The Wichita Eagle File photo
The Wichita Eagle File photo

Government & Politics

KU, K-State could see some state funding restored

By Jonathan Shorman

jshorman@wichitaeagle.com

March 22, 2017 02:22 PM

UPDATED March 22, 2017 10:22 PM

TOPEKA

Lawmakers have endorsed a plan that would boost funding for the University of Kansas and Kansas State University next year, and all public universities the year after.

The Senate’s budget committee voted to include bumps for KU and K-State as it crafted spending levels Wednesday for the next two fiscal years.

The Ways and Means Committee is expected to vote on the legislation Thursday. If it passes, it will head to the Senate floor.

The plan partially reverses a funding cut to public universities made by Gov. Sam Brownback last year. The overall budget bill also would give state workers a 2 percent raise. And it makes no cuts to state agencies.

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“I think it’s a pretty good product and I think it addresses many issues that have come up short or not been addressed in the last four years,” said Sen. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick, the committee chairwoman.

Sen. Laura Kelly, the ranking Democrat on the committee, sounded a similar note.

“I think, given the circumstances, it’s not bad,” Kelly said.

Kansas faces a budget gap over the next two years of about $1.1 billion. Right now the bill would still leave the state at least $268 million in the hole next year.

But senators are anticipating the Legislature will pass a bill raising taxes before the end of the session. Previous legislation to raise personal income tax rates and once again tax some business income easily passed the House and Senate but was vetoed by Brownback.

Sen. John Doll, R-Garden City, said he would like to know how much money the state has before setting spending levels.

“The way it looks right now, we’re broke. And I don’t want to be broke. I want money. You’ve got to raise revenue,” Doll said.

Kansas faces a budget gap over the next two years of about $1.1 billion.

Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, R-Overland Park, cautioned other senators against adding new spending into the budget for the 2018 fiscal year, which begins July 1. He cited concerns over a number of variables – including a new revenue forecast next month that could change the amount of tax dollars Kansas expects to collect.

“I am very nervous. On a scale of 1 to 10, I’m a 10,” Denning said.

Higher education

Brownback cut state aid to higher education institutions by 4 percent last May as part of efforts to balance the budget.

Each state institution received a different percentage cut, however. KU and K-State were cut by 5.1 percent. The cut represented a loss of about $7 million for KU and $5.2 million for K-State.

I am very nervous. On a scale of 1 to 10, I’m a 10.

Jim Denning, R-Overland Park

Wichita State University saw a 3.8 percent cut, and Emporia State University was cut 2.7 percent. Fort Hays State University was cut 3.1 percent. Pittsburgh State University received a 2.8 percent cut.

The difference between the cuts prompted charges of unfairness. But state budget director Shawn Sullivan said at the time he didn’t think a budget would have passed without the provision.

Under the amendment adopted by the Ways and Means Committee, KU would see about $1.5 million in funding restored. K-State would receive about $1.12 million in funding restored.

The extra funding would be enough to take what had been a 5.1 percent cut for the two universities to a 4 percent cut.

In the following year, all the schools would see their funding restored to a level that is 3 percent below the budgeted amount in 2016, before Brownback made cuts.

The funding for the increases will be taken from a Board of Regents teacher scholarship program, said Sen. Vicki Schmidt, R-Topeka.

Pay raise

Ways and Means voted to give state employees a 2 percent across-the-board raise next year. The increase would require about $22 million in additional general fund spending.

The panel opted for a 2 percent bump after Kelly floated the possibility of giving workers who are part of the state’s civil service system a larger increase.

Under her plan, workers in the civil service system would have received a 6.5 percent raise while others would have received a 1.5 percent increase.

Jonathan Shorman: 785-296-3006, @jonshorman