Capitol Update: Rep. Rooker says ‘devil is in the details’ on Brownback budget proposal, including $600 million for schools

Rep. Melissa Rooker.
Rep. Melissa Rooker.

Each legislative session, we provide the Shawnee Mission area’s elected officials with the chance to share their thoughts about what’s happening in the state capitol. Rep. Melissa Rooker, Rep. Tom Cox and Sen. John Skubal are submitting updates this week. Here’s Rep. Rooker’s filing:

Greetings from Topeka. We are beginning the second week of the 2018 session. My committee assignments this year continue to include Federal & State Affairs, K-12 Budget, and Education. All have had their initial organizational meetings and are beginning to receive agency status reports as is the custom.

Also according to custom, the governor delivered his State of the State address to the legislature on Tuesday. The following morning, his budget proposal was introduced.

In a complete about face, the governor publicly stated that ignoring the decision of the Kansas Supreme Court is “not an option.” He called on the legislature to provide $600 million over the next five years to K-12 public education, and outlined a series of specific outcomes and expectations tied to the new funding.

The devil is in the details, of course. On Wednesday, the governor’s budget proposal was delivered to the legislature. It included the promised increase to K-12, as well as over $200 million in new spending for a variety of other areas. When asked by our appropriations committee how these increases would be funded, the budget director answered that the strength of the growing Trump economy would take care of things.

Under scrutiny in committee, it was revealed that the $600 million in new spending the governor called for was actually significantly less – it factored in the increase already planned for next year, and removed the consumer price index escalator we put in place last year. Also revealed under questioning, over $300 million continues to be swept from transportation in perpetuity. The budget does not balance even so, and is thus impossible to fund without significant changes to our revenue outlook.

I support a responsible answer to the court order regarding schools, as well as attention to dire needs in other critical areas of the state budget. My initial reaction to the governor’s speech Tuesday night was a sense of skepticism regarding his willingness to go farther than paying lip service to a list of feel-good talking points on his way out the door.

The governor made our work much harder than it needed to be last session by vetoing our tax plan. He doubled down on his criticism of our efforts when we overrode his veto. His official statements from June accused the legislature of reckless spending, and predicted economic ruin for the state. In the fall, his special interest allies attacked lawmakers who voted for the override. With his help a year ago, we could have settled the Gannon lawsuit once and for all. HB 2270, the bill I introduced last year, called for the level of education funding the governor now says he supports.

The real question we face in the wake of his speech is whether this governor will support legislation that finds responsible ways to meet the goals outlined in his speech or continue to obstruct our efforts. Adding to the dynamic is the question of when, or if, the governor will be confirmed for the ambassador post he seeks.

As legislators, our best course of action to deal with the uncertainty is to ignore it. Our job requires us to roll up our sleeves and get work on serious, comprehensive solutions to the difficult challenges we face.