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Kansas GOP Lawmakers Bock $1B Schools Plan In Advancing Fix

Republican Lawmakers Block A Plan From Democrats

April 28, 2018 - 5:50 pm
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Republican lawmakers in Kansas on Saturday blocked a plan from Democrats to nearly double the amount of new spending on public schools provided by a recently enacted education funding law, as GOP leaders juggled budget-boosting proposals with a desire to cut taxes.

The GOP-controlled state House reconsidered the education funding law enacted earlier this month because a flaw in it inadvertently shorted schools by $80 million. The new law was designed to phase in a $534 million increase in education funding in hopes of satisfying a Kansas Supreme Court mandate to boost it.

The House approved, 92-27 , a bill that would fix the flaw. It goes next to the Senate, where a debate is expected next week. Republican Gov. Jeff Colyer said in a statement that he hopes to sign the legislation next week.

Some Democrats have argued that the education funding law won't satisfy the high court. Democratic Rep. Jerry Stogsdill, of Prairie Village, proposed an amendment to instead phase in an increase of nearly $1 billion in education funding over five years.

"We're here to fund education," Stogsdill said. "This gets us where we need to be with the Supreme Court."

The Supreme Court ruled in October that the state's current education funding of more than $4 billion a year isn't sufficient under the Kansas Constitution. Colyer and many lawmakers have worried that if the high court is not satisfied, it will block the distribution of funds — effectively shutting down schools.

But few Republicans joined Democrats in wanting to boost spending so much. The vote was 78-42 against Stogsdill's amendment.

"I want to know how you plan to pay for this," said Rep. Les Osterman, a Wichita Republican.

Colyer and lawmakers in both parties want to cover new spending on schools with the annual growth in state revenues, and projections from legislative researchers this week showed that the state couldn't sustain as much spending as the Democrats proposed.

Kansas is benefiting from a stronger economy and lawmakers raised state income taxes last year $600 million a year to stabilize the budget. The hike reversed past income tax cuts championed by former GOP Gov. Sam Brownback, which were followed by years of budget woes.

Yet, with the state's finances stronger, many lawmakers want to return to tax-cutting.

When the House took up a narrow tax bill Saturday to help the Kansas State Fair, members from both parties offered proposals to reduce the state's 6.5 percent sales tax on groceries. They were declared out of order by the chamber's Rules Committee.

And GOP leaders are pursuing tax cuts to offset increases in state income taxes for some Kansans caused by changes in federal tax laws last year. Many Republicans view the resulting extra state income tax revenues as an unplanned "windfall" and are feeling political pressure to return it to taxpayers.

It was one reason House Majority Leader Don Hineman, a Dighton Republican, urged fellow GOP lawmakers to resist Democrats' plan for even more spending on schools.

"Do you think we're going to hold on to all that money?" he said during a meeting before the House's debate. "I wouldn't bet that way."

But legislators have other spending priorities, too. The House also approved a bill Saturday, 92-24, that would add millions of dollars of new spending to $16 billion-plus state budgets approved last year for the state's current fiscal year and the next one beginning in July.

The measure goes next to the Senate, which expects to debate its own budget legislation next week. It includes nearly $8 million to provide pay raises for employees in the state's court system, including a 2.5 percent raise for judges, and restores $12 million in past cuts in the state's higher education system.

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