Republican leaders, who hustled the provision through a conference committee without general debate, said the change is necessary to establish an "audit trail" they say is required by the recent Supreme Court order on school finance, an excuse attorney John Robb, who represents school districts in the state, termed "ridiculous."
The Supreme Court didn't indicate any concerns about the existing system for tracking property taxes going to schools, Robb said.
The effect will be to create a half billion dollar pool of money for education that will be controlled by the state.
Even though it won't be easy for the legislature to raid those property tax funds to bail out their own budget mess, it will certainly be easier for them to attach strings to — or delay — the return of the money without interference from the courts.
Given the State's erratic history handling money held for other units of government and Kansas' current financial deficit, school superintendents have reason to be concerned.
During the financial crisis, Gov. Mark Parkinson reduced state payments to schools as tax revenues plummeted.
Kansas also has been late with its payments to schools in the past.
Then there's the legislature's history with the Local Ad Valorem Tax Reduction money, once collected by the state and rebated to counties, that now has entirely disappeared. Clay County used to get $500,000 of that money, $300,000 going specifically for roads and bridges.
Today, property taxes make up the loss.
Neither is this good news for local community banks for whom the school property tax funds have been a significant source of deposits. The Kansas Bankers Association, which is supporting Brownback, can only hope the funds are returned, and promptly.
We believe the change has nothing to do with audit trails. It is about giving the appearance that more school funding is coming from the state instead of local property taxpayers. It is about control of education by right-wing Brownback supporters. And it is about punishing school districts and the courts for daring to challenge the legislature's funding decisions.
Given the legislature's recent financial record and penchant for political revenge and micro-managing education, school districts, banks and property taxpayers all have very good reason to be worried.
The Hutchinson News, June 18
Lawmaker's email shows ugly truth about lobbyist influence:
Thanks to one upset lawmaker, Kansans got a rare look recently at the inner workings of Topeka — and the tenuous relationship between lawmakers and high-dollar lobbyists.
And there wasn't a thing at all pretty about it.
This year, Rep. Scott Schwab, R-Olathe, didn't receive an endorsement from the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, something that has come automatically for the lawmaker during the past 12 years. But this year there was a slight wrinkle: Schwab didn't fall in line with the Kansas Chamber and the Koch Industries lobbyists that sought a repeal of the Renewable Portfolio Standard, which requires utility companies to produce 20 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2020.
In response, Schwab fired off a letter to his supporters outlining his suspicions for why the Kansas Chamber had turned its back on him after so many years of endorsements. By Schwab's account, it boils down to this: Koch Industries, which makes much of its money from oil and gas, wanted a repeal of the RPS. The Kansas Chamber followed suit and withdrew its annual support for Schwab and nearly any lawmaker who didn't unquestionably support the RPS repeal. Perhaps more telling is the way in which Schwab described the treatment, and thinly veiled threats leveled at him by those who sought the repeal.
Wind energy was one issue pushed by lobbyists and think tanks, but it certainly wasn't the only one. Education, legal reform, tax policy and a variety of other issues all have drawn the interest of groups like the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and Americans for Prosperity. And on each of those issues, those groups ensure lawmakers know how they're expected to vote, and the consequences of dissent.
And remember, Schwab's no liberal — he's a bona fide conservative, who regularly votes in the interests of Kansas businesses, enough to win years of endorsements from the Kansas Chamber of Commerce. But this year, when Schwab had the nerve to question if Kansas businesses truly sought the repeal, he found himself crosswise with some of the most powerful political players in the state — despite large support for wind energy from businesses and residents in Kansas.
So let's put aside all this talk about whether issues fall on the conservative or liberal side of the isle and face the fact that the political structure in Kansas has been turned on its head and does not serve the interests of most Republicans, Democrats or independents.
When a lawmaker says that a lobbyist "lit into" him for raising a question about who supported the RPS repeal, there's no clearer sign that lobbyists view lawmakers as tools who work for them. When those same groups feel empowered to affect and influence elections and are willing to support unknown and untested candidates, we should know that they are not interested in a government that represents Kansans.
A government that derives its power from the state's richest corporations can never serve the interests of the people. And a Legislature that falls victim and wilts to threats and bullying from high-dollar lobbyists has ceded the authority given to it by the people of Kansas.