Kansas House should reject irresponsible budget proviso

April 26, 2018

When the Kansas House debates the budget bill (House Bill 2365) on Friday, they should vote to remove an irresponsible provision added Wednesday night that would automatically eliminate most of this year’s budget work if the Supreme Court rules that school finance is inadequate.

To refresh, Kansas is in the second year of a two-year budget cycle. All year long, budget committees have worked to adjust the budget passed last year. Appropriators have carefully considered what is needed to continue our state’s recovery from the Brownback tax plan, and prioritized which areas of reinvestment are most critical to Kansans.

Thanks to last year’s decision to end the Brownback tax experiment and pass comprehensive tax reform, for the first time in recent history lawmakers had the opportunity to reinvest in severely underfunded state agencies instead of desperately seeking out areas to cut. However, on Wednesday the House Appropriations Committee narrowly added an amendment that could wipe out most of this year’s progress.

The new proviso (Section 129 of House Bill 2365) strings a tripwire in the budget: If the Kansas Supreme Court rules in the Gannon lawsuit that Kansas school finance is unconstitutional because it is inadequate, then on July 1, 2018 (or on the date the court decision is issued, if the decision is issued afterward), all state general fund dollars appropriated in this year’s budget would be cut, immediately and automatically, with no opportunity for adjustment.

Some state general funding would be excluded from the immediate cuts: debt service payments, corrections, school finance, and human service caseloads. Other than that, the state would reset to a Brownback-era budget – undoing all the good work done this year and setting us back to Jan. 1 in Kansas’ road to recovery.

State agencies currently receiving increases in the budget would face immediate cuts, unless lawmakers came back to add those pieces. If the governor called a special session in the face of this self-inflicted crisis, legislators would scramble to put the pieces of the budget back together again. This would be a messy, time-consuming, inefficient way to make a bad situation worse. Lawmakers have managed to make difficult decisions about where to cut budgets or raise revenue before, and it is their responsibility to do so again if necessary.

Let’s be clear: the Supreme Court did not create this crisis in funding that our schools and our state are facing. Unaffordable tax policy created the problem. The solution is not silencing the courts, shorting schools of necessary resources, or inserting self-destruct mechanisms into this year’s budget.

The solution is for lawmakers to take action and do their jobs, balancing our state’s budget and moving our state in the right direction. If the Kansas Supreme Court determines school finance levels are inadequate, lawmakers owe it to Kansans to responsibly balance state budget priorities and fix the problem.

Creating a crisis to build support for a constitutional amendment weakening Kansas’ commitment to public education – or to short-circuit lawmakers’ bandwidth to consider alternative sources of revenue – is not the answer. The House should reject this proviso as they consider the budget.

Click here to email your representative and ask them to oppose this provision.

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