The Buzz

Brownback expresses concern about school costs, mum on budget cuts

Gov. Sam Brownback held a news conference Friday in the Kansas Capitol.
Gov. Sam Brownback held a news conference Friday in the Kansas Capitol. Hunter Woodall

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback expressed his concern Friday that the school finance case in front of the Kansas Supreme Court could lead to a major tax increase.

The comments came during a press conference in the state Capitol, where Brownback also declined to speculate on future budget cuts and touched on his role in the opening of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.

School finance

Brownback spoke briefly Friday about the possibility that the Gannon v. Kansas school finance case that was recently heard by the Kansas Supreme Court could cost the state hundreds of millions in new state aid.

The case stems from four school districts, including Kansas City, Kan., alleging that the state is underfunding K-12 schools. An attorney representing the school districts in the case said recently that constitutional compliance could cost Kansas between $430 million and $1.4 billion.

“That would be a big tax increase,” Brownback said. “I don’t know where you’d come up with $900 million... you’d have to look at major tax increases to do that.”

There’s no timetable for the court to rule. Lawmakers have talked about developing a new school finance formula in the 2017 legislative session. The block grant system used by the schools in recent years is set to expire next year.

On future cuts

Brownback was mum about whether the state’s economic situation would soon lead to additional budget cuts.

In a an email earlier this week, budget director Shawn Sullivan said the state was in a challenging budget situation, but he added that Brownback will not release a budget that includes cuts across the board. Brownback’s administration had earlier asked state agencies and universities to consider the impacts of a 5 percent budget cut.

Sullivan said in his email Tuesday that due to projected budget gaps, “we will have to make adjustments to our approved budget.”

But on Friday the governor wouldn’t elaborate on the possibility of more cuts. Documents released this week by the Kansas Board of Regents show a 5 percent reduction could cost KU and the KU Medical Center a combined $23 million over two years.

“I’m not going to say,” Brownback said about other cuts. “I want to look and see what the situation is and ultimately this is up to the Legislature.”

African American history museum

Brownback helped make the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture a reality during his time as a U.S. senator. He was in Washington, D.C., for its recent opening.

“When we started on this project years ago, my hope for it was that this would be a museum of reconciliation,” Brownback said. “And by that I mean, we’re not resolved between the races and hopefully that this would be a process and this would be part of it. And that people could look at this and there’d be tears as people would go through it. But at the end of the day, they’d be tears of cleansing, and that we’d come together. Lord knows we need that now.”

Hunter Woodall: 785-354-1388, @HunterMw