Topeka Kansas House Speaker Mike O’Neal, R-Hutchinson, who has been a vocal critic of schools suing the state, is serving as an attorney for a number of groups that have filed a lawsuit against the state over a budget bill passed by the Legislature.
O’Neal defended his action on Wednesday, but Gov. Mark Parkinson, a Democrat, wasn’t pleased with the development.
Parkinson said, “We are in an unprecedented financial crisis in the state. It’s time for us all to pull together and work through it. It’s not time for us to be filing lawsuits against each other.”
The dispute is over the final appropriations bill approved by the Legislature last year to help balance the budget. The bill included a sweep of fee funds from various funds.
O’Neal opposed the bill and now represents nearly 20 plaintiffs affected by the sweep, including the Kansas Association of Realtors and the Kansas Bankers Assocation. The groups filed a lawsuit last month in Shawnee County District Court. Some counties are considering joining the suit too.
O’Neal said he complied with state ethics laws in order to represent the group, noting he voted against the appropriations measure and filed a written protest. He argues the sweep of funds was unconstitutional because the funds were paid by individuals and businesses to be used for specific purposes.
House Democratic Leader Paul Davis of Lawrence criticized O’Neal.
“It is very inappropriate for the sitting speaker of the House to act as the lead attorney in a case like this, that involves entities that are, in effect, suing the Legislature,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Davis who suggested O’Neal pass the case to another law firm.
Last month, in the Republican response to Parkinson’s State of the State, O’Neal criticized school districts that were threatening to sue the state over budget cuts.
O’Neal’s staff said school litigation was different because schools were using tax dollars to sue the state.
But Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka said O’Neal stands to make a lot of money from the state if his side prevails. And if the courts ordered that the state return the swept funds, the question then becomes where would that money come from, he said.
“It’s entirely inappropriate for the speaker to drum up business like this,” he said.