Topeka Higher education officials are telling lawmakers that as much as they'd like them to adopt a research facility plan, their schools really need more funds to avoid cutting budgets.
"Equally important, if not more so, are the budget shortfalls," Janet Murguia, executive vice chancellor at Kansas University, said Wednesday.
Under Gov. Bill Graves' proposed budget for the next fiscal year, public universities, community colleges and vocational-technical schools would take about a $20 million hit.
Another budget plan that is before the state Senate would cut higher education about $8 million in the current fiscal year and $27 million the next.
"These are the worst budgets for higher education in the history of Kansas," Murguia said.
But so far, much of the Legislature's attention has been on a proposal to issue bonds to build research facilities at KU, Kansas State University and Wichita State University.
In fact, most legislators took a trip Jan. 17 to Manhattan to hear a briefing on the proposal. The measure has gotten widespread support from legislative leaders, who say it is needed to help Kansas draw federal research funds.
Under the proposal, the state would back bonds to provide $60 million to KU for a biomedical research center, $45 million to KSU for a food safety facility and $10 million to WSU for expanded aviation engineering.
While officials from KU and other schools are pushing for the research proposal, they say they don't want the Legislature to forget about immediate funding needs.
Another item cut from budgets before the Legislature is about $46 million promised earlier to increase faculty salaries and help community colleges.
"That still needs to be the priority of the Kansas Board of Regents," said Sheila Frahm, executive director of the Kansas Association of Community Colleges.
Murguia said she hoped the need for funding was not getting lost during the legislative session, although she conceded lawmakers were inundated with budget requests.
In a hearing before the House budget writing committee, Clay Blair, chairman of the Kansas Board of Regents, spent most of his testimony dealing with the research facility bill.
But he added that the regents' No. 1 priority was to restore the base budget cuts to higher education.
Lawmakers are battling over how to bridge a $426 million revenue shortfall. Graves has called for tax increases, while some legislators have called for further budget cuts.
Inclement weather postponed a Senate vote Wednesday on a plan that would cut higher education and social services. The proposal is expected to be debated next week.