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Archive for Wednesday, February 20, 2002

State budget cuts advance

Higher education, social services targeted for revenue decrease

February 20, 2002

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— They're holding their noses and doing it.

House and Senate budget-writers Tuesday acknowledged the state's increasingly crimped checkbook by approving a 4 percent cut to state universities. They also endorsed scaling back many social service programs.

Even as they voted for spending plans closely adhering to those grudgingly proposed by Gov. Bill Graves in January, they promised to revisit the budget bills but only after they decide whether to increase taxes or otherwise sort out the state's dilemma of dwindling finances.

Despite colleagues' pledges to revisit the bills, some lawmakers refused to play the budget game.

Rep. Bob Grant, D-Cherokee, in a bluntly worded minority report, called the higher education budget endorsed by the House Appropriations Committee, "a step backward from the important progress which has been made in higher education over the last several years."

The proposal was approved on a voice vote by the committee and will be used by lawmakers putting together the state's overall budget for fiscal year 2003, which starts July 1.

Lawmakers are facing record revenue shortfalls, now totaling more than $500 million.

The higher education proposal, as is, would:

l Cut state funds to universities by nearly $32 million, or 4 percent. That would be an $8.2 million cut to Kansas University's Lawrence campus and $5.1 million at the Medical Center.

l Not fund already-approved pay raises and insurance costs of $13.9 million, to bring the net loss to the system to about 6 percent.

l Not fund $45 million of higher education reforms approved in 1999.

Grant said the budget would result in higher tuition, increases in local property taxes and damage "a major force in the long term economic health of the state."

Rep. Barbara Ballard, D-Lawrence, a member of the Appropriations Committee, said the proposal shows the Legislature needs to adopt a tax increase to bring in more revenue.

"All of this depends on enhanced revenue. This (the cuts to higher education) is not what we want to do," Ballard said.

Kim Wilcox, president of the Kansas Board of Regents, said he considered the budget approved Tuesday a "base line" that will be added to.

"We have serious needs in higher education, and we are at a crucial time in moving the system ahead," Wilcox said.

KU Chancellor Robert Hemenway has stated that the proposed budget would hurt KU and other Kansas institutions of higher education for years to come.

Also on a voice vote Tuesday, the Senate Ways and Means Committee endorsed a budget for the Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services almost identical to one that Graves proposed.

The SRS budget would rise $19.6 million, to a total $638.4 million but many of the department's programs would be scaled back, including those for the mentally ill and disabled.

Senate Ways and Means Chairman Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, said: "We can't add any money at this point."

During the Senate panel's meeting, Sen. Paul Feleciano, D-Wichita, criticized the SRS cuts and said the state should protect its most vulnerable citizens.

When Senate President Dave Kerr, R-Hutchinson, a committee member, asked Feleciano where he would find the money, Feleciano said he had no answer.

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