NEJC Capitol Update: ‘I do not believe we can cut our way out of the mess we find ourselves in, but many of my colleagues intend to try’

To keep our readers better informed about the state government actions that impact our communities, we will be featuring regular update columns each Monday from northeast Johnson County’s elected officials: Rep. Barbara Bollier, Rep. Stephanie Clayton, Rep. Jarrod Ousley, Rep. Melissa Rooker and Sen. Kay Wolf. Rep. Rooker submits this week’s update ahead of the start of the 2015 legislative session next week:

Happy New Year, NE JoCo! We are one week away from the 2015 Legislative Session and there is already much to share!

Melissa Rooker 2014On Dec. 30, a Shawnee District Court three-judge panel delivered its opinion on the question of adequacy of education funding. The full decision is here. They ruled that the state of Kansas is abdicating its constitutional responsibility to adequately fund our public schools. Key points include the state pushing funding increases to local school boards, and the state’s failure to keep up with the rate of inflation in base funding to our schools. The Prairie Village Post covered the story last week. Here are some additional resources:

Topeka Capital-Journal: Judges rule school finance inadequate
Kansas City Star: Kansas court calls school funding inadequate
Wichita Eagle: Court rules school funding is inadequate under Kansas Constitution

Clearly, in the session ahead, as we grapple with the magnitude of our budget shortfalls, this decision will weigh heavily over deliberations. The state is likely to file an appeal, sending it back to the Supreme Court, which will delay any required remedy. However, we must still grapple with a massive $780 million budget deficit. I do not believe we can cut our way out of the mess we find ourselves in, but many of my colleagues intend to try. If that is the case, expect major cuts to education spending, education reform measures, and changes to the formula to be among the proposals offered. I will continue to advocate for common sense and stability.

Our new committee assignments were announced just before Christmas. I am delighted to continue serving on Children & Seniors and Vision 2020. In addition, I have been assigned two new committees: Transportation, and Transportation & Public Safety Budget. While the new committees present exciting opportunities for me to weigh in on the important subject of Transportation – protecting the integrity of new projects in the TWORKS program, and advocating for quality maintenance of our transportation infrastructure and public safety — I am deeply disappointed with the decision made to remove me from the Education Committee. There can be no clearer signal of the direction leadership anticipates heading where education is concerned. I will stay involved with Education policy discussions as they unfold on the floor of the House this year, and invite you to make time to listen to House debate when your time permits. The audio link can be found on the Kansas legislature homepage.

Watch your mailbox! The ballots for the SMSD bond election are on their way. I urge you to vote yes on both questions. Neither will require a change in your property tax mill levy. The first will allow the district to maintain the current LOB, while the second will authorize the district to issue bonds for some much needed upgrades to our schools. Because of the current bond repayment schedule, the new bonds will not increase your property tax assessment. Check these links for much more detail. When making up your mind on the bond, please remember that current state law prohibits the use of bond monies to pay salaries or other operating expenses. They can only be used for capital improvements. Basic operational funding must come from the state – that is the money we are battling over in court.

I encourage you to sign up for my email newsletter by visiting my website or emailing me your request at Melissa@melissarooker.com. You can also find me on Facebook (Kansas State Representative Melissa Rooker) and Twitter (@MelissaRooker). I am pleased to continue to be your voice in Topeka!