US News
October 11, 2017

Analysis: Politics will hinder work on Kansas schools plan

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) – Election-year politics will hinder efforts by Kansas officials to comply with a state Supreme Court demand for a new, fairer public school funding law that also significantly boosts spending.

Finding a solution that satisfies the court next year will force the Republican-controlled Legislature and soon-to-be GOP Gov. Jeff Colyer to consider a second big tax increase in as many years. An alternative would be big spending cuts in other parts of state government, which many lawmakers find equally unpalatable.

Colyer, now the lieutenant governor awaiting Republican Gov. Sam Brownback’s departure for an ambassador’s post, is running for a full, four-year term for governor next year in a crowded GOP primary field. Taxes will be a key issue – putting pressure on GOP lawmakers to avoid another big hike.

Taxes also are a tough issue for Democrats, even though their political base argues that schools remain under-funded despite extra dollars approved earlier this year. Embracing another tax increase too eagerly could alienate independent and Republican voters they need to win the governor’s and legislative races. All 125 House members are up for election in 2018.

“Any solution is going to be very difficult,” said state Sen. Rick Billinger, a Goodland Republican who serves on the Senate budget committee. “I don’t see an easy path in any form.”

An education funding law approved in June phased in a $293 million increase in aid to public schools over two years, bringing it to $4.3 billion annually. Legislators increased individual income taxes to raise $1.2 billion over two years, rolling back the tax cuts enacted in 2012 and 2013 as part of Brownback’s fiscal “experiment,” both to balance the budget and provide extra dollars for schools.