.” Governor Sebelius criticized the legislature for not increasing state public school spending by more than the $140 million approved by the 2005 legislature. Sebelius has clearly sided with the plaintiff’s position in this lawsuit. That is fine in a political, public policy debate but is problematic with her chief of staff’s husband being on the court where this case is being litigated. Judge Allegrucci needs to recuse himself from this lawsuit.

Governor Sebelius is still hoping to get her package of proposed property, income, and sales tax hikes enacted into law so that state spending will begin growing faster. This is in addition to the rapid 7.3 percent increase in state spending that was approved by the 2005 legislature. The legislature’s budget, which largely followed the governor’s guidelines, puts this state within a few million of having the first $5 billion General Fund budget. This would be another state spending record in addition to having the first All Funds state budget that exceeds $11 billion too.

Justice Allegrucci is no stranger to politics either. In 1978 Allegrucci was the unsuccessful Democratic candidate for the Kansas fifth district congressional seat. That is why the complaint by the Kansas Supreme Court in their January decision complaining about statehouse politics was laughable. While everyone admits to politics at the statehouse there is certainly more than a significant amount of politics, albeit conducted largely outside of public view, when it comes to the courts and judicial appointments dominated by the Kansas bar and the appointment committee dominated by members of the bar.

The family ties that Justice Allegrucci has to the Sebelius administration indicate that he should recuse himself in the name of impartiality from the school finance litigation as called out by the court’s own canon and rules. Justice Allegrucci’s continued participation in this school finance lawsuit raises a host of troubling ethical problems about judicial impartiality with his family ties to Governor Sebelius’ administration.

Because Government Should Have Accountability

Because Government Should Have Accountability
Paul M. Weyrich, Chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation (Click here to read the article.)

In an article from The Wichita Eagle published on May 3, 2005 titled “Ice rink figures don’t add up, records show” we find this quote: “Ice Sports Wichita has been on a downward slide longer than the city staff admits in a report the City Council is scheduled to act on today, records show.” These records were obtained through a request filed under the Kansas Open Records act. My understanding of this news story is that City of Wichita staff has been misleading everyone — including the mayor and city council — about the true state of the ice rink’s financial affairs. If not for the reporters who obtained the records, this deception might be continuing.

The commentary by Paul M. Weyrich referenced above contains examples of where the Federal Freedom of information Act has been used to uncover governmental misdeeds. The article also mentions a bill titled the OPEN Government Act, designed to “ensure that government acts promptly and efficiently in responding to FOIA requests.”

Individual liberty, limited government, economic freedom, and free markets in Wichita and Kansas

%d bloggers like this: