Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Martin Hawver: At the Rail: Christmas Dreams

Martin Hawver

Okay, so what if the Legislature next session decides to boost spending for public K-12 schools, as it presumes the Kansas Supreme Court wants it to do by about April 1?
Well, if the Legislature—or especially the House where all of its members stand for re-election in 2018 or maybe some just decide not to run for another two-year excursion into state government—decides to just write the check without raising anyone’s taxes, it means about a 17 percent cut in spending for everything else government does.
Sounds simple. Cut 17 percent from everything, and give that 17 percent to schools, and the court will probably be satisfied, and all this litigation over what is adequate school funding is over…for a while.
The long division shows that if a rumored $600 million in additional funding for schools will settle the lawsuit, it’s about a 17 percent cut on all state general fund spending.
Well, of course, there’s no decision yet on just how much the state needs to spend on K-12, and how quickly, but at least a couple state agencies during hearings last week dutifully presented information about what a 17 percent budget cut would mean to their agencies. Posed, of course, in the most frightful manner designed to get lawmakers to think about not doing that sweep of cash.
That’s the key. Making that 17 percent cut in funding so shocking, so dangerous, so perilous, that lawmakers quit considering budget cuts.
So, what spooked members of the latest committee to hear about the need for K-12 money?
Start with the Department of Corrections. Now, there are probably lots of ways to cut spending, buck or two here, a buck or two there, but the Kansas Department of Corrections said to cut its budget 17 percent it would close three prisons.
Oh, and let about 2,500 felons loose. Just open the gates and watch them wander off to the nearest liquor store or maybe a car that they could jump-start. Corrections didn’t say whether it would let loose check forgers, bank robbers or tax evaders, just 2,500 folks who probably need to be in prison, or at least in someone else’s neighborhood.
Wonder how the Kansas Judicial Department will respond to a 17 percent budget cut?
Well, one solution, apparently the ickiest one that the Judiciary could come up with, is closing the courthouses for 70 days a year. That might make getting warrants a little slow or might mean that Kansans can only get divorces on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and thousands of other inconveniences.
Other state offices would either close, lay off staff, quit some programs that they provide, and well, nothing very good happens.
What’s the object of having state departments illustrate what would happen if suddenly $600 million was removed from virtually every program except K-12 funding?
Well, it immediately means that lawmakers will have to give some serious thought to boosting state aid to schools. From somewhere…
That overturns the basic, budget touch-up and pass a few bills that Kansans will like into a major fight between those who agree with the court that the state isn’t spending enough on schools and those who think the court might give the Legislature a year or two to come up with the money, and figuring out how to make that more gradual increase in funding guaranteed. Flat guaranteed, not one of those deals in which the last year of promised and written into law increases are backed out of in a year or two.
Or, we guess, lawmakers could establish a new committee to choose the 2,500 felons who get released, maybe based on where they would move to if they are set free…
Syndicated by Hawver News Company LLC of Topeka; Martin Hawver is publisher of Hawver's Capitol Report—to learn more about this nonpartisan statewide political news service, visit the website at

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