Report from Topeka, July 2, 2005

Thanks again for this report from Karl Peterjohn, Executive Director Kansas Taxpayers Network


The Kansas constitutional crisis expanded Saturday afternoon as the Kansas Supreme Court issued their latest school finance edict that threatened to shut down the public schools in this state because the legislature is not behaving properly under the court’s instructions.

This is a sad day for the people of Kansas and their elected representatives when the appointed officials on this court, including apparently (the order was only signed by the chief justice and no other members of the court) two justices who have conflicts of interest in this case, continue to their assault on representative government and the separation of powers in this state. Kansas is truly in a constitutional crisis that is unique in this state’s history.

What makes this situation fascinating is the continuing legislative special session. The legislature is deadlocked. At the moment there aren’t 63 house members who are willing to surrender their fiscal authority to the court so the school finance bills and test votes have failed there. The most recent failure was a 63-to-59 procedural vote conducted in the wee hours of Saturday morning.

The house is in recess until 4 PM and the senate, which has easily and regularly surrendered their fiscal authority by usually 25 of its members, watches and waits for the house. The flip side of this stalemate are the constitutional amendments to limit the court’s activism and usurpation in this case. A 2/3 vote is needed to pass any constitutional amendment and the Democrats have the ability to block any amendment with a unified caucus. However, there are about a dozen GOP liberals house members lead by Tim Owens, Jim Yonally, and Ward Loyd in the house who are voting with the Democrats to prevent any amendments limiting the court’s usurpation from getting to Kansas voters. Nine of ten Democrat senators voted against the constitutional amendment defining legislative appropriation powers in the senate a week ago.

The court order today will schedule another hearing July 8 in Topeka with the court threatening an injunction to close the schools. Someone might inform the court that it is now summer and even many summer school programs are finished until the middle of next month. What is fascinating is the reports that Governor Sebelius (who called this special session following the court’s June 3 interrim edict in this case) was aware of the court’s actions yesterday and this was mentioned by her to the various legislative leaders who met in her office late on Friday night according to various legislators. Legislators are talking among themselves about this violation of judicial decorum by someone on the court who shared this information that somehow reached the governor before the official announcement.

The governor’s chief of staff, Joyce Allegrucci, is married to one of the justices, and this family connection has raised questions about Justice Donald Allegrucci’s participation in this case in light of the canon of ethics for Kansas courts which states in part, “A judge shall not allow familly, social, political or other relationships to influence the judge’s judicial conduct or judgment.” Multiple complaints have been filed with the commission responsible for handling complaints against judicial misconduct concerning Justice Allegrucci. A closed door hearing was held in Topeka on July 1, 2005. Complaints have been filed by Robert Weeks of Wichita (see www.wichitaliberty.org) and myself. Allegrucci is a former Democratic legislator and unsuccessful congressional candidate and party activist prior to joining the court in the 1980’s.

A second ethics complaint was filed against Justice Lawton Nuss who represented the Salina public schools. The Salina public school district is the lead school district financing the Montoy (school finance) lawsuit. Nuss joined the court in 2002 after being appointed by then Governor Bill Graves. The Montoy case goes back to the late 1990’s. No one would like to go to court and face a judge who used to represent the person who is now suing them. Justice Nuss should have recused himself and not participated in this lawsuit to avoid any appearance of “improper conduct” and “impropriety,” as called out in this canon of ethics.

The improprieties of these two members of the court are significant but not as sizable as the constitutional and fiscal dimensions of this latest edict. The court is trying to mandate additional state spending of over $640 per pupil in addition to the roughly $6,000 a year the state is now spending for each of the 445,000 FTE public school students in Kansas this year alone. Passage of this edict requires a dramatic increase in state revenues and many legislators point out that this judicial edict fits nicely into the governor’s proposal for expanded gambling in Kansas. However, that is only for this year and this court’s edict for next year is roughly twice as large as this year’s!

