Archive for Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Sebelius calls on lawmakers to get busy with school finance work

March 21, 2006


— Gov. Kathleen Sebelius called on legislators Monday to get serious about passing a multiyear school finance plan that closely follows a cost study presented in January.

Sebelius said it is better to work on a plan now than delay a decision until legislators resume work after a three-week recess in April, or worse, wait until a special session this summer.

"Passing an inadequate school finance plan is the fastest way to guarantee another special session," Sebelius said.

Monday was the 71st day of the 90-day session. Legislators plan to work through March 31 on the bulk of their measures before breaking until late April, when they will consider the session's final budget bill and agreements between the House and Senate on numerous other issues.

Last summer, legislators met for 12 days in a special session to pass school funding increases to satisfy rulings by the Kansas Supreme Court. Sebelius said she hoped legislators would act sooner this year and not wait again until the summer.

She said a good faith effort and a multiyear plan should satisfy the justices this year, but she won't make any guarantees.

Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt said the governor has largely been absent from the public debate over school finance.

"How refreshing that the governor has chosen to make a statement on school finance," said Schmidt, R-Independence. "It's nice that she's chosen to pop her head out of the foxhole and take some flack like the rest of us."

The House Select Committee on School Finance has endorsed a one-year, $175 million school finance package, which includes $75 million in automatic spending increases already in the state's budget for fiscal year 2007, which begins July 1. The Senate is waiting to consider a three-year proposal of its own.

Both funding plans are expected to be debated later this week.

"There still hasn't been any real, meaningful action on what their most important job is," Sebelius said.

House Speaker Doug Mays said the one-year plan could be paid for out of existing revenues, rather than with a tax increase or gambling, as supported by Sebelius.

"You do that by stimulating the economy," said Mays, R-Topeka. "That's how we paid for all the other increases in the budget over the past two years."

But figures from legislative staff suggest the state will be on the hook for between $328 million and $390 million in school spending increases over the next three years with passage of a $175 million plan this session.

That's because of automatic increases already built into the school finance law, which requires legislators to adjust spending for inflation, maintain special education funding and annual growth in the amount generated by the statewide property tax for schools.

Those increases nearly match the amount of additional spending recommended in a Jan. 9 cost study by Legislative Division of Post Audit. Without new revenue, those amounts also could pose serious budget problems in three years, forcing either cuts in state spending or tax increases.

"I don't that think there's been an effort on behalf of the House members, the majority who passed that committee plan out, to look at the cost study and to make a realistic effort to direct the dollars where that cost study suggests they should go," Sebelius said.

The governor said she was still meeting with legislative leaders to discuss school funding and would continue as long as they are in the Statehouse. Sebelius also continues to favor expanding gambling to pay for the increases, though a plan she supported to put slot machines at race tracks and build two state-owned casinos failed last week in the Senate.

"I've made it pretty clear what my plans are," she said.


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