Topeka The House Appropriations Committee Monday approved Gov. Kathleen Sebelius' higher education spending plan, which falls short of financing the current level of services at Kansas University and other state colleges.
Sebelius' budget proposal could lead to a significant reduction in the number of doctors in rural areas because of cuts made to KU's School of Medicine, lawmakers said.
"Closing down the training facility infrastructure -- collapsing around our ears -- just doesn't make sense," said state Rep. Melvin Neufeld, R-Ingalls, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.
But the committee approved Sebelius' spending proposals, noting the state was facing tough budget times. Tax receipts are running below expectations, the economy is stalled and spending needs have increased. The measure, adopted without dissent, will go to the full House for consideration.
Sebelius spokeswoman Nicole Corcoran-Basso said the governor's budget reflected hard choices.
"She doesn't want to cut anything, but these challenging times that we are in have forced her to make some tough decisions," Corcoran-Basso said.
Sebelius' measure essentially keeps funding for post-secondary institutions at the current level of $541.8 million in general tax funds for the next fiscal year.
According to the Kansas Board of Regents, that level of funding represents about $35 million less than what is needed to maintain the current level of services because $8.1 million in fixed costs, such as health insurance, have increased, and higher education sustained a $26.9 cut from last year's appropriation, which is used as the base for Sebelius' budget proposal.
Of the total funding for higher education, Kansas University and KU Medical Center will receive $230.4 million, about $16 million less than the amount needed to maintain current services.
The House Appropriations Committee noted its concern for several recommendations by Sebelius that will affect KU. The committee said those items might be funded when lawmakers take up the final budget bill at the end of the legislative session.
Sebelius' proposal to fund the Kansas Medical Loan Program will be insufficient to allow new scholarships in the next year, according to state Rep. Clark Shultz, R-Lindsborg, chairman of the committee's education subpanel. "Theoretically, there will be 30 fewer students to work in underserved areas," Shultz said.
Another proposal in Sebelius' budget would eliminate graduate medical education funding provided through the Medicaid program of the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services.
The proposal "is a great threat to the strength of the School of Medicine," said Glendon Cox, vice dean and senior associate dean for educational and academic affairs at KU's School of Medicine.
This funding is critical to maintain internships and residencies at Via Christi Regional Medical Center and Wesley Medical Center in Wichita, Cox said.
Lawmakers also expressed misgivings about a Sebelius proposal that discontinues $1 million that went to pediatric biomedical research at KU Medical Center.