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State Journal: A very problematic little word

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A recent imbroglio among Kansas lawmakers suggests that perhaps legislative accountability should precede educational accountability.

Senate Republicans in Topeka have accused the House Democratic leadership of deliberately deceiving them by passing a technically flawed school-finance measure that would have allowed some districts to raise taxes to levels far higher than intended by the original legislation.

And the Democrats concede that their critics have a point.

"I don't have a good answer for that," said Representative Rick Bowden, chairman of the House Education Committee, when asked why he did not at least inform House Republican leaders of the glitch before the measure was heard by committee and debated on the floor.

Both Mr. Bowden and Speaker of the House Marvin William Barkis have acknowledged that, while they felt the Republicans were "making a mountain out of a molehill," they probably should have handled the matter more openly.

Under pressure from Senate Republicans, the Democrats admitted last month that they knew, long before the education committee considered it, that the school-finance measure, one of the most controversial of this year's session, was seriously flawed.

The finance measure, which governs the distribution of $530 million in state school aid, was supposed to limit property-tax increases by local districts to 3 percent a year.

A single incorrect word in the text of the bill, however, technically exempted some districts from that provision.

Republicans were further angered because, at the time that the House version of the finance bill was being debated, some senators were considering a proposal to freeze school spending--a move the House Democratic leadership strongly opposed.

An effort to correct the mistake was made by amending a separate piece of legislation that had been approved by a conference committee.

That measure was rejected, however, by the House.

And, before the glitch became public, the Democratic Governor, Joan Finney--who had threatened to veto the finance bill if lawmakers could not find some means other than property taxes to fund it--signed the flawed measure into law.

A second effort to correct the mistake by repealing the original law subsequently passed the House and is scheduled for a vote in the Senate.


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