March came in like a rabid lion at the Statehouse.
After spending a few days back in their home districts, Kansas legislators returned to the Capitol and an abundance of stress and frustration. There are no easy answers for our elected officials who understand the state is facing a growing budget deficit with a public demanding a solution. There's little appetite for the kinds of substantial budget cuts ($400 million and growing) required if no new revenue is produced. And yet many legislators believe they'd be "breaking faith" with their voters if they support legislation increasing state tax receipts.
In the end, most observers believe the Legislature will likely do a combination of budget cuts and increases in state taxes. But on any given day, just how those two policy directions balance out is anyone's guess. The next couple of weeks will give us all a clearer picture.
The Senate is poised to debate a tax bill next week, followed by consideration of the Governor's budget. The House will take up the budget bill first, followed by debate on the tax package. In a perfect world, the two measures would then be negotiated between the House and the Senate with a final resolution prior to adjournment. But nothing in this session fits the description of a "perfect world." Instead, it is entirely likely that the House and Senate will remain at odds over the revenue & budget measures until they return to do the final "wrap up" work in early May.
For KU and its budget, the work this past week has been encouraging. Thanks to outstanding work from colleagues like Theresa Gordzica, Steffanie Webb, Diane Goddard, Jeff Vitter, Tim Caboni and others, we have invested countless hours running down answers to legislative questions. The level of detail requested this month is unprecedented. While it has taken considerable staff time from already busy individuals, the inquiries give KU a golden opportunity to trumpet many areas of success and illustrate the gains we have made during a period of lean public funding.
One area of particular interest is in the commercialization of our research. A growing number of policymakers are wanting to see state universities create more economic activity in the state as a result of research investments. This morning State Senator Steve Abrams (R-Arkansas City) noted, "This is music to my ears," as he was briefed by Julie Goonewardene, Associate Vice Chancellor for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Growing the state's economy is of critical importance to folks like Senator Abrams and KU plays an important role in that objective.
When they weren't working on budgets this week, legislators took another crack at the state's concealed carry laws. The House Federal and State Affairs Committee advanced HB 2055, adding more public places where concealed carry of weapons would be lawful. For college and university facilities, we are able to operate under current law for the next four years. In other words, we have an exemption that has a four-year shelf life. One important element in the bill allows the chancellor to identify any individual or individuals who she believes should be allowed to carry concealed weapons in university facilities. The measure will be debated by the Kansas House later this month. And while we are grateful for the four year exemption, it is unclear what happens at the end of the four year period.
Kansas legislators will remain in session until April 5 when they will adjourn for a month, returning in early May to wrap up this year's session. Lots of ups and downs until then!
Director of State Relations