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. Ousley submits this week’s update:
Last week the Governor proposed filling the budget hole by: (1) raising taxes on alcohol and cigarettes; (2) transferring money from the State Highway Fund; (3) reducing scheduled investments to the Kansas State Employee Retirement System; and finally (4) eliminating the education funding formula and replacing it with a block grant system. The State Department of Education determined this will result in a $127 million dollar cut to education funding this year. You can read more about this here: https://www.kansas.com/news/politics-government/article7843530.html and here https://www.kansas.com/opinion/editorials/article8030418.html.
The recent Shawnee County District Court Gannon decision (on remand from the Kansas Supreme Court) held that Kansas is already underfunding public education by a minimum of about $500 million. Additional cuts will only add to what the Court called the “trauma” of underfunding.
Those who agree with implementing the block grant proposal say the current formula is too complex. The current formula has multiple “weightings” for categories of certain students, such as students at risk for failure, that distribute additional dollars to meet the needs of each district. But, changing the formula may primarily be a way to delay compliance with the Court’s decision, which is being appealed back to the Kansas Supreme Court.
In 1957, Gov. Fred Hall resigned his position 11 days before his term ended and had his Lt. Gov. appoint him to the Kansas Supreme Court. Kansans, upset with the political maneuvering, then voted to amend the Constitution to keep politics out of judicial appointment, and selection based on an attorney’s merit was implemented. Currently, a nine-member committee made up of 4 lawyers, 4 non-lawyers, and a committee chair who is a lawyer, reviews applications and selects a slate of the most qualified attorneys for the Governor to choose from when appointing a Justice.
This past week, three bills were submitted to change the appointment process. The first, allows direct partisan election of judges https://legiscan.com/KS/bill/HCR5004. The second, permits the Governor to appoint a judge, with confirmation by the Senate, https://legiscan.com/KS/bill/HCR5005. The third changes the committee process, so that the Governor, the Speaker of the House, and the President of the Senate, each appoint three people to the nominating committee, https://legiscan.com/KS/text/HCR5006/2015. The proposals either give the Governor greater control, or politicize the bench.
A fourth bill was introduced lowering the mandatory retirement age for Supreme Court Justices from 70 to 65, https://legiscan.com/KS/text/HB2073/2015. A review of the Supreme Court Justices’ biographies indicates this would likely force four of the seven sitting Justices to retire within the Governor’s current term.
Normally, when someone loses a lawsuit, they comply with the order against them or face a penalty. The proposed additional funding cuts indicate the State does not intend to comply, but is actively trying to alter those who sit on the Court that ruled against it.
Ultimately, to change the Kansas Constitution to allow a different appointment process will require both a 2/3 majority vote in the Kansas House and Senate, and a statewide ballot. It is important that Kansans understand why we have our current system in place, the reason why changes are sought, and what will happen if the changes take place.
It is my privilege to represent my neighbors from the 24th District. Thank you for the opportunity