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University cuts proposed as legislators look to close budget gap

Friday, March 15, 2013

The luck of the Irish took a detour around the Kansas Statehouse this week, with lawmakers scrambling to find "creative" ways to build the state's budget. Using blunt objects in many instances, the House and Senate budget-writing committees molded the State General Fund budget to fit a drastically reduced resource scenario.

This was especially true in the House Appropriations Committee where the budget package crafted there made the most severe cuts to higher education in modern times. Not only did the House package take $29 million from the state's colleges and universities for next year's operations, it also "swept" funds in our budgets and imposed a "cap" on overall salaries and wages. The most counter-productive part of that is the cap would apply regardless of funding source! House authors of this proposal are now (fortunately) working to re-write it and we are encouraged by that news.

Meanwhile, the Senate Ways and Means Committee pieced together its budget proposal, and while it also cuts higher education funding it is not nearly as extreme as the House proposal. The Senate measure, Senate Sub for HB 2143, would cut all university budgets by 2 percent. That's roughly $2.7 million for KU and $2.1 million for KUMC. The Senate bill also contains funding for the KU Cancer Center and the KUMC Health Education Initiative, but the proposed funding levels remain below what was recommended in the Governor's Budget. (Curiously, the House version of the budget bill fully funds both of these initiatives.)

The Senate approach to the state's budget is based on extension of the state's current sales tax and further adjustments in various income tax deductions. Thus, the Senate is looking for cuts of about $50 million below the Governor's budget. The House, however, is basing its budget on no new revenues. Rather, it takes $380 million from transportation funding and cuts spending by over $100 million. Frankly, it is so unappealing it isn't likely to even advance when considered by the entire 125-member Kansas House.

When lawmakers weren't scrambling for budget ideas, they turned their attention back to guns, abortion and liquor. The Kansas House advanced HB 2055, which broadens the public areas in our state where concealed carry is permitted. Kansas universities and public hospitals would remain exempt for another four years when the issue would be re-examined by state lawmakers.

Only one more week remains for most legislative committees to meet and consider various bills and amendments. They will spending the first week of April working out differences in measures passed in at least one house of the Legislature, as conference committees will formulate the final measures on virtually all measures debated so far this session. They're set to adjourn April 5, returning to the Statehouse a month later to consider any measures vetoed by the Governor or remaining budget issues left unresolved.

Chancellor Gray-Little, KU Cancer Center Director Roy Jensen, KUMC Executive Vice Chancellor Doug Girod, KUMC-Salina Director Dr. William Cathcart-Rake and others from the university joined me at the Statehouse this week as we continued our full-court press on behalf of the university's budget and policy needs. I'm pleased these efforts landed us in a much better position than when the week began. They are an impressive AND persuasive team!

Rock Chalk!

Kathy Damron
Director of State Relations



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