Kris Kobach chastised Gov. Jeff Colyer in a debate Tuesday night for his willingness to pay a ransom to the Kansas Supreme Court by signing a bill that provides new money for public schools.
Colyer complained Kobach’s solution, which includes a mandate for classroom spending, would force schools to close.
In the first televised forum for Republican candidates for governor, Colyer maintained his newfound criticism of Kobach, casting the secretary of state as an enemy to education and untrustworthy. In turn, Kobach joined Insurance Commissioner Ken Selzer and former state Sen. Jim Barnett in battering Colyer for his part in former Gov. Sam Brownback’s tumultuous administration.
The debate was broadcast by KWCH-TV in Wichita. The station will talk to Democratic candidates Wednesday night.
Kobach said the state’s high court was incorrect in ruling the latest plan to fund public schools needs to be adjusted for inflation, which will add $300-400 million to the cost. As signed by Colyer, the plan already calls for a boost of $522 million over five years.
“Look, this game is never going to end,” Kobach said. “The Kansas Supreme Court has got to get out of the business of trying to tell legislators how much money to spend on schools.”
He also repeated his intention to require 75 percent of school funding to be spent in the classroom. Kobach uses numbers that show only 53 percent is spent on classroom instruction, but that includes bond projects approved by local voters.
Even if schools stopped building new facilities and every administrative position were eliminated, critics of the proposal say, schools would need to cut into things like counseling, transportation and food to meet the 75 percent mandate.
Selzer said the solution is to amend the Kansas Constitution to redefine the state’s commitment to providing a “suitable” education. For Barnett, who complained that schools in rural areas already struggle to stay open, the answer is economic growth.
So many problems with state government, Barnett said, trace back to the 2012 tax cuts that proved to be a disaster for the budget.
“Under Brownback and Colyer, Kansas became a state that lives paycheck to paycheck,” Barnett said.
That supply-side tax plan, Selzer said, “cut the knees out of government.” He trumpeted his accounting credentials in promising to find ways to pay for education and infrastructure at a lower tax rate.
The reason the severe tax cuts failed, Kobach said, was the failure by Brownback and Colyer to balance them with cuts to spending. Kobach also noted he is the only candidate to sign a pledge not to increase taxes.
Colyer brushed aside the criticism.
“What has happened over the past has happened,” he said. “I’m looking forward. I’m looking at where we’re going, and working with the Legislature.”
He then reignited a squabble over a decades-old vote Kobach cast as an Overland Park councilman to raise an excise fee. Colyer said the difference between the two candidates is Colyer votes against every tax increase.
Kobach called the governor’s remark a lie. By raising the excise fee, Kobach said, he actually kept property taxes low.
“That’s the kind of deception you hear from him,” Kobach said, “and that’s what you’ve been seeing in the ads that his dark money group has been running.”