Topeka — Advocates for public schools and the disabled Tuesday urged lawmakers to approve a tax increase as the Legislature was set to reconvene today in an overtime session amid the worst fiscal crisis in decades.
A coalition of school groups said a no-new-taxes budget would mean more teacher layoffs, increased class sizes and local property tax increases.
"Kansas schools are being held in harm," said Brilla Highfill Scott, executive director of United School Administrators.
Meanwhile, InterHab, a group that serves the disabled, said without a sizable funding increase, the group will sue the state, claiming that lawmakers are jeopardizing the lives of disabled Kansans and violating state law that requires adequate moneys for disabled services.
A budget worked out by a House and Senate conference committee provides no additional funds for either public schools or the disabled.
"This is not adequate. This is not reasonable. It is illegal, as we believe the courts will agree," said Bill Craig, president of InterHab's board and director of Lakemary Center in Paola.
The call for more funds comes as lawmakers face a $700 million shortfall in a proposed $4.4 billion budget. Legislators failed to bridge the gap during a 90-day session, meaning they must do it in the remaining wrap-up session, which traditionally lasts only a few days.
"There are too many agendas, and they don't have anything to do with good public policy," Lt. Gov. Gary Sherrer said.
Sherrer said that lawmakers who are opposed to raising taxes are misreading the public's willingness to pay more taxes to ensure good schools and services.
On education funding, a coalition of groups urged lawmakers to adopt a tax increase of nearly $350 million, which would include $12 million in additional school funding.
A $12 million increase would raise the base state aid per pupil by $20 from $3,870 per student to $3,890 per student.
While the increase less than one-half percent would provide some relief it would not prevent the elimination of more than 700 teaching positions across the state, the coalition spokesmen said. Lawrence schools have already reported 65 layoffs.
InterHab is threatening a lawsuit because it said the state has failed to adequately fund services to more than 10,000 Kansans who receive help.
Specifically, the state has increased reimbursement to providers by 1 percent a year for the past nine years; a time when private-sector wages have increased by about 61 percent.
Tom Laing, executive director of InterHab, said shortages in current year funding are $80 million.
"The remedies we seek will be steep. The hole is deep that has been dug by Statehouse ambivalence," he said.