In all but tone, there’s little daylight between the policy positions of Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. The two men lead a crowded Republican field in the race for Kansas Governor.
Until today, it appeared the biggest difference between the pair was style rather than policy. Both have said they are pro-life and oppose expanding Medicaid, but they differ in their approach to resolving a school finance showdown between the Kansas Legislature and the Kansas Supreme Court. Colyer told reporters on Wednesday he supports a Kansas House plan to increase school funding by $500 million over the next 5 years.
“On a dollar figure, I think the House bill is a good place that could help solve this issue,” Colyer said during a press conference.
The House’s proposal stalled after Kansas Senate leadership announced the body wouldn’t work any school funding legislation until lawmakers passed a proposal to amend the constitution. The amendment would codify the Legislature’s authority to set funding levels for Kansas schools.
Kobach offered his support to Senate leadership in a press release.
“It is time for the people of Kansas to terminate the endless cycle of K-12 finance litigation trapping our state,” he said. “We need a constitutional amendment prohibiting unelected judges from hijacking the legislature’s power to make funding decisions.”
Colyer, who replaced Gov. Sam Brownback at the end of January, has long said he prefers multi-year, affordable solution to school funding. He said he hopes to be the last Governor to deal with school finance and a constitutional amendment is one way to end the ongoing debate on the topic.
In an address he gave to lawmakers shortly after being sworn-in, Colyer noted that the last 10 governors have faced school funding challenges during their terms.
“Five Democrats. Five Republicans. All of us have been under school litigation for the last 50 years,” Colyer said.
Last year, lawmakers rewrote the state’s school financing mechanism, increasing school funding by several hundred million, but the Kansas Supreme Court ruled the formula unconstitutional. Colyer has said he favors keeping schools open and a financing solution that is affordable.
Justices gave legislators an April 30 deadline to draft a new finance formula, but legislative efforts halted on Tuesday when Senate President Susan Wagle and Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning announced debate on funding proposals would have to wait until the constitutional amendment proposal cleared the House and Senate. Denning said the House needs to send the Senate a proposal to pay for the chambers $500 million school spending package.
“We’re setting ourselves up for another tax increase, budget cut, and we went through that last year,” Denning told the Senate Wednesday morning. “I thought we fixed it. I would never have taken the tax vote to send us over the finish line if I new that we would be sitting here having this conversation.”
The House Judiciary Committee heard testimony on a constitutional amendment on Wednesday, and they are expected to continue those discussions this afternoon. According to Kobach, only elected representatives should have the authority to decide how much money the state spends. Kansas Supreme Court Justices are appointed by the Governor, who makes the selection based on a list submitted by a committee of attorneys.
Passing a constitutional amendment requires two-thirds majority votes of both the House and the Senate as well as approval by Kansas voters at the ballot box. Kobach said he trusts Kansans to decide how state dollars are spend.
“I favor a constitutional amendment giving the elected representatives of Kansans the sole authority to make the best decisions about the future of our schools and ultimately, our taxes,” he said in a statement.