Kansas legislators are starting to hit their stride, with three weeks of this year’s session now completed. With lots of the preliminary organizational work done, the various committees are now starting to sink their teeth into the more meaty issues of the session. Budgets, revenue measures and a variety of social issues are all finding their place on the legislative agenda.
KU’s budget will be among issues taken up at the Statehouse next week. Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little and KUMC’s new Executive Vice Chancellor Doug Girod will present testimony early Thursday morning to members of the Senate Ways and Means subcommittee chaired by Sen. Tom Arpke, R-Salina. If it is true that the early bird gets the worm, we will be successful as our hearing begins at 7:15 a.m sharp! Later in February, colleagues in the House will hold a similar review of the university’s budget and priorities.
While we’re grateful that our budget has not been recommended for reduction this year, we will be helping legislators understand the dramatic reductions that have been absorbed by the university in earlier years. Amidst the economic downturn of several years ago, state budgets for higher education were reduced to below FY 2006 spending levels and in actual dollars have held steady at about that level each year since. It’s imperative that our new legislators understand the state spending reductions that have re-shaped operations at KU and KUMC over the past few years.
In addition to reviewing KU’s budget, state policymakers are gaining a deeper understanding of the Kansas Bioscience Authority and its importance to our economy. New KBA CEO Duane Cantrell has made important inroads at the statehouse in an effort to “re-set” the understanding of this agency and its significance to KU, other research institutions and economic growth in Kansas. Legislators are responsive to his focused approach for the future, with many key lawmakers suggesting that they might appropriate additional dollars for the enterprise above the levels suggested by the Governor’s recommendations.
In the final analysis, though, KU’s budget and other important programs funded by the state won’t be advanced if there are not new financial resources brought into the state treasury. The Governor’s budget is based on the recommendation that the current state sales tax rate be maintained and that other income tax deductions be eliminated. If these or other revenue measures are not approved, lawmakers will be left no alternative but to reduce already lean budgets. In the final analysis, that’s where the major battle lines of this session will be drawn.
Meanwhile, other pieces of necessary but non-controversial legislation will continue making their way through the process. HB 2071, sponsored by KU to authorize the transfer of property between the university and the KU Endowment Association was heard and approved in the House Education Budget Committee.
There will be plenty of more controversial proposals on the state legislature’s agenda in the coming weeks, ranging from weapons on campus to tuition rates for students of undocumented workers. We’ll keep a close eye on these and the hundreds of other measures introduced for consideration. Hopefully, lawmakers will carve out time to keep at least one eye on the KU Jayhawks as they remind us all that Kansas is where basketball was invented!
Director of State Relations