Report from Topeka, July 1, 2005

Thank you again, Karl Peterjohn of the Kansas Taxpayers Network, for your insights into the Kansas Legislature’s special session.


The Kansas house begins their 10:30 AM session with a constitutional amendment to reassert their fiscal powers in a key vote for this special session. Last Sunday a similar amendment failed getting only 73 of the 84 (2/3) votes needed to be submitted to voters.

Yesterday’s house vote on school finance tied the $140 million in additional funding to the passage of an amendment in the constitutional battle between the court and the other two branches of Kansas government. Yesterday, the governor declined to state her position on the constitutional amendment proposals but many legislators believe that she is holding house democrats away from any amendment.

The vote last Sunday was critical since the senate had already passed this amendment and house approval would have allowed Kansas voters to have a voice in this crisis. Kansas voters continue to be largely disenfranchised in this process.

What has been missing from the school finance debate is perspective. Sadly, the figures tossed about by the various sides do not reflect numbers that most Kansans can easily relate to understanding. Should government school spending be raised by $161 million or $86 million?

The regular legislative session approved a $142 million increase that was roughly five percent of total state funding. Let me try to make this number more understandable. If this increase was spread evenly across the state (it will vary district-to-district) it would result in a per pupil increase of almost $320 a year!

The court mandated another $143 million beginning today (the first date of the 2005-06 school year and the 2006 state fiscal year) that would raise this figure to over $640 per pupil. The cost of this spending will be over $620 for the average family of four in Kansas this year or just over $155 per person.

The Rockefeller Institute reported recently that state revenue figures are growing at a rate of almost 12 percent for the first quarter of this year over the same period in 2004. State revenues have not grown fast enough in Kansas to support spending increases above the $100 million figure depending upon the final numbers for the fiscal year that ended only yesterday. In Kansas, this growth rate in tax collections is roughly half this rate. Kansan continues to lag behind the rest of the rest of the country and soaring state spending will be a growing boat anchor restraining this state’s economy.

A couple of interesting insights in hallway discussions at the statehouse. A number of legislators are pointing out how similar the increased spending figures are to the projected state revenues from expanded gambling. It is interesting to note that Kansans would be sending an additional $3-to-4 million a week to the state to finance the increased gambling revenues. Critics of expanded gambling continue to complain that no one is projected the loss in state revenues from decreased sales and other excise tax collections if gambling is expanded.

One of the largest school districts in Kansas, the Shawnee Mission School District has decided to drop its membership in the powerful school spending lobbying organization, the Kansas Association of School Boards (KASB). The Shawnee Mission district’s representatives to the KASB have served as its president and had an assigned seat on the organization’s board of directors. The Johnson County school districts have been upset by the legal challenges to the 2005 school finance bill that provided additional spending authority to
the Johnson County school districts. KASB lobbyists have been strong advocates for the spending growth that is hampering economic growth in this state.

Fiscally responsible Kansans need to let their legislators know how they feel about the constitutional amendment and the soaring state spending. The legislative hotline’s 800 number is working: 800-432-2924. I believe that there is strong legislative support for putting specific restrictions in place to prevent the Kansas Supreme Court from ordering the closure of public schools too.

Please feel free to forward this to fiscally responsible Kansans.

Karl Peterjohn
Kansas Taxpayers Network

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