Topeka State employees and higher education got whacked Friday by House Republican budget-writers intent on funding public schools without a statewide tax increase.
The House Appropriations Committee recommended an $11.3 billion budget that would delay a 2.5 percent state employee pay raise from July 1 to March 12, 2006, and make a number of higher education cuts that officials said would essentially wipe out increases proposed by Gov. Kathleen Sebelius.
In exchange, the committee proposal would provide enough to fund a $115 million increase in K-12 school funding.
The recommendation was advanced on a voice vote to the full House, which may take up the proposal Wednesday.
Reaction was swift from Sebelius, higher education officials and workers at Kansas University.
Sebelius said lawmakers were making state employees "a scapegoat."
Reginald Robinson, president and chief executive of the Kansas Board of Regents, described the committee recommendation as "a profound setback" and called on supporters of higher education to restore Sebelius' budget recommendations.
Even Senate Republicans voiced disapproval.
"I'm not in favor of pitting higher education against K through 12," said Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton. "I certainly don't like the idea of taking money away from higher education."
"Hopefully wiser heads will prevail," said Dennis Constance, a custodial supervisor at Kansas University.
"It's a slap at state employees, but it also shortchanges the public because the state employees do the work that the state decides needs to get done," he said.
Paul Carttar, executive vice chancellor for external affairs for KU, said the committee action was "disappointing."
"The representatives of higher education will be doing everything we can to restore the money," Carttar said.
Down the field
But Rep. Melvin Neufeld, R-Ingalls, the committee chairman, defended the panel's work.
The reductions in Sebelius' budget proposal were needed, Neufeld said, to fund a House-approved public school finance plan without a tax increase and leave enough money in the state's reserves.
"This moves the ball down the field. We have a long way to go," he said. "The budget is only numbers, guys."
Earlier in the week, the committee removed $8.9 million from the proposed higher education budget; about $3.3 million of which would have gone to faculty pay raises at KU and other public universities.
On Friday, the committee restored that funding, but then cut $5 million from Sebelius' proposed $18 million increase in universities' operating grants.
The committee did away with a proposal by Sebelius to borrow internal funds to support a 27th pay period for employees, a budget anomaly that occurs once every 11 years. But in doing that, the committee said it would "sweep" millions of dollars that universities hold in special fee funds back into the state's general fund.
When the bookkeeping adjustments were done, some higher education officials said they were looking at an essentially flat or negative budget proposal from current appropriations.
"The committee is essentially pulling from the pockets of hard-working students and their families, the millions of dollars they pay for tuition, student housing, student health centers, and student activity fees, and diverting these dollars into the coffers of the state to pay for the general operations of government," Robinson said.
Democrats on the Appropriations Committee were dissatisfied.
"I'm just unhappy with it," Rep. Barbara Ballard, D-Lawrence, said. "I just don't think it sends any good message to state workers."
The Kansas Supreme Court has given lawmakers until April 12 to increase school funding and implement a more equitable finance system.
Republicans have said the court can be satisfied with a plan that doesn't increase state taxes. Democrats have said more funding is needed, including new revenue sources, and that Republican plans would increase local property taxes.