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Archive for Friday, February 15, 2002

House panel OKs higher-ed cuts

Members say they’ll fight cuts if proposal makes it to floor for debate

February 15, 2002

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— An education budget committee Thursday held its nose and recommended cuts in higher education cuts that Kansas University Chancellor Robert Hemenway said would put KU in peril.

All the committee members Republican and Democrat said they would fight the proposal later on while crafting a budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1.

But Republicans, who hold the majority, said they needed to approve a committee report to advance the budget process.

The committee report probably will be officially adopted Monday and given to the House Appropriations Committee, which will consider it Tuesday.

Lawmakers are starting to put together a state budget amid a $426 million revenue shortfall that is expected to grow, with no consensus on whether or how to raise new revenue.

The committee proposal mirrors a budget submitted and immediately condemned by Gov. Bill Graves at the start of the 2002 legislative session. Graves said the budget fulfilled his duty to provide a spending plan within available revenue, but that the funding levels were inadequate. He has proposed $228 million in increased taxes.

Other tax proposals have been introduced, but without agreement on the horizon, several committee members said they must push forward a higher education budget request without an increase in revenue.

Rep. Bill Reardon, D-Kansas City, said he would support advancing the committee report but would reject it later.

"I will not vote for this budget on the floor (of the House). I will hold out for more money," said Reardon, who has introduced a $316 million tax bill.

Rep. Clark Shultz, R-Lindsborg and chairman of the committee, said he agreed.

"I don't think there is anyone on this committee satisfied with where we are," he said.

Generally, the proposal would cut universities' spending by about 4 percent and does not include $46 million for faculty salary increases that was promised under a 1999 higher education reform bill.

"This is a retreat from important investments in higher education," said Rep. Rocky Nichols, D-Topeka.

Rep. Ralph Tanner, R-Baldwin, agreed, but said, "We have no identifiable source of funding in the gaps. I don't expect this recommendation to last throughout the session."

KU's Hemenway told the committee earlier this week that such a budget would harm KU and higher education in general for years.

"We would be liars if we told you there will be no ill effects," Hemenway said. "These could include layoffs of existing staff, fewer and more-crowded classes, the elimination or severe reduction of basic services for students and the public, and the shutting down of some academic and outreach programs.

"It would also mean our students and faculty will use computer equipment that's out of date, our ability to support economic development activities will be limited, and the overall quality of a KU education will decline for current and future students."

Shultz said he hoped the committee's action would wake up members of the Legislature who say that some are over-stating the state's worsening financial condition.

"Hopefully this will send a signal," he said.

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