Lawmaker suggests school finance case could affect judicial budget

? A member of the House Appropriations Committee suggested Monday that the budget for the state court system could suffer if the courts order the Legislature to spend more money on public schools.

Rep. Jerry Lunn, R-Overland Park, made the comment to Judge Daniel Creitz, of Iola, who had testified about the judicial branch’s budget on behalf of the Kansas District Judges Association.

“Judge, this three-judge panel is on record saying that we should probably put somewhere in the neighborhood of $550 million — I’ve heard it go much, much higher,” Lunn said. “Do you think that should have any ramifications on sections of government other than K-12, for example the judiciary?”

He was referring to a 2013 decision by a panel presiding over a school finance lawsuit that held that school funding in place at that time was unconstitutionally low. The panel ordered the Legislature to increase base per-pupil funding and other types of school aid.

The Kansas Supreme Court later overturned part of that ruling and remanded the case for a new proceeding by the panel.

On Friday, though, the House passed a bill to fundamentally change the way schools are funded, even though the lawsuit challenging the adequacy of state funding is still in court. The three-judge panel indicated Friday that it might move to block the Legislature from making fundamental changes in the finance formula.

Creitz replied that it would be a violation of judicial ethics for him to comment on a pending case.

“I don’t need for you to comment on the case,” Lunn continued. “But if we are in a position, or if we’re put in a position to have to fund that, you would fully expect the judiciary to share in that pain?”

“That would be your decision,” Creitz replied. “I can’t give you an advisory opinion on all the procedures that could be involved in that.”

Rep. John Barker, R-Abilene, a retired judge who now chairs the House Judiciary Committee, stepped in to stop the exchange.

“A lot of folks don’t understand, we’re bound by judicial ethics and we cannot comment (or make) derogatory comments about another judge or whether he made a right or wrong (decision),” Barker said. “He’s right on that day until he’s overturned by an appellate court.”

The committee is proposing to put the judiciary’s budget in a separate bill from the rest of the state budget, a procedure that would allow them to tie the funding bill with various kinds of policy changes that would otherwise have to be run as separate legislation.

The panel is expected to start debating the judiciary budget Tuesday. That’s when members can try to amend the bill before sending it to the full House for consideration.