Topeka Good policy, bad politics.
That's the assessment Kansas Board of Regents Chairwoman Donna Shank gave to the regents' proposal to increase taxes to clear up a nearly $600 million backlog of repairs and maintenance projects at state universities.
"We recognize the timing isn't ideal because it is an election year, but it seems there is never an ideal time when we're talking about this much money," Shank said.
Shank said the regents would introduce the proposal during the legislative session that starts Monday. The plan includes a proposed one-tenth-cent statewide sales tax, a one-mill property tax increase and the issuance of $150 million in bonds.
It would raise $1.5 billion in the next 15 years to take care of a long list of repairs at regents university buildings across the state, and provide enough for annual maintenance to avoid a future backlog.
Studies have shown there are hundreds of needed repairs, including some required to fix dangerous situations. Universities receive about $7 million annually for repairs, although estimates show about $74 million is needed each year.
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A regents report shows that maintenance needs on the KU-Lawrence campus total about $168.5 million; for the KU Medical Center that amount is $68.8 million.
"It's a critical issue, in my opinion, with life-safety concerns," Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, said. "We certainly would not tolerate those kind of conditions at K- through-12 schools, and why we would tolerate it at universities, I don't know."
But Morris and other legislative leaders concede there is little stomach for more taxes.
"If we don't pass something, I have a feeling the regents will turn to tuition increases," House Speaker Doug Mays, R-Topeka, said.
But Shank said that idea didn't sit well with her.
So, she said, the regents will present their plan to the Legislature and hope that lawmakers will suggest alternatives.
The deferred maintenance problem, she said, "has to be addressed at some point of time.
"We're just going forward and trying to set the politics aside," she said.
- Staff writer Scott Rothschild can be reached at (785) 354-4222.