Gov. Sam Brownback’s budget doesn’t say how Kansas will pay for $400 million of his proposed $600 million increase in school funding.
Republican leaders were furious when Brownback released the education funding plan during his State of the State speech Tuesday night without outlining how to pay for it. Their anger continued Wednesday.
Brownback said only that his plan doesn’t include a tax increase.
The full budget plan released Wednesday outlines only the way the state will fund the first year of an education spending increase that Brownback wants to spread over five years. Brownback’s proposal comes in response to a Kansas Supreme Court ruling this fall that found education spending inadequate under the state Constitution.
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“While I recognize the proposed budget has drawn criticism from legislators on both sides of the aisle, complying with the Supreme Court’s school finance decision is not optional,” Brownback said in a statement late Wednesday. “I support the rule of law, and I will not stand to see schools closed because of inaction on our part.”
The budget includes about $200 million in increased school funding next year, but $87 million of that has already been approved by lawmakers. In total, Brownback is proposing just over $500 million in new school spending over five years.
“Not wanting a tax increase also played a large role into stretching it out over a five-year proposal,” said State Budget Director Shawn Sullivan.
When asked what happens in 2020 and beyond, Sullivan emphasized that the budget balances for two years. Strong revenue growth will help the cause, Sullivan said.
The lack of specifics upset some lawmakers.
“The governor has waved the white flag of surrender from the dome, and tossed every ally he had left under the bus ... then put the bus in reverse ... then lit fire to the bus,” Rep. J.R. Claeys, a Salina Republican, said on Twitter.
Sullivan said the administration was willing to try to have a constructive conversation.
“Hopefully we can have a constructive dialogue about the education proposal and the rest of the budget,” Sullivan said. “And not just having press releases sent out where we’re throwing bombs at each other.”
Rep. Troy Waymaster, a Bunker Hill Republican who leads the House budget committee, was quick to challenge Sullivan on the budget.
“It’s not feasible, because it doesn’t balance in the outlying years,” Waymaster said.
Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, an Overland Park Republican, said that by 2020, Kansas will run a deficit under the budget proposal. The budget does not include any massive new sweeps of the highway fund or the state pension system to fund its spending increases.
Rep. Kristey Williams, an Augusta Republican on the House budget committee, said she’d like an honest discussion rather than “put the most hopeful, optimistic, blue skies budget offering that he possibly could.”
“It’s disappointing to hear and it’s also not practical,” Williams said. “Everybody can look at that budget and understand that we can’t actually do that without raising revenue at some level.”
Sen. Laura Kelly, a Topeka Democrat who is running for governor, said the governor’s plan isn’t feasible.
“You can’t do something that is going to put us in the red so clearly,” Kelly said.
The $600 million figure is the target set by attorneys for school districts that have sued the state over funding. Sullivan acknowledged that Brownback thinks that is the amount necessary to satisfy the court.
That stands in sharp contrast to some Republican lawmakers who have called for holding the line on school funding. Senate President Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican, has said that further increases for schools would come at the expense of other areas of government that also need more resources.
“It’s clearly one that we can’t afford without a major tax increase next year,” Wagle said.
Other lawmakers have questioned whether it’s possible to already know how much funding is needed for schools. Legislative leaders have approved funding to hire an expert to put together a report on how the Legislature should respond to the court ruling. That report likely won’t be completed until March.
“We really need to know if those initiatives are going to be the things that satisfy the courts,” said Sen. Carolyn McGinn, who chairs the Senate Ways and Means Committee.