Topeka — A group of Republican legislators Tuesday sought to delay a proposed $5 million grant designated to help efforts at the Kansas University Cancer Center gain national recognition.
But the plan failed by one vote in the House Appropriations Committee as Democrats and a handful of Republicans turned it back.
By day's end, Republican leaders in the House were distancing themselves from the delay attempt, singing the praises of the Cancer Center at KU Medical Center and throwing their support behind the $5 million grant.
The action showed deep divisions over higher education funding in general, with Democrats declining to sign a postsecondary budget subcommittee report. Democrats claimed Republicans were trying to micromanage the regents universities, including KU.
The major dispute was over a proposal by Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat, to earmark $5 million annually to assist KU in getting a federal cancer center designation within five years.
But a group of lawmakers in the Appropriations Committee sought to delay that recommendation until later in the legislative session, saying they wanted to see specific legislation on the matter before voting on the funds.
"We don't want to put the cart before the horse," said Rep. Brenda Landwehr, R-Wichita, vice chair of the committee.
But other committee members said the specific legislation, expected to be introduced this week, could easily be worked on while also advancing the funding proposal in the full appropriations bill. And they said pulling the funds out of the committee's budget recommendation would be interpreted by private donors to the KU Cancer Center that the state was backing off its commitment to the facility.
But Rep. Sharon Schwartz, R-Washington, pushed for a motion to remove the cancer funding from the committee's appropriations bill. The motion was defeated with 11 against the motion and 10 for it.
It was a nonrecorded vote, but area legislators Barbara Ballard, a Lawrence Democrat, and Lee Tafanelli, an Ozawkie Republican, voted against the motion to delay the grant. They were joined by all Democrats on the committee and several Republicans, including Rep. Kevin Yoder of Overland Park, who said the grant was one of the most important issues before the Legislature this year.
Later in the day, House Speaker Pro Tem Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, issued a news release in support of the KU Cancer Center.
"Considering the daily cost of cancer in Kansas is $4.4 million, a $5 million annual state expenditure to significantly reduce suffering and death due to cancer is one of the best investments the Legislature can make," Merrick said.
The division on the Appropriations Committee over higher education funding also was evident in a successful move by Reps. Becky Hutchins, R-Holton, and Joe McLeland, R-Wichita, to delete $800,000 from KU's proposed budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1 and $300,000 from KU Medical Center's budget because of a dispute about computer purchases.
McLeland said KU was not complying with a state requirement to provide project plans when it purchases personal computers.
But Rep. Tom Sawyer, D-Wichita, said the Legislature made a policy decision several years ago to give universities block grants to handle their operations.
"We are trying to micromanage their decisions," Sawyer said of the questions about computer purchases.