Monday, July 04, 2005

Back in the K.S.S.R.

I know I promised a "why I love America" post for today, but that will be coming later. Right now I have to delve into an issue that is another crack in our Constitution and another victory for socialism.

As you may or may not have seen in Sunday's paper, there is a crisis of government brewing in the fair state of Kansas. As the end result of a years old education lawsuit battle, the State Supreme Court has threatened to issue a court order prohibiting the funding of public schools, effectively preventing them from opening in the fall. How did things get to this point? For this, we have to go back many years, to the early 1990's.

Johnson County, KS, is an affluent county. As a suburb of Kansas City, it has a large tax base and is what you would describe as upper middle class. So it should come as no surprise that in the booming economy of the '90s, Johnson County felt that it should take some of that money and invest it in its future; namely, raise taxes and institute a special extra property tax for the express purpose of raising the funds available to its school district. The school district (surprisingly) actually used the funds appropriately and efficiently, and the Johnson School District became one of the best, if not the best, in the state.

On the opposite end of the spectrum are school districts in western Kansas; two, specifically. The school districts of Salina and Dodge City are located in rural areas. Their tax base is small in relation to larger, more urban districts, and the school districts are slowly but surely dying. In response to this, the districts did what anyone in America would do when they are under the gun: they sued. Alleging that the state failed to provide their students with an adequate education, parents and students of these two school districts brought suit against the state government in 1999. Behind all the smoke, mirrors, and rhetoric is this simple fact: the lawsuit was brought because the rural districts didn't think it was fair that larger, more affluent areas got to decide how much of their larger amount of money they wished to spend on education. The rural districts argued that everyone should be made equal; that regardless of their means, each school district should only be allowed to spend the same number of dollars per pupil. Does this principle sound familiar to anyone?

Here's the kicker: despite this stipulation that spending per pupil needed to remain somewhat equal, the taxes would not. Each individual county would need to keep contributing the approximate same amount of money to the state budget for education. Now, the court did strike down the extra taxes of the type levied in Johnson County, but even with that "relief," many counties in Kansas are going to have higher property taxes than the rural counties, and even those urban counties that do not are still going to be paying more, because (obviously) they are more affluent and have higher property values, more income, etc. So in addition to enforced equality, we have another tenet of socialism: income redistribution. Oh, and did I mention that several of these rural counties operate meat-packing plants, which creates a much higher level of "bilingual" (read: Mexican) students? I bring this point up not to be racist, but because the Court cited it as another reasoning for its decision.

So that's the socialism part of the story. Now, for the rest of it. In addition to declaring extra taxes for the sole purpose of raising education revenue illegal and decreeing that state education funding will be evenly distributed among school districts, the State Supreme COURT went so far as to set exact spending levels for education in the state. Originally, it ordered an additional $258 million, an increase of 10%, and held out the possibility that it would order an additional $568 million in the 2006-2007 school year. Now, it has ordered that the state bring its funding up an additional $143 million, to the $258 million mark, and that the state does need to come forth with the additional $568 million for next year. This money, of course, will either come from much higher taxes (greater penalizing the more affluent areas yet again) or from cuts in other parts of the budget (which will at least penalize everyone equally). Without either of these two courses of action, the state will be, in effect, bankrupt.

While I understand that courts issue orders all the time, in effect making law and enforcing the "law" of its rulings, I cannot recall any other time where a court has gone this far. An unelected cabal of judges is literally setting the state's education budget for the year. Just one more step on the way to statists uber alles. For the hell of it, since no one seems to do this nowadays, I took a look at the Kansas Constitution to see if it would have any application here. Lo and behold, I think it does. Article II, Section 24: " No money shall be drawn from the treasury except in pursuance of a specific appropriation made by law." Now, I need a legal eagle to help me out here. Does "made by law" refer only to the actions of a legislature? If so, it would appear that the Kansas Supreme Court is flagrantly violating its own Constitution, not that it matters a damn.

As for where the case stands now, the state legislature is frantically working to find a fix to the problem. Ideas like a Constitutional amendment have been kicked around, but the conventional wisdom seems to be that the legislature is just going to have to suck it up and obey the court's fiat.

For more on the situation, in addition to the AP article I linked to at the beginning of this post, go here, (registration required) to a Kansas City Star article on the issue, and here for a good round-up of the situation at freerepublic; it was written in early June, so its a big outdated, but provides a very comprehensive review of the situation up to that point.

For those of you wondering why I seem to know and care so much about the state of Kansas, its because I'm a Kansan at heart. My parents both grew up and attended college there (go Wildcats!) and most of my extended family lives in the northeastern part of the state. Speaking of family, I owe a big hat tip to my Uncle Mark for explaining the situation to me today. Any errors are, of course, mine.