As a conference committee tries to find middle ground between a tax package passed by the Kansas Senate and one endorsed by the Kansas House, local legislators are struggling to keep some new money in state university budgets.
In its negotiations, the committee, which comprises members of both chambers of the Kansas Legislature, is seeking a compromise that will withstand a threatened veto by Gov. Joan Finney.
At least part of the fight, says Sen. Wint Winter Jr., R-Lawrence, involves fending off retaliatory actions by senators angered that, despite their opposition, a $126 million sales and income tax increase passed the Senate late Tuesday night.
"We still have $26 (million) to $30 million to make up," Winter said. "There are those who will try to take money out of regents in part for retribution and in part because it's a big budget."
WINTER and two local representatives, Reps. John Solbach, D-Lawrence, and Sandy Praeger, R-Lawrence, say they are working to preserve the House's version of the Board of Regents budget, which will fund state universities, including Kansas University. The House version called for a $120 million income tax increase.
Solbach pushed amendments to the regents budget on the House floor that increased funding for universities about $16 million above last year's funding levels. The Senate's regents budget was about $10 million below last year's.
Winter said regents funding currently is under attack.
"There's a little game being played by those who lost" the Senate tax increase vote, he said. "They want to get back at those who won. It's not unusual."
Winter said the current Senate version of the regents budget is "unconscionable." But he said a some pressure is off because of the tax increase measure the Senate passed.
"HAD WE not done what we did, it would have been disastrous," Winter said, pointing out that the cut in university funding currently is about 1 percent, but without additional revenues, the cut would have been 4 percent.
"And the same thing would have reoccurred for the next three years," he said.
Solbach said he thinks he can count on a commitment from House Speaker Marvin Barkis, D-Louisburg, to continue to support the House's version of the regents budget. But he agreed that if the conference committee does not make up the shortage in revenues, to fund public schools and keep local property taxes down as well as to balance the state's general fund budget, university funding could be cut.
PRAEGER said the level of tax increase in both the House or the Senate versions is insufficient.
"It does not solve the problem," she said, and added that she will not vote for a tax increase that does not solve problems in the state budget and fund education.
"I need to know what the cuts will be before we pass a tax package," she said.