Secretary of State Kris Kobach said Gov. Jeff Colyer paid a $500 million ransom to the Kansas Supreme Court in a game that will never end.
Colyer charged Kobach’s position would force the closure of schools.
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The two Republican candidates for governor continued their feud in a debate at KWCH in Wichita on Tuesday evening with less than a month until the Aug. 7 primary election. The two men have been engaged in a political shooting war over the past couple weeks.
“The Supreme Court’s latest decision is going to call for another $300 to $400 million on education, hurting Kansas taxpayers even more,” Kobach said. “And that was after Gov. Colyer signed a bill paying a $500 million ransom thinking that would be enough. Look, this game is never going to end.”
Kansas lawmakers approved more than $500 million in additional funding for schools this spring that will be phased in over five years. In June, the Supreme Court said lawmakers are still underfunding education and should take inflation into account when setting spending levels.
Additional funding to account for inflation could potentially cost hundreds of millions more. Lawmakers have until next spring to respond to the court’s opinion.
Colyer said he worked with lawmakers to phase in the funding increase passed this spring so that schools could absorb the money and so that the state can pay for it without a tax increase.
“My opponent, Kris Kobach, doesn’t want us to put additional money into our schools. I think Kansas schools need that money, otherwise his policy will close Kansas schools, particularly our rural schools,” Colyer said.
Some lawmakers and observers have long held out the possibility that the Supreme Court could block funding if the Legislature doesn’t comply with its order.
Kobach called Colyer’s claim ridiculous and said Kansas needs to focus on where dollars for education are spent.
The two men also sparred over illegal immigration.
Kobach is airing television ads touting his opposition to granting in-state tuition rates at public universities to undocumented immigrants living in Kansas. Colyer said he would sign legislation prohibiting the in-state rates.
Colyer said he had visited with the Trump administration and would deploy members of the Kansas National Guard to the border if requested.
“I support President Trump and his efforts to secure our border. I think it is important we have a secure and safe border and that we regulate who’s coming in and out of the country,” Colyer said.
Kobach said he advises President Donald Trump regularly and had spoken to Trump two days ago. He said Colyer "didn’t lift a finger” on immigration as lieutenant governor and now as governor.
“This past legislative session, he could have called for those bills to be passed, he could have used the bully pulpit to try to stop our illegal immigration problem, but he didn’t do it,” Kobach said.
After the debate, Colyer spokesman Kendall Marr said the governor had a long record of opposing illegal immigration. He also noted Colyer had asked Attorney General Derek Schmidt to join a lawsuit earlier this year challenging a federal program that allows undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children to remain in the United States.
The debate also featured former state Sen. Jim Barnett, who has not participated in the Republican Party’s official debates because of a disagreement over the rules. At times, the event took on a three-against-one feel with Barnett, Kobach and Insurance Commissioner Ken Selzer criticizing Colyer.
“What has happened in the last seven years with the Brownback-Colyer tax experiment, tax disaster, is that mental health care has been systematically dismantled in our state,” Barnett said, responding to a question about arming teachers (he opposes it).
Colyer didn’t directly respond to Barnett’s charge about mental health care, but said arming teachers should be a local decision.
Asked later about taxes, Colyer said “what’s happened … has happened” about former Gov. Sam Brownback’s signature 2012 income tax cuts, which were largely repealed last year.
“I’m looking forward. I’m looking at where we are going,” Colyer said, adding that he can work with the Legislature to create a simpler, fairer tax system with lower rates.
Selzer said he would “lean in on costs so hard” that Kansas would be able to lower taxes gradually.
“Rather than like the Brownback-Colyer tax cuts where we cut the knees out of government and we couldn’t grow back into it. We can be more thoughtful,” Selzer said.
Kobach said the failure of the 2012 tax cuts was not cutting spending when taxes were cut.
“You have got to cut spending if you’re going to cut taxes,” Kobach said.
Patrick Kucera, who describes himself an entrepreneurial evangelist, said expenses must be cut. He called for triggers that would block spending from increasing when revenues rise.
“Kansas has sent a message to the entire business community all across the nation that we raise taxes and decrease taxes and it sends this message to the community of business of uncertainty,” Kucera said.