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SPOTLIGHT
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School funding and the court budget

Published on -10/22/2013, 9:52 AM

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It's going to be weeks, maybe months, before the Kansas Supreme Court rules on the Gannon v. Kansas lawsuit -- the one appealed to the Supremes because a three-judge panel decided that Kansas should spend at least $440 million more on K-12 school finance.

And, remember that this case came about because the Legislature previously promised to spend more money on K-12, but, with the recession and then election of Gov. Sam Brownback who preferred cutting individual income taxes rather than spending more money on schools, it just didn't happen.

And don't forget that appropriation of money is -- so far under the Kansas Constitution -- the responsibility of the Kansas Legislature and nobody else.

So, as we await the eventual decision by the Kansas Supreme Court on the issue, insiders are wondering how the case will turn out.

Because we can talk with legislators whenever we can scare one up, the general tenor of those chants varies between "only the Legislature can appropriate money" to "we can't be bound by the decision of a previous legislature" to "we did what our constituents wanted."

No legislators at this point are talking about that other issue the court has brought up ... that it needs about another $8 million from the upcoming Legislature to operate efficiently without as many as seven weeks of furloughs for its non-judge employees.

The court, of course, can't make its school decision based on appropriation it needs from the Legislature that would have to empty the state's bank account to reach that $440 million payment that the court might order.

Nobody wants a court deciding issues based on its own budget. That's not what justice is about, is it?

Remember that the court is one of those unique branches of government that doesn't have the ability to make deals based on things that don't happen in the courtroom -- like needing the Legislature to appropriate money for its operation.

But nobody wants the Legislature to tell the court: Order a $440 million payment, and get ready for a seven-week vacation. That's not right, either, and we're thinking that few voters would like the Legislature to essentially bribe the court.

Oh, and we doubt that the court is going to settle for another promise that isn't fulfilled by the Legislature, whether lawmakers' intentions were good and just erased by the recession ... or not.

So how does this go? The court could, of course, just delay a decision until after the Legislature leaves town next spring. Or, the court could make its decision ordering money be spent on schools. Or, the court could, politely in its written decision, lambast the Legislature for breaking its previous deal to finance schools and then not order up any new money be spent.

This case could go a couple different ways. Money and budgets aside, it's going to be an interesting decision -- after the wait.

Syndicated by Hawver News Co. of Topeka, Martin Hawver is publisher of Hawver's Capitol Report. To learn more about this nonpartisan statewide political news service, visit www.hawvernews.com.

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