Tax-Averse Legislators in Kansas, Oklahoma Scramble for Education Dollars
Even amid severe budget pressures, staunchly conservative Kansas and Oklahoma lawmakers are refusing to consider raising their states' taxes, despite the implications that may have for their public school systems.
Despite weeks of special sessions, Oklahoma's Republican-controlled legislature hasn't come up with a way to close a $110 million budget deficit. Several of the state's districts have gone to a four-day week because of funding pressures and the state's teachers haven't gotten raises in years.
Kansas' state supreme court earlier this year said a $293 million increase in funding over the next two years toward its public school system (the result of a previous tax increase) was far short of the amount of money necessary to fulfill a constitutional requirement to provide an adequate and equitable amount of money for its schools.
Last weekend, Republican leaders in both states signaled they won't raise taxes in 2018.
Several legislators in Oklahoma went on vacation after Republican Gov. Mary Fallin convened another special session while pledging not to raise taxes (she says she can raise teacher pay without tax increases), according to the Associated Press. The legislature failed by five votes last month to pass a budget that would have raised tobacco, fuel, alcohol, and oil and gas production taxes in order to close the deficit and provide teachers with a pay raise. The legislature needs a 75 percent majority in order to pass a tax increase.
In Kansas, the House and Senate leaders said in interviews with local papers last week that they will not raise taxes to comply with the most recent court order.
"My senators are dead set against increasing any taxes to comply with the court," Senate President Susan Wagle said to the Witchita Eagle.
"There's not an appetite to raise taxes," House leader Ron Ryckman, a Republican, said.
Meanwhile, the legislature set up a committee to study the impact of cutting the budgets of other departments in order to pay for the $600 million estimated to satisfy Kansas' supreme court, according to the Associated Press.
"It may be that some of those other areas you mention which are terribly important but don't have constitutional protections may have to suffer," said Alan Rupe, the attorney for the school districts involved in the lawsuit.
The court threatened to close down Kansas' public schools if the legislature doesn't come up with a satisfactory budget by April of 2018.