Kansas gubernatorial candidate Kris Kobach contends the education bill to be signed Tuesday by Gov. Jeff Colyer requires accounting gymnastics to meet gradual increases to school districts during the next five years that escalate annual aid by more than $500 million.
Colyer, who said he would deliver on the promise to schoolchildren without raising taxes, leveraged his Republican brand in support of the legislation, which passed the House and Senate by single votes. The deal packaged the House’s financial aid target with a couple Senate education policy pieces. It would spend about twice the amount the Senate had originally envisioned.
“I’m not raising taxes,” said Colyer, who hasn’t spelled out his strategy for making revenue and expenditures match up through 2022.
Colyer is scheduled to sign the K-12 bill at Seaman High School in Topeka. The 2018 Legislature returns April 26 to develop a blueprint for meeting the new education funding obligation and for keeping the rest of state government in motion.
Colyer, Kobach and Selzer face off in GOP gubernatorial debate
Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state and a rival of Colyer for the GOP gubernatorial nomination, said the Legislature had kicked around several unsettling funding ideas. It would presumably be paid for by gobbling up another $100 million in highway funding, imposing a tax on internet sales, undercutting payments to the state pension system and absorbing the windfall in state tax revenue resulting for recent changes in the federal tax code, he said.
“The supposed ability to do this without a tax increase makes all kinds of ridiculous assumptions,” Kobach said. “That is unacceptable. We need to cut taxes. Purple, pot-smoking Colorado has a better tax environment than red Kansas does. This is crazy.”
Former Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer, who is campaigning for the Democratic Party’s nomination for governor, said Kobach was right to look to the west for a road map for funding the government and complying with a Kansas Supreme Court order to bring education aid in line with the Kansas Constitution. He wants to legalize sale of marijuana in Kansas through a statewide ballot measure.
“Kansas could solve its revenue problems if this were to become law,” Brewer said.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Selzer, the state’s insurance commissioner, said he wouldn’t burn through the federal tax revenue windfall on behalf of school districts. He would have held out for the Senate bill, which offered $275 million over five years.
The state should identify the cash to meet fundamental obligations by bending the cost curve of government down, Selzer said. The GOP-led House and Senate and the administration of former Gov. Sam Brownback had a habit of burning through the treasury, failing to make necessary spending cuts and turning to one-time remedies and gimmicks to balance the budget, he said.
He said desperate state lawmakers eventually voted for large state sales tax increases and repealed the state’s 2012 income tax reductions.
“There is no fix,” Selzer said, “unless we do something silly and stupid like we did the last couple years, and that is raise taxes,” Selzer said.
Topeka Sen. Laura Kelly, a candidate for the Democratic nomination for governor, voted for the school funding bill.
“By working together,” Kelly said, “we can make our schools a top priority again. When we invest in our public schools, we will make a significant impact on the opportunities our children have available to them and a significant impact on the future of Kansas.”