Some Kansas lawmakers once again have it all wrong when it comes to what needs to happen this legislative session.
Instead of working toward a new school finance formula — the Kansas Supreme Court has set an April 30 deadline — legislators are wasting valuable time in Topeka by once again focusing on election-year tax cuts.
Never mind that the court's deadline is immovable. Never mind that the state is desperately trying to dig out from former Gov. Sam Brownback's failed tax experiment. And never mind that dozens of lawmakers will tell you that they have absolutely no idea where the $600 million or so that's needed to satisfy the court will come from.
Never mind all that. Some lawmakers are focusing on the easy stuff first by pushing for a $21 million tax cut for businesses. They'll put off the more pressing matter for later.
That's what the state Senate did a few days ago. They advanced a measure that restores a tax break for small businesses even though it's widely believed the state will need that money to address the school funding order.
The break would enable owners of LLCs to claim a deduction for their investments in machinery and equipment placed into service in the state. Kansas corporations can claim a similar deduction. But the one for LLCs wasn't restored last year when lawmakers did away with Brownback's tax cuts.
Restoring the deduction might make sense someday. But not now. Not with the school funding drama bearing down on them.
"I support local business, but it is not the right time to be cutting taxes," state Sen. Barbara Bollier, a Mission Hills Republican, said during debate. "We do not yet know what our revenues will be, what will be required to settle the Gannon school funding case and what our budget needs to be for 2019."
That conservative Republican Sen. Caryn Tyson, a Parker Republican, is the chief backer of the tax cut is all you need to know. She's a candidate for the 2nd District congressional seat being vacated by Rep. Lynn Jenkins. A fresh tax cut would look mighty good on campaign fliers this summer.
To the average citizen, it may appear that legislators still have plenty of time to figure out school funding. But the reality is that writing such a law is one of the most difficult and contentious jobs that any legislature attempts. Neither the House nor the Senate has started deliberating a new formula. In fact, the process of crafting it has only barely begun, despite the fact that the court ruled in early October that the state's school funding law was unconstitutional.
If Tyson's tax cut passes, it will add one more log onto the load lawmakers must hoist as they struggle to find a path to a new school formula.
Tyson's tax-cut push is insidious on another front. Making tax cuts priority one is one more attempt to lower the amount that lawmakers spend on schools. The sad thing is that conservatives have been waging this fight for years. Each time, the state Supreme Court has ultimately ruled that the Legislature is shorting education.
The court's message is unmistakable: Lawmakers must fund schools, even at the expense of tax cuts. Schools come first. Lawmakers need to embrace that reality.