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Archive for Wednesday, May 5, 2004

GOP offers $66M for schools

Republican says funding increase ‘last, best alternative’ left

May 5, 2004

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— Republican legislative leaders Tuesday proposed a $66 million funding increase for K-12 schools that they said could be the last one considered during the 2004 session.

"They'll either get $66 million or nothing," said Sen. John Vratil, R-Leawood. "This is the last, best alternative to get a majority."

The Senate is expected to vote on the plan today.

Sen. Mark Buhler, R-Lawrence, said he had conflicting feelings about the seemingly last-ditch proposal.

"The question is, is this the last boat out of here?" said Buhler, who has voted for tax increases for larger school funding plans.

Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, said Republican leaders were trying to scare lawmakers into voting for the bill by characterizing it as last-chance legislation.

"They're trying to stampede people," he said.

Funding the $2.6 billion public school system has been the major stumbling block of the session. Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, her fellow Democrats and some moderate Republicans have favored tax increases for schools.

The new proposal, however, would be funded by delaying payments to the state pension system and dipping into cash reserves. If the state's cash reserves grow larger than expected, there is an option to take all the money from reserves.

Rep. Michael O'Neal, R-Hutchinson, left, and Sen. John Vratil,
R-Leawood, shake hands after reaching a compromise on the state
school finance bill in conference committee at the Kansas
Statehouse in Topeka. The Senate is expected to vote on Tuesday's
proposal sometime today.

Rep. Michael O'Neal, R-Hutchinson, left, and Sen. John Vratil, R-Leawood, shake hands after reaching a compromise on the state school finance bill in conference committee at the Kansas Statehouse in Topeka. The Senate is expected to vote on Tuesday's proposal sometime today.

The measure also would allow 16 wealthier school districts, such as Lawrence, to raise local taxes to further supplement school funding.

Rep. Mike O'Neal, R-Hutchinson, said the proposal represented a compromise between House members who have approved a $155 million tax increase for schools, and the Senate, which has repeatedly turned down tax increases.

"Politics is the art of the possible," O'Neal said. "I want to get what we can get. Taxes are not going to happen."

But Hensley said the proposed "raid" on pension funds was upsetting thousands of state employees.

"If this passes, I'll be the first one in the Governor's Office to advise her to veto it," he said.

Lawmakers appear to be nearing the end of the wrap-up session. Legislative leaders Tuesday agreed to take all temporary staff off the payroll.

Senate President Dave Kerr, R-Hutchinson, said he was lining up bills on campaign finance, tax issues and liquor sales for a final vote, then would take up the school finance proposal.






"That sends the message that we are preparing to finish the session," he said.

The proposed school finance bill also contains measures that would provide tuition assistance to Kansans who had been prisoners of war and dependents of military personnel killed while serving.

In other action Tuesday, the Legislature approved a bill offering some illegal immigrants in-state tuition rates at public universities. The measure now goes to Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, who has supported the proposal.

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