Capitol Report for Jan. 17

Weekly summary of events at the Kansas Statehouse

Confusion abounds over school finance

During his State of the State speech Wednesday, Gov. Sam Brownback received the most thunderous applause and standing ovation from his fellow Republicans when he said the Legislature, not the courts, should resolve the school finance issue.

“For years, we have faced repeated legal action against the state because no one knows what a ‘suitable’ education actually means. I invite this Legislature to define suitability and end the confusion,” he said.

But several legislators pointed out that legal fights over school finance aren’t over the question of what is a suitable education. The fight is over providing a suitable system to finance education. The Kansas Constitution says, “The Legislature shall make suitable provision for finance of the education interests of the state.”

University buildings continue to crumble

In 2007, the Legislature approved a five-year plan to address a backlog of maintenance of buildings at universities, which, if it had been implemented, would have paid for about one-third of the backlog. But budget problems have eaten into state funding of the program and the maintenance backlog now totals more than $800 million.

By the way, state universities own 818 buildings, which encompass 30 million square feet and represents two-thirds of the state-owned buildings in Kansas, according to the Kansas Board of Regents. At least 75 percent of those buildings on campuses are 30 years old or older.

Where was Brownback’s new budget director?

The governor’s proposed state budget is usually presented to legislators by the governor’s budget director, but Gov. Sam Brownback’s first state budget proposal was presented Thursday by his policy director, Landon Fulmer, not his budget director, who is Steve Anderson.

During committee meetings, several Democrats asked Fulmer about that. Fulmer said Anderson was meeting with state agency employees to discuss the budget, and also that Anderson came on Brownback’s team later than he himself did.

Morris president-elect of national group

Senate President Stephen Morris, R-Hugoton, has been named president-elect of the National Conference of State Legislatures, a nonpartisan group that serves the nation’s state legislators.

Morris will become president of NCSL this summer.

His selection as president-elect fills a vacancy created by the 2010 Republican Party primary defeat of state Rep. Melvin Neufeld of Ingalls, who had been president-elect of NCSL. Morris was then chosen by the NCSL executive committee to fill out the remainder of Neufeld’s term as president-elect and succeed as president in August.

Quotes of the week

“Educating children is to the state government as national defense is to the federal government. It is the state’s primary function and the lion’s share of the state’s budget. And that is as it should be.”

— Gov. Sam Brownback, in his State of the State address.

“If the federal government funded national defense the same way Governor Brownback wants to fund education, the federal government would have to decommission the Big Red One, close Fort Riley, and shut down the Command and Staff College at Fort Leavenworth.”

— Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka.

What’s happening

2 p.m. Tuesday, Secretary of State Kris Kobach has news conference to introduce the Kansas Election Integrity Act, first floor lobby of Memorial Hall.

1:30 p.m. Wednesday, Kansas Board of Regents reviews Gov. Sam Brownback’s budget proposal, Curtis State Office Building, Suite 520 board room.