Government & Politics

Kelsey: Don't use tax dollars to sue state

TOPEKA — Sen. Dick Kelsey wants to send a message to entities thinking about suing the state using tax dollars: Don't do it.

"In our Constitution, the Legislature is clearly given the responsibility to determine policy regarding the expenditure of state funds," Kelsey, R-Goddard, wrote in testimony submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee. "It is our duty to decide what to spend and how to spend it, not the courts."

On Monday, Kelsey told the Senate Judiciary Committee he hoped that Senate Concurrent Resolution 1621 would spark public discussion. The resolution seeks to bar entities from using public money to sue the state seeking more money. It is non-binding.

"I also believe very strongly that it is wrong to use taxpayer money to sue the Legislature to get more taxpayer money," Kelsey wrote. "If groups want to sue, let them use their own money."

The resolution does not come with any penalties for groups that do use tax dollars to sue the state. Sen. John Vratil, R-Leawood, noted that the state already has a rule to prohibit the use of state dollars to sue the state.

The group Schools for Fair Funding, which includes the Wichita district, filed a motion earlier this month with the state Supreme Court contending that Kansas should spend more money on public education. The motion argues that the state is out of compliance with the court's 2006 ruling that forced the state to increase funding for public schools by $1 billion.

More than 50 school districts have agreed to pay for the litigation, which is estimated to cost $500,000 a year.

"If they would take up donations, if they would solicit all their superintendents and write personal private checks, fine, let them launch a suit," Kelsey said. "But to take our money ... and to turn around and sue us, I don't think is right."

Kent Eckles, vice president for government affairs at the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, said businesses are upset about the suit.

"They find it offensive that their hard-earned taxpayer dollars at the local level are being used to sue you to compel actions for more of their money," he said.

Mark Tallman, lobbyist for the Kansas Association of School Boards, pointed out that the lawsuit was made by local school boards who were elected by their communities.

"If the public disagrees with that use of their tax dollars, they can change their school board," Tallman said.

Without the availability of public dollars, it would be much harder for school districts to seek remedies for alleged violations, he said.

"It is very difficult for schoolchildren to bring suit on their own," Tallman said.