Government & Politics

Gov.: Schools' lawsuit threat won't sway cuts

TOPEKA — Kansas' governor said Tuesday that the threat of a lawsuit over education funding won't influence the spending cuts he'll make to keep the current state budget in balance.

Gov. Mark Parkinson plans to announce next week how he'll make nearly $260 million in cuts and other budget adjustments. The changes are designed to prevent a deficit when the state's 2010 fiscal year ends June 30.

Some of Kansas' 293 school districts already are contemplating suing the state because it has backed off previous commitments to increase aid to schools each year.

And Parkinson's budget-balancing measures are likely to include further reductions in education funding. School aid consumes more than half the state's general tax revenues, and Parkinson can't impose a tax increase without approval from legislators, who don't reconvene until January.

"My immediate responsibility is to balance the 2010 budget," Parkinson said during a news conference. "The threat of a lawsuit from any particular recipient of funds is not affecting the decisions that we make."

Legislators enacted a law in 2006 that promised continuing increases in aid to schools. It was a response to Kansas Supreme Court decisions that said the state had failed to live up to its responsibility under its own constitution to provide a suitable education for every child.

"It certainly doesn't appear that anybody is looking at their constitutional responsibilities," said Alan Rupe of Wichita, the lead attorney in the lawsuit that led to the Supreme Court orders.

Kansas already has had four rounds of budget cuts and other adjustments to keep its budget balanced, with Parkinson imposing revisions himself in July.

Public schools have lost $130 million, and their base state aid has dropped by $215 per student, or about 4.8 percent.

Earlier this month, officials issued a new forecast saying the state won't collect the $5.6 billion in general tax revenue it needs to sustain the revised budget.

"We are past the point of there being any easy decisions," Parkinson said. "We are now cutting into the bone of government services."

Rupe, some educators and some of Parkinson's fellow Democrats argue that state revenue also is pinched because of tax breaks granted, mostly to businesses, in previous years.

State officials expect the state's budget problems to linger and already expect to face a budget shortfall for fiscal 2011. But many members of the Republican-controlled Legislature see little support for raising taxes, even in the form of eliminating past tax breaks.