Kan. gov.: Lawsuit threat not being considered

AP News
Posted: Nov 17, 2009 8:50 PM

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 $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 revenues 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 revenues also are pinched because of tax breaks granted, mostly to businesses, in previous years.

"If they'd been fiscally responsible throughout that period of time, we would not have been left in the situation that we're in," Rupe said.

A similar argument is being made by some social service advocates, who are hoping to build support for revenue-raising measures next year.

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.

"The shortsighted approach is: Let's raise taxes right now, give it to state agencies and worry about tomorrow, tomorrow," said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Kevin Yoder, an Overland Park Republican. "The long-term view is: Let's bite the bullet, ratchet down spending, get through the recession and be economically stronger for it."

Parkinson hasn't ruled out a tax increase, but he said Tuesday: "I am completely focused on the 2010 budget. Right now, I'm not focused on 2011."


On the Net:

Kansas governor: http://www.governor.ks.gov

Kansas Legislature: http://www.kslegislature.org