Early reaction says the budget that the Administration delivered was dead on arrival. Republicans, in particular, have led the negative response with a focus on the fact that the Governor had a nice sounding message but delivered it out of context. His avoidance of saying anything about how the state should pay for his recommendations was particularly offensive to almost all legislators. This was particularly upsetting to those who voted for tax adjustments last year in efforts to start addressing the fiscal crisis tied to the failed Brownback tax experiment.
So where are we? First let us look back to last year for a moment. As you know, very significant progress was made that included overriding the Governor’s veto on a tax plan that took a significant step in restoring much needed funds. The downside was that it was not enough to fund a reasonably full recovery. Too many legislators, as well as special interest groups, were a little too anxious to get anything close to what is needed. In the process, they likely left some important resources on the table that could have lessened the existing fiscal pressure.
Despite the progress, the Kansas Supreme Court has made it clear that even with the additional funding, it is not adequate. Their position is based on their interpretation of the Kansas Constitution regarding the state’s role in funding public education. Additionally, those who have never supported increasing education resources will be pressing for a Constitutional amendment that basically takes the Court out of any jurisdiction on school funding. Given the required ⅔ vote from both Houses, that is unlikely to happen.
Next are the political realities. Last year’s progress on school funding and the budget was clearly a heavy lift. Now we are in an election year, with the entire House up for re-election. Also, it is easy to assume that whatever tax bill reaches the Governor's desk, regardless of who is Governor, will be vetoed. There were no extra votes in last year's override. Given that fact, the likelihood of a repeat in 2018 is very slim. In addition, why would all the newly-elected members who were there for the 2017 override vote for another tax bill that, logic says, will not pass?
So where does all of this leave us? At the moment, I see no traditional answer to this constitutional crisis. My dream would be a Supreme Court that is willing to talk privately to legislative leaders from both parties about the realities that they face. Then, out of that, would come a compromise that spreads the mandated funding increase over a reasonable period of time. This might allow the money that became available from last year’s effort to be adequate to meet the first year’s commitment and then begin down a multi-year path towards meeting our constitutional commitment to public education. Although, I understand when your response is “dream on.”