- Actionon deferred maintenance likely to be postponed (04-03-07)
- House,governor split over repair costs (04-01-07)
- HouseBill 2593 (.pdf)
- Challengeto gambling expansion expected (03-29-07)
- Gamblingsupporters, opponents use various tactics to delay vote (03-29-07)
- Universitytowns could see higher taxes (03-29-07)
- Billwould raise local taxes, tuition to pay for university maintenance(03-28-07)
- Regentsreport says repairs would help state economy (03-23-07)
Topeka House Speaker Melvin Neufeld said Wednesday that because Lawrence benefits from having Kansas University, it should help pay for it with higher taxes.
"Lawrence would kind of be like Maple Hill if KU wasn't there," Neufeld, R-Ingalls, said at a news conference. Maple Hill is a town of about 500 people located 45 miles west of Lawrence.
Neufeld was speaking in favor of House Bill 2593 that would authorize counties with regents institutions to increase their sales tax by one-tenth of a cent to help pay for repairs and maintenance at universities.
Universities have said they have a backlog of hundreds of repairs worth $663 million.
Numerous proposals to help pay for those projects went nowhere during the first part of the legislative session, which ended Wednesday.
Lawmakers will return for a wrap-up session April 25, during which Neufeld and other key lawmakers said adopting a plan for the universities' repairs would be a top priority.
"That will be one of the big issues that will have to be resolved," he said.
Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt, R-Independence, and House Minority Leader Dennis McKinney, D-Greensburg, agreed that local taxes for regents schools should be considered.
But Schmidt said so far a solution has been elusive.
He said the House plan won't solve the problem, and Gov. Kathleen Sebelius' proposal to pay for the repairs through increased turnpike tolls is politically unpopular.
"We're waiting to put a proposal on the table when we've figured out what can actually solve the problem and will pass. We're not there yet," Schmidt said.
He said a Senate bill that would allow counties to set up taxing authorities in regents counties to fund specific higher education projects could be part of the solution.
"The ultimate package is going to have to be a balance of different approaches," Schmidt said.
Schmidt said part of the reason for the impasse is that the cost of repairs is so large.
But Neufeld blamed the Kansas Board of Regents for why no plan had been adopted yet.
He said the regents opposed the House bill, which also would have provided $75 million in debt relief to free up funds for repairs.
And then, he said, the regents issued a news release saying it would receive revenue for repairs from the expanded gambling legislation.
"It kind of put things in chaos," he said.
Regents president and chief executive officer Reginald Robinson said Neufeld had mischaracterized the regents' position.
The regents supported the debt-relief portion of the House bill on repairs and had simply noted in the gambling news release that revenue from expanded gambling could go to infrastructure improvements, and the regents' repair needs were crucial. The news release wasn't meant to imply that the new gambling bill would solve the regents' needs, he said.
Neufeld did say that another portion of the bill, which would increase tuition for nonresidents, would probably be deleted from the bill.
Robinson said he was glad to hear that and remained optimistic that the Legislature would put together a plan to address deferred maintenance.
"Policy leaders are seeing the need to arrive at some significant solution, but it's a difficult challenge," he said.
In addition to opposition from the regents on the sales tax proposal, critics have said the House bill doesn't come close to providing enough revenue.
Douglas County Administrator Craig Weinaug said a one-tenth of a cent sales tax increase in Douglas County would raise $1.4 million per year, much less than KU's share of the deferred maintenance projects, which is $260 million.
Even so, Neufeld said the state's community colleges rely on local taxes because those local economies benefit from having the schools. The same reasoning should apply to the state's major universities, he said.