Kansas Representative Troy Waymaster, R-Bunker Hill, visited the Ellis County Commission on Monday to offer a wrap-up of the 2018 legislative session. The session adjourned May 4, though a special session this summer to finalize public education funding might be possible, he said.
That one issue dominated most of the session, with a Supreme Court ruling that K-12 funding is inadequate handed down last fall. The court set a deadline of April 30 for the Legislature to submit a plan to increase spending.
As chairman of the House appropriations committee, Waymaster was involved in early committee meetings held to understand the court’s decision and help identify possible remedies, he said.
The legislature ultimately — and just barely — approved a five-year plan to increase school funding by $500 million, though the original legislation was passed with a large error and had to be corrected.
“I feel badly for your frustration with the courts giving this edict that we’re not spending enough on school financing and you not knowing what number it is,” said Commissioner Barbara Wasinger, who also has filed to run for state office. “What is the general feel amongst legislators on that issue?”
“You could have some that say we’re not spending enough. We have some that are saying, ‘Well, we’re pretty close.’ You’ll have others saying we’re spending way too much,” Waymaster replied. “If you look at where the K-12 education budget is right now prior to what we passed this last legislative session, it was about 52 percent of the state budget. Now that over the next five years we’re going to be phasing in approximately over $500 million into K-12 education, you’re looking at it nearling 56, 58-percent of the state budget. So what does that mean? It simply means we have less dollars that are going to other services for the state of Kansas.”
Waymaster said he favored a proposed amendment that sought to limit the court’s authority to rule on education spending issues before committing additional funds. That measure was not voted on in the House, but he said he heard from constituents who supported the idea.
“Many claim that because I testified in favor of that, it was basically saying I was anti-education. That couldn’t be further from the truth because I’m a product of public education,” Waymaster said, noting the state has spent millions of dollars in litigation over issues of school funding. “What I’m looking at are all the other obligations the state has, and if we have that much dedicated to K-12 because of some elusive language in the constitution that’s being interpreted differently by some individuals, maybe we need to tighten the language in the constitution.”
He noted the issue of adequate school funding has dominated state politics for much of his six years in the legislature, following previous Supreme Court rulings. Waymaster said he voted against the state’s block-grant model of education funding in 2015, and said he believes moving away from the state’s established school finance formula at that time ultimately made the situation worse. The court in 2016 ruled block grant school funding is unconstitutional.
Other issues Waymaster said he worked on this year included a push to increase pay for state judicial employees. Staff members will see a pay increase of 5-percent, while judges will see an increase of 2.5-percent.
“For years we’ve been hearing our court employees are desperately underpaid,” he said. “Last year, with the state employee pay plan, I advocated for them then.”
State colleges -- including Fort Hays State University -- also will see partial restoration of 4-percent state funding cuts handed down in 2016. That amounted to a loss of approximately $1 million for FHSU, and approximately 62 percent of that amount will be restored next fiscal year.
The approved budget also took steps to help restore Kansas Department of Transportation funding, which had been swept for several years, he said. The goal is to allow some projects already approved for the state T-WORKS funding program to move forward.
“As you know T-WORKS started in about 2010. We’re in the last few years of that,” he said. “Given some of the budget constraints that we’ve had, KDOT has not been able to fulfill some of those projects. In fact, in 2016, they made the announcement they were going to delay 23 projects indefinitely.”
In other business, the commission:
• Approved a request for road pavement assistance from the City of Victoria for approximately 10,000 square yards. The county also will be assisting the cities of Ellis and Hays with road projects this summer, which is fairly routine.
• Heard an update from the Cottonwood Extension district.
• Approved an updated agreement for Kansas WorkforceONE.