Legislature challenged to rise above politics
Last week, the Kansas Supreme Court delivered the Legislature an ultimatum. The justices ordered the state's lawmakers to find more money for the state school districts by April 12 with a threat that they could take on the task if legislators failed to make headway.
Asking politicians not to engage in politics is wishful thinking. We can count on many state school finance solutions cropping up in the next month, some limited by self interests and others proposing too expansive reforms to pass in a single session. Look for some lawmakers to attempt to act on grudges and others to showboat.
Giving in to this nature of politics, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius failed to offer her solution Monday in her annual State of the State address or the budget she released the next day. It is true her proposal to raise $304 million in revenue in three years through tax increases at the start of the last session was pretty much a non-started, but in a time when leadership is required a proposal should have been forthcoming.
What should limit legislative shenanigans the next 90-plus days is the court's suggestion it might intervene if it doesn't find a solution by April 12. It should be anathema to all lawmakers to invite through their inaction a judicial solution, which they should rightly regard as their preserve.
As the Supreme Court decision made clear, lawmakers put themselves in this position. In its ruling, the high court told legislators to follow up its own past actions. In the past five years, the Legislature has demanded higher standards and accountability from districts and performed a study to find what level of spending was needed to provide a suitable education as required by the Kansas Constitution. Yet the Legislature has been unable to find a consensus about how it should increase educational spending.
Conservative legislators have offered proposals unacceptable to the majority because they tapped into other state departments. Those calling for tax increases, as Sebelius did last year, failed to convince the majority that such a move wouldn't be harmful to the state's fragile economy.
Somewhere between those two positions is compromise. But it must be a compromise beyond the use of one-time only budget solutions tacked together the past three years as the Legislature dealt with the state's recession-driven revenue shortfall.
The Legislature's task is to prove it can provide the leadership and fresh thinking to meet the court's challenge.