Archive for Friday, June 10, 2005

Sebelius, Mays spar on special session

Views differ on how to go about solving school funding crisis

June 10, 2005


— With the ink barely dry on the official proclamation setting the special legislative session on school funding, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius and House Speaker Doug Mays were at odds Thursday over how to proceed.

Sebelius, a Democrat, called on Mays, a Republican from Topeka, to have relevant committees start working on school finance before the June 22 start of the session. That is what the Senate is doing, and if the House did the same, it would give the Legislature a running start, Sebelius said.

"Work should start now," Sebelius told Mays, a potential rival in the 2006 gubernatorial election. "Any delay will cost the taxpayers money and hurt our schools," she said.

But Mays refused. He has said that all House members - not just members of certain committees - should start June 22 so that no one is left out of the decision-making process.

"Regarding an issue like this, you've got to have a consensus, and a consensus never forms until you get everybody here, and then it starts forming," Mays said.

He also said it has been a hardship on Republican committee chairmen to get their schedules in order to attend the session, so he doesn't want to call them in early.

Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley, of Topeka, said he was outraged by Mays' decision, saying it would lead to "an inefficient, unproductive special session."

Sebelius called lawmakers back for the first special session since 1989 to address a Kansas Supreme Court order that the $2.8 billion school finance system is unconstitutional because it is inadequately funded.

Last week, the court rejected a Republican plan to provide a $142 million increase in state funding and instead ordered a total increase of $285 million, with the possibility of another $568 million next year. The court also rejected the GOP proposal to allow local school districts to increase local school property taxes, saying that would widen the gap between rich and poor districts.

Kline speaks

Also on Thursday, Atty. Gen. Phill Kline, who has been uncharacteristically silent since the court order, broke his silence. Sort of.

Kline, the state's top attorney, said he has nothing to say about the decision until after Sebelius and lawmakers respond to the court order during the session.

"It's important to let the governor and Legislature work," Kline said in brief comments before dashing off to a meeting.

Kline, a conservative Republican, has often and loudly criticized judicial action against the Legislature in the school finance lawsuit.

Indeed, part of the state's arguments before the state Supreme Court was that the court couldn't tell the Legislature what to do.

Before the state Supreme Court ruled Friday, Kline had scheduled a news conference to discuss the results. But after the stunning decision, he canceled the news conference.

His office initially said he wanted more time to study the order, then said he had scheduling conflicts.

On Thursday, Kline said he will provide a briefing next week for lawmakers on what the order says.

Some legislators have argued the court overstepped its authority by requiring a specific appropriation, but Kline said he wouldn't get into that discussion at this point.

GOP meeting criticized

Meanwhile, a private meeting of Republican legislators in Wichita on Tuesday to discuss the court decision was criticized by Democrats.

"House Republicans won't hold public hearings in Topeka on school finance to help Kansas kids, but they will hold secret meetings in Wichita on how to defy the court and ignore our schools," Hensley said.

Rep. Brenda Landwehr, R-Wichita, said between 30 and 50 lawmakers attended the invitation-only Republican meeting.

If the meeting included 32 House members, it would have to have been an open meeting with public notice under state law because that number means a majority of a quorum of the House was present.

Rachelle Columbo, a spokeswoman for Mays who attended the meeting, said she counted 22 lawmakers who attended.

At the meeting, conservative Republicans vented their anger at the court and discussed different strategies to fight the court order, according to Landwehr.

She said many Republicans believe it is unconstitutional for the court to tell the Legislature how much money to appropriate for schools.


ggw 12 years, 9 months ago

A covey of reporters (statewide) should immediately make calls to ask individual R reps who was in attendance, then compare their lists. My guess the sum exceeds 32, but since they have trouble cipherin' ...

foodcritic 12 years, 9 months ago

erichaar - Oh please! Kansas needs a sane moderate leader - not some fundie rethug nut like Mays. Do you really want to live in a state with terrible unfunded schools? What is wrong with you people?

getreal 12 years, 9 months ago

I think the legislators in attendance must be named so that Kansans are assured that they didn't violate the open meetings act.

What are they so afraid of that they refuse to open a meeting like this to the public. What are they hiding.

Is this the kind of representation we want in Topeka, backroom deals outside of public view?

Commenting has been disabled for this item.