Thanks to the pending school-finance ruling, about the only thing certain about the 2014 legislative session is that it will open Monday. Overall, Kansans can hope that the Legislature will keep the offenses to a minimum as it defends the historic income-tax cuts, which promise to put more and more pressure on the state’s budget.
Gov. Sam Brownback will be able to tout some fiscal success Wednesday in his State of the State address from the finally refurbished Capitol, including a healthy ending balance and improving employment numbers.
But how the legislative session goes will depend a lot on how the Kansas Supreme Court rules. The court may side with school districts and second a three-judge panel’s order that the Legislature “begin to effect a cure to the constitutional deficiencies” by increasing base state aid from the current $3,838 per student to $4,492, costing at least $440 million a year.
If so, that will surprise no one. And if lawmakers make good on threats to ignore the high court, they could set off a constitutional crisis.
While we await the court’s decision, here are some dos and don’ts for the rest of the session:
• Do roll back funding cuts made to the Kansas Board of Regents institutions, while also correcting the funding mistakes made in the two-year budget relating to prisons, courts and other budget areas.
• Do something to remedy the mess created by Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s law requiring proof of citizenship to register to vote in Kansas, which conflicts with federal law and has left more than 19,000 would-be voters with incomplete registrations. If thousands of Kansas citizens can’t exercise their constitutional right to vote this year because of a paperwork rule inspired by the phony threat of voter fraud, lawmakers and the governor will deserve as much blame as Kobach.
• Don’t pass the proposed constitutional amendment to change the process Kansas uses to select justices for the Supreme Court, or otherwise undermine the third branch of government. Kansas needs an independent, nonideological judiciary, and the first test of the new Kansas Court of Appeals selection method – Brownback chose his own lawyer and didn’t release applicants’ names – didn’t provide any more reasons to change a merit-based nominating system that has served the high court and justice well for 56 years.
• Don’t do anything to interfere with Kansas’ ongoing implementation of the Common Core standards, and do leave curriculum and other such policy decision making to the Kansas State Board of Education.
• Don’t roll back the state’s renewable energy standard, which has helped Kansas become a wind-energy leader.
• Don’t continue the pattern of passing anti-abortion and pro-gun legislation that invites legal challenges and, in the case of firearms, becomes a massive unfunded mandate on local governments and other public institutions.
One other thing besides the court’s decision will guide nearly every move made this session: the fact that it’s an election year.
For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman