Archive for Saturday, March 28, 1998

PASSING THE BUCK

March 28, 1998

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The hot potato of higher education governance now has been passed to the Kansas Senate. Hopefully, senators will toss the issue out the window and allow it to cool off until next session.

Many observers doubted whether the plan to restructure higher education in Kansas would get this far this year, but two bills that would overhaul the governance system have passed the Kansas House and are headed to Senate committees for debate Monday and Tuesday.

Senators no longer have the luxury of ignoring this issue.

The House first passed a constitutional amendment that would abolish the Kansas Board of Regents and establish a new Council on Higher Education. On Thursday, the House followed that action with approval of a bill that provides the financial means to implement changes in higher education governance structure. Even Rep. David Adkins, who chaired the select committee that drew up the new governance plan, said he was surprised that the second bill mustered as much support as it did in the House, passing on a 78-46 vote.

House Speaker Tim Shallenburger gave high priority to passing the higher education bill, and there seems little doubt the speaker was doing considerable arm-twisting on the issue. Shallenburger flippantly demeaned his fellow legislators before Thursday's vote by commenting, ``There aren't five people who have read the bill and they're the only ones who know enough about it to offer amendments.''

Ironically, some observers would argue that at least one amendment -- one allowing a $500 a year income tax credit to help offset the costs of post-secondary tuition and related expenses -- actually contributed to the bill's passage. It also might be speculated that some House members voted in favor of the higher education bills because of political pressure, rather than a real belief that the measure was best for the state. Some may have considered this a ``free'' vote, thinking that their vote on this issue would be nullified by the Senate's refusal to accept the measure.

Political maneuvering has been passing the higher education buck around the capitol since the beginning of the session. Now, with just a few days left before the scheduled April 10 first adjournment, the issue has landed in the Senate, where it hopefully will die for this session.

Senators have expressed reservations about the plan. As late as his Friday news conference, Gov. Bill Graves said , ``I don't think the Senate has the time and inclination to get behind the governance piece.'' Why are the people who will make this decision so hesitant to say ``no'' to this bill?

Graves also said Friday that discussion of higher education governance had been beneficial for the state. That may be true, but the Legislature now needs to put this issue to rest for this session so it can concentrate on other higher education budget measures that have been delayed by the governance debate.

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