Topeka Kansas University officials Thursday asked lawmakers to restore funds cut by Gov. Bill Graves, but several lawmakers asked KU to be more forthcoming about behind-the-scenes budget dealing.
Chancellor Robert Hemenway, Provost David Shulenburger and KU Medical Center Executive Vice Chancellor Don Hagen outlined funding shortfalls in Graves' budget for the current fiscal year and the next one that starts July 1.
Shulenburger told members of the House budget-writing subcommittee on education that with Graves' budget proposal "you can't help but cause damage to the mission" of the school.
On Feb. 19, Shulenburger announced a freeze on KU hiring and equipment purchases because of Graves' spending plan.
Graves has defended his budget proposal for higher education, saying that the schools were treated the same as other state agencies amid tough fiscal times.
Legislators said they were sympathetic to schools, but several committee members said they wanted more information from KU.
State Rep. Rocky Nichols, D-Topeka, said he was upset that he heard from the media and not KU about the possibility that KU could bridge some of the funding problems through the recovery of an overpayment on Social Security.
"We're in the dark on this issue," Nichols said.
An audit of KU finances found that the school might have mistakenly paid Social Security contributions for medical residents and some retirees, according to Secretary of Administration Dan Stanley.
Stanley has said Kansas may be able to get the money refunded from the Internal Revenue Service. But KU officials have downplayed the chances of that happening.
Several times at the meeting Thursday, Nichols asked KU officials for more information about the Social Security refund.
"There's nothing definitive at this point," Hemenway said. "There are people expert and skilled in these matters looking into it."
Rep. Bill Reardon, D-Kansas City, said committee members were not angry with KU officials, but need the information to make their budget recommendation to the full House Appropriations Committee.
Later, Hemenway said, he wasn't trying to sidestep Nichols' questions but didn't want to "misspeak."
"It's still undetermined whether this will be a source of potential funding," Hemenway said.
Earlier, the KU administrators said Graves' budget proposal was generous when it came to faculty salaries, but they said shortfalls in other areas were going to cause damage.
Graves' budget would increase faculty salaries by an average of 6.2 percent. But the governor also gave pay raises to low-wage employees and didn't provide the money for the raises.
In other areas, Graves' proposal shorted the base budgets of the six universities by about $6.1 million, did not provide any increased money to cover skyrocketing heating costs, and discontinued a state match of a student technology fee.
KU can absorb these problems, but the lack of funds will hurt the school's momentum in getting federal and private research dollars and making other improvements, the administrators said.
"It's certainly going to stagnate us," Hagen said, referring to the medical center's participation in the efforts to help the Kansas City area become a national leader in life sciences research. "As we stagnate, we miss the opportunity to get more federal money," he said.
The life sciences initiative has captured the support of Kansans from Topeka to Washington, D.C. U.S. Sen Pat Roberts, R-Kan., will meet Monday with state legislators to work on ways to get more federal research funds for the effort.