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Topeka — Hoping to prompt the Legislature into funding $663 million worth of repairs at state universities, the Kansas Board of Regents on Wednesday appealed to lawmakers' political instincts.
The regents released a survey that showed all 165 state legislators have a "significant number of constituents in the counties they represent who attend a state university."
Reginald Robinson, president and chief executive officer of the regents, said that means "issues such as state university funding and deferred building maintenance are vital for each legislator to address in order to adequately represent the interests of his or her constituents."
Last week, lawmakers concluded the major portion of the 2007 legislative session after 82 days and failed to come up with a plan to pay for the repairs.
Legislative leaders have vowed that they will address the issue during the brief wrap-up session that starts April 25.
But the regents have been talking about the need for increased repair funds for years.
Recently, several lawmakers have criticized the regents for allowing the maintenance problems to get so large. Some, including House Speaker Melvin Neufeld, R-Ingalls, have said that counties with regents institutions should pony up tax funds to help defray the repair costs because those counties benefit greatly from having those schools.
But Robinson said, "There's often an assumption that state university issues are of less importance to legislative districts that do not have a university located in that particular place." He said he hoped the new report would debunk that idea.
The report showed that state Rep. Anthony Brown, R-Eudora, had the largest number of constituent students in his legislative district at 16,114. State Rep. Carl Holmes, R-Liberal, had the lowest number at 192.
Among the state's 105 counties, Johnson County had the largest number of state university students at 12,257 and Chautauqua County had 24, the fewest.
Brown said he understands the importance of higher education, especially neighboring Kansas University.
But, he added, that funding for higher education has to be balanced with all other issues, including state employee pay raises and pensions.
"I'm willing to look at some increased funding for deferred maintenance as long as we are not breaking the bank," Brown said.
In the Senate, Nick Jordan, R-Shawnee, which is in Johnson County, had the largest number of student constituents.
"I've always been a supporter of trying to solve the deferred maintenance issue," Jordan said. "I've toured those buildings several times and the problems are real."
Jordan said lawmakers just haven't been able to reach consensus on how to fund the repairs.
During the session, proposals to increase tuition, taxes and turnpike tolls have all failed to generate any political enthusiasm.
Jordan said he thinks most lawmakers are aware of the importance of universities to the entire state, even if they don't have a large number of students in their districts.
But Jordan said some lawmakers are concerned as to why the regents allowed the maintenance problem to grow so large. Regents officials have said the Legislature has failed to adequately set aside enough funds to handle maintenance.