However, the usual battles over school funding and expansion of gambling are being overshadowed by the separation of powers and judicial usurpation of legislative powers by this court. Ultimately, the court will be dominating the state’s educational appropriations despite the fact that the legislature was never a party to the Montoy lawsuit. The public school portion of the state’s budget is already well over half of the state’s entire General Fund budget. The court has denied the legislature any ability to even appear before it. Ditto for citizens of the state who are expected to pay the bill for the court’s fiscal profligacy.

After the court’s spokesman issued the order this afternoon, several legislators like Rep. Eric Carter, a lawyer from Johnson County, spoke about the court’s destruction of the constitutional and historic power of the legislature. Sen. Karin Brownlee, a Johnson County Republican agreed with Carter’s grim prognosis for representative government in this state. Instead of getting legislators to appropriate funds, a quick district court decision followed by a supreme court verdict has now become a viable path for government school spending.

Sadly, no one on this Alice in Wonderland court has bothered to notice that the latest federal figures from the 2005 Statistical Abstract show that Kansas is already spending more per pupil than all of the surrounding states; that Kansas is spending more than the U.S. average; and that Kansans are paying for this spending with lower than average incomes compared to the U.S. national average. The court did not notice that Kansas school district employees are now regularly retiring in their 50’s under the “85 and out” provisions while workers in the private sector must work at least a decade longer for a normal retirement.

National news attention is showing up concerning this crisis. There are several reasons for this national attention. Texas is having a special session on school finance right now in Austin. These school finance lawsuits are part of a national trend occurring in states as disparate as New York, Arkansas, Montana, as well as Kansas and Texas. If legislative authority is surrendered to activist courts, and the Kansas court has gone well beyond any ground that the U.S. Supreme court, despite its egregious and recent activism, has dared to tread, then the future of representative government is now in jeopardy by these appointed officials at the state level.

So the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Times, and National Review are just three of the non Kansas publications who have spoken out about the Kansas constitutional crisis. The Kansas: “Closed for Business,” sign has been posted since the massive spending edicts issued by the courts are being followed by the governor and her legislative supporters. Why would any business person with a lick of common sense come to crazy Kansas where the court’s rule and fiscal responsiblity in government is an oxymoron?

Massive tax hikes will be needed to finance just the Montoy edict of June 3, 2005. The exodus of productive Kansans and the firms that employed them was already underway because of the already high property taxes and overall hostile fiscal climate across this state prior to the court’s decision. This state is facing a fiscal implosion of economic contraction and stagnation once the fiscal burden ordered by the court is placed upon the 2.7 million Kansans.

Interesting enough there is a model for this type of mess. It occurred in the early 1970’s in Ohio when that state enacted its state income tax and began a policy of state fiscal expansion under the leadership of the liberal Democratic governor named John Gilligan. The private sector in Ohio shrunk and jobs disappeared under the tax and spend policies of Governor Gilligan. Ohio faltered and stagnated and that state has continued to lose congressional seats as Ohioans, like myself who initially left in 1973, departed for more economically competitive parts of the country. People can, and do, vote with their feet, regardless of the edicts and fiscal profligacy of the courts.

There is a Kansas connection here. John Gilligan is Kathleen Sebelius’ father. Like father like daughter and those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it. In addition, like Kansas, Ohio has been burdened with school finance lawsuits.

Sadly, the litigating for government spending model will not improve the public schools in Kansas. In the 1980’s a federal judge imposed his will upon the citizens of the Kansas City Missouri school district trying to improve their public schools. He made a hash out of that school district at a cost of over a $1 billion to taxpayers. Sadly, the Kansas court has forgotten this disaster and seems intent upon helping Governor Sebelius and the other tax and spend officials from both major political parties in Kansas, to repeat it.

Please feel free to forward, post, or quote this article.

Karl Peterjohn, Executive Director
Kansas Taxpayers Network
www.kansastaxpayers.com

Karl Peterjohn

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