Kansas Senator Challenges Judge’s Billion Dollar Tax Increase

Published March 1, 2004

On January 26, Kansas State Sen. Kay O’Connor announced her intention to work with “like-minded legislators” to block implementation of District Court Judge Terry Bullock’s proposed billion-dollar tax increase. (See “Judge Orders Billion-Dollar Tax Hike in Kansas,” Budget & Tax News, January 2004.)

In a December 2, 2003 ruling already beginning to haunt the governor and lawmakers in Kansas, Bullock declared the Kansas school finance system unconstitutional and gave lawmakers until July 1, 2004 to fix it.

Kansas spends $2.6 billion–about 52 percent of its total annual budget–to educate nearly 445,000 students. Total state, local, and federal funding for the state’s K-12 government schools approaches $4 billion.

Bullock’s decision came in response to a lawsuit brought by mid-size school districts in Kansas, which alleged their schools are underfunded and that small districts with largely white student populations get more than their “fair share” of school funds. Bullock announced his decision a week after lawyers made their closing arguments in the case, which was originally filed in 1999.

Karl Peterjohn, executive director of the Kansas Taxpayers Network, called Bullock’s ruling “judicial nonsense.” O’Connor agrees.

“Terry Bullock’s unconstitutional decision essentially nullifies the budget authority of the Kansas legislature, and replaces it with himself, an unelected judge,” said O’Connor. “The billion dollars Judge Bullock proposes to spend in the middle of a Kansas budget crisis will have to come from somewhere. It’s going to have to come from handicapped services, from public safety, from roads and bridges, from agriculture. It is going to have to come from higher education, from homeland security, from welfare, from health care. And above all, it’s going to come from taxpayers–from workers, farmers, and businessmen,” O’Connor continued.

“The representatives of these interests were not represented in Judge Bullock’s court when he reached his decision. But unless we act vigorously, they will all pay for that decision,” O’Connor warned in a January 26 press release.

O’Connor noted in the release, “I propose to design for the people of Kansas the same right that Americans enjoy under the U.S. Constitution, Article III, S. 2. That is the right to restrain judges from legislating from the bench, and the right to impeach those who don’t comply.

“Perhaps Judge Bullock should consider resigning. It would remove the specter of a billion dollars of judicially imposed, ill-considered taxes, and free him to run for the legislature, where he could participate in law-making without violating his constitutional oath as a judge,” O’Connor concluded.

John Skorburg is managing editor of Budget & Tax News. His email address is [email protected].