What is House Speaker Kent Glasscock planning to say to his constituents at Kansas State University if the Kansas Legislature eliminates the promised increase in faculty salaries at the six state universities?
Faced with a state budget that spends $185 million more than revenue estimates now indicate will be available, Glasscock pointed last week to the 6 percent increase in the faculty salary pool as a possible place to make up some of the difference.
"I don't think the faculty ought to be spending that money yet," he said.
Other possible targets public school funding and salary increases for other state employees are equally unpopular, but the loss of the faculty salary funding would be a particularly egregious breach of faith on the part of state government.
The primary goal of the Higher Education Coordination Act of 1999 was to bring all of the state's post-secondary schools universities, community colleges and vocational-technical schools under a single umbrella. The plan was to bring better coordination and efficiency to the state's system of higher education.
But there were two major subtexts to the Coordination Act. State universities were somewhat fearful that they would lose some of their clout if other schools were brought under the Kansas Board of Regents. On the other side of the issue, community colleges feared that the board of regents wouldn't give adequate attention to community college issues.
To address two related issues and to gain the support of both groups, legislators took a two-pronged approach to uniting the schools. They pledged additional funding to community colleges that would reduce their dependence on local property taxes and they pledged additional funding to raise faculty salaries at state universities.
Only half of that pledge apparently is being taken seriously by state legislators. Reduction of property taxes in communities that support community colleges is progressing nicely, thank you. Washburn University also is reaping an increasing percentage of the state general fund pie. But salary increases for faculty members at the six state universities is being viewed as an optional expenditure.
This attitude is particularly insulting because state universities basically have paid for those salary increases themselves. Gov. Graves' budget included funding for the increases, but at least an equal amount of funding was carved out of other places in the university budgets. At Kansas University, that included the loss of matching funds for a student technology fee.
The first year of faculty salary funding was threatened last year and was only included in the governor's budget after the regents shifted more of the funding burden to students by approving a second tuition increase in a single year.
Meanwhile, legislators are shaking their heads and looking for sympathy.
"We haven't faced this kind of fiscal situation in a generation," Glasscock said.
Has it occurred to legislators that this once-in-a-generation fiscal situation is directly related to deep tax cuts approved by the Legislature in the late 1990s? And despite that fact, legislators are as adamant as ever about not raising taxes. Even in the face of the $185 million revenue shortfall, Glasscock said, "I still maintain that the House is not inclined to raise taxes."
So instead, they will shirk the state's most basic obligations by cutting university funding and allowing funding for public schools to fall further behind.
Glasscock isn't the only legislator who will be searching for the right words to explain that circumstance to his constituents.