- Associated Press - Monday, March 31, 2014

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Rep. Marc Rhoades unexpectedly resigned Monday as chairman of the Kansas House Appropriations Committee, saying he couldn’t support the House Republican leadership’s school funding bill because of how much it would cost and the lack of control over how the money would be spent.

Rhoades, a Newton Republican, submitted his resignation to House Speaker Ray Merrick before the start of what was to be two days of hearings on a funding proposal aimed at satisfying a Kansas Supreme Court ruling issued March 7. Legislators are considering proposals that would increase spending by $129 million to meet a July court deadline.

Rhoades was not in the budget committee when a lengthy amendment was introduced Monday that linked the K-12 spending to that for higher education. He told The Associated Press that as the bill was being developed by House GOP leaders that it became more evident that he could not support the proposal.

“I’m a conservative. I want to use the money for schools as wisely as we can,” Rhoades said.

He said there were several amendments that were being developed from last Friday until Monday morning that he was not aware of until he arrived at the Statehouse. Rhoades decided to tender his resignation rather to try to guide a bill through the process that he could not support in committee or on the House floor.

“It made my decision easy,” he said, adding that he would still seek re-election to the House this year. “The decision was made for me when the bill was completely changed and had more things in it.”

The House proposal seeks to boost aid to poor school districts to satisfy the court. The court ruling was the latest in a case filed in 2010 by parents and school districts alleging that the state’s level of funding for public schools was unconstitutional.

The court gave legislators until July 1 to make the changes, though legislators are expected to take a three-week break starting Friday. It was unclear if a proposal could be adopted by the weekend or if it would hold over until late April when legislators return.

The fix is estimated to cost $129 million, but the House plan would fund part of that increase by adjusting transportation aid to school districts, as well as other tweaks to the funding formula.

Rhoades also said he understood the legislative leaders wanted to only address the immediate equity issues in the court’s ruling, but he questioned whether putting new state money in could be sustained financially. Tax cuts enacted in 2012 have reduced the amount of available state revenue over the next three years, with legislative researchers projecting shortfalls by 2018.

Speaker Merrick, a Stilwell Republican who has been negotiating the plan with GOP Senate leaders and Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, said he regretted Rhoades‘ decision.

“I respect Marc and had complete faith in his abilities as chair,” Merrick said. “However, we will continue to move forward and work on an education plan that makes school funding equitable across the state

Merrick named Rep. Gene Suellentrop, a Wichita Republican as chairman, and Rep. Marvin Kleeb, an Overland Park Republican, as vice chairman. GOP Rep. Joe Seiwert of Pretty Prairie takes Rhoades‘ place on the committee.

Rep. Jerry Henry, ranking Democrat on the committee who is from Cummins, said he understood Rhoades‘ concerns, raising his own doubts that Kansas can afford additional school spending.

Henry said changing committee chairmen would affect the flow of the process as legislators push to meet the short deadline.

“It will make things awkward. It caught me by complete surprise,” Henry said. “It’s tough when you change horses in the process, probably even tougher when you change the lead horse.”

The Senate introduced a plan Monday morning drafted by its GOP leaders and hearings were expected to begin Tuesday in the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

Sen. Ty Masterson, an Andover Republican and chairman of the committee, said the goal was still to have the plan finished on time and that Rhoades‘ resignation should not change those plans.

“I don’t think it affects how I’m moving forward. It just means I have someone different to negotiate with later on the bill,” he said. “I’m not particularly surprised.”

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