Court refuses to act on social service cuts

TOPEKA — Kansas' highest court refused Thursday to reverse cuts in social services imposed by legislators and the governor to keep the current state budget in balance.

The state Supreme Court rejected a petition from advocates for the mentally disabled, seeking to overturn $10 million in cuts in their state services. They also challenged Gov. Mark Parkinson's decision to cut 10 percent from payments to health care providers serving participants in the Medicaid program.

But the Supreme Court said in its brief order that it didn't have the jurisdiction to issue an order in the case, which wasn't filed first in district court. Also, the justices said, their ability to decide the case would be hampered by the lack of a detailed record of the facts.

Officials at InterHab Inc., which represents groups providing services to the mentally disabled, took some comfort in the fact that the Supreme Court didn't reject their legal arguments. Tom Laing, InterHab's executive director, said it was a procedural ruling.

"They chose not to rule on the law," Laing said. "They chose to defer it until there is a factual record — which is a punt, essentially."

Attorneys filed the petition with the Supreme Court last month on behalf of InterHab, three disabled Kansans and three groups serving the mentally disabled. Parkinson was the lead defendant.

The governor told reporters Wednesday that the Supreme Court's rejection of the case was "a good thing for the state," acknowledging that he's asked recipients of state funds not to file lawsuits over budget decisions.

He also pledged to do what he could to restore cuts in social services.

"That's probably the single area of state funding that I stay awake thinking about," Parkinson said.

Parkinson cut Medicaid rates in November after other state officials and university economists revised revenue projections downward. Other social service cuts were approved by legislators in February.

Parkinson said the state won't have enough money to reverse all the social service cuts.

"I think the best that we can do is restore the Medicaid rates that I previously cut," he said.

Plaintiffs' attorney Rodney Murrow, of Lenexa, said advocates for the mentally disabled are still considering how to respond to the Supreme Court's ruling.

"We'll look for the best forum to continue this fight," he said.