On notice

Syndicated to Kansas newspapers May 15, 2017
Martin HawverNow, remember back a decade or a little more, when the Legislature passed a school finance plan under orders of the Kansas Supreme Court to adequately finance high-quality education for the children in the state’s public schools?
It wasn’t easy, it required a lot of time and work and a special session but the Legislature finally back then passed a bill that the court said, if adequately financed, would produce equalized opportunities for public schoolchildren from border to border.
Remember that within two years of passing that bill the Legislature didn’t appropriate enough money to finance the bill? And…of course, the state got sued again, and again, for not meeting constitutional requirements for providing equal access to quality education to all kids in Kansas.
The concept here: It is, of course, possible to trick the Kansas Supreme Court, to make it a promise and then break that promise. The court wasn’t happy.
But at least a couple senators last week did a relatively clever little procedure to remind the court that the Legislature tends to fall away from promises.
You gotta wonder whether a Supreme Court that gets tricked twice…well, should those folks actually be justices, or maybe just magistrates or notaries or something else…
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, took a relatively clever step last week on an income tax increase bill to make sure the high court feels a little like maybe…it’s going to be tricked again.
Lawmakers in both chambers have been advised by their new legislative counsel, dedicated to making sure that it builds a new school finance bill that meets the court’s demands, who warned lawmakers that the court isn’t interested in being handed a school finance plan that it can’t or won’t continue.
So Hensley took a professionally prepared State General Fund profile that shows pretty clearly that the tax bill the Senate debated last week didn’t fix the school finance-into-the-future problem.
That profile, produced at the request of Sen. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City, showed that the tax bill being debated would produce a budget deficit in just two years, putting that yet-to-be-approved school funding plan in jeopardy.
Old-timer Hensley used an obscure rule to make sure that the Holland-generated budget profile wound up being printed in small type in the official Senate Journal, where, depending on reading habits of the justices, they’ll be likely to see it.
Yes, it’s bringing a lot of different decisions that haven’t been made yet into the school finance/taxes/budget troika that is confronting lawmakers as they work past the traditional 90-day (that was Mothers’ Day) session.
In terms of providing the Supreme Court with a way to determine whether any school finance plan can be financed by any tax increase bill, well, it’s pretty definitive.
The Hensley move was a little off-target, of course, because there are going to be several tax plans created to finance that school formula. But it might well let the court know that whatever formula emerges, it really doesn’t amount to a solution unless it is financed consistently to accomplish what the court wants done in the way of K-12 finance.
But Hensley did, with his tactic in explaining why he voted against the tax bill, put the court—oh, and his constituents—on notice that he won’t support tax bills that fail to fix the state budget and school finance problems in a sustainable way.
Now, besides spooking the court, has there been much moving on taxes or school finance formulas? Nope, but that Senate Calendar tactic used by Hensley essentially fuses the two issues, doesn’t it?
Might be interesting to see how this all works out…

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