Archive for Thursday, March 31, 2005

Higher-ed budget praised, but union not pleased with state pay-raise plan

March 31, 2005


— A top higher education official Wednesday described a proposed $11.2 billion budget drafted by legislative negotiators as positive for state universities, but a union didn't like how it treats state employees.

The House planned to have a debate Thursday on the budget, for the fiscal year beginning July 1. The measure would increase overall state spending by some $400 million, or about 4 percent, providing new dollars to public schools and covering rising costs associated with medical care for the needy.

But higher education spending and pay raises for state workers proved to be among the most contentious issues for negotiators, who reached agreement Tuesday night.

Senators had largely followed Gov. Kathleen Sebelius' recommendations on higher education, which increase universities' share of state revenues by $34 million. The House diverted money from higher education to kindergarten-through-12th grade programs, reducing state universities' allocation slightly.

Legislative negotiators provided about $28 million in new tax dollars to the universities, making adjustments to reflect proposals on state workers' pay.

Reggie Robinson, chief executive officer for the state Board of Regents, said higher education faces "some nicks here and there" but fared much better than it would have under the House plan.

"We're not thrilled, but this is a positive step," he said.

Paul Carttar, executive vice chancellor for external relations at Kansas University, echoed those sentiments.

"At this point -- knock on wood -- the good outweighs the bad," Carttar said. "We have every reason to be relatively satisfied with how things are playing out in the Legislature."

But the Kansas Association of Public Employees was less pleased with negotiators' recommendations on state employees' pay.

Sebelius had recommended a 2.5 percent raise, starting in June, a proposal the Senate endorsed. The House had proposed delaying the raise until March 2006, so that funds could be diverted to public schools.

Negotiators agreed on a 1.25 percent raise in June, with an additional 1.25 percent boost in December. KAPE lobbyist Andy Sanchez said the proposal treats state employees like "an afterthought."

Sanchez noted that legislators can reconsider any budget decisions before adjourning in early May.

"I think this sends a bad message to the hard-working public employees we have throughout the state," he said.

But House Appropriations Committee Chairman Melvin Neufeld, R-Ingalls, one of the negotiators, said, "State employees were treated well."

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