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A Douglas County legislator on Thursday blasted a proposal that would require university cities and counties, rather than the state, to pay for the backlog of maintenance projects at state universities.
Rep. Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, called the proposed bill "a terrible precedent."
"It's just an excuse for those people who don't want to come up with a constructive plan," Davis said at Thursday morning's Capitol Connections event at Cottonwood Inc.
Davis and five other area Kansas lawmakers spoke to about two dozen people who attended the event, which is sponsored by the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce, Aquila, AT&T and the Journal-World.
Several of the legislators said the $633 million in deferred maintenance was one of the main topics remaining for action when they return to Topeka later this month for the Kansas Legislature's wrap-up session.
Davis took aim at a bill touted by House Speaker Melvin Neufeld, R-Ingalls, that calls for counties with regents institutions to fund the maintenance projects with a one-tenth of a cent increase in sales taxes. Neufeld has said he sees that as fair because cities with universities reap benefits.
"It's the University of Kansas, not the University of Lawrence," Davis said. "All the people of Kansas have an obligation to support our state universities." He said deferred maintenance projects have been accruing for some time.
"Any legislator who starts blaming regents institutions for this problem has not been paying very careful attention," he said.
Davis also gave an example of other state buildings where maintenance projects have been taking place.
"Folks in Shawnee County wouldn't like the idea of having to fund Capitol renovations or state building renovations with their local tax dollars," Davis said.
Rep. Ann Mah, D-Topeka, said bringing Shawnee County into the argument might not work. That's because that county's residents are already paying property taxes for Washburn University, Mah said.
"I'm not sure if the folks in Shawnee County would have a lot of sympathy because they pay 3 mills to keep Washburn running," Mah said.
However, she agreed that the proposal was "probably not the best plan for funding maintenance, and I think we can come up with something better."
Lawmakers have been considering several funding proposals, including tuition increases and even a proposal to increase tolls on the turnpike. Davis said expanded gambling revenue could be used, but that funding wouldn't be available for several years.
Sen. Marci Francisco, D-Lawrence, said if the state wants to make local counties pay for the regents' building upkeep, it would be interesting to see how many millions of dollars of local property taxes the county does not collect on university buildings, such as residence halls.
Other lawmakers attending the 90-minute event were Reps. Barbara Ballard, D-Lawrence; Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City; and Roger Pine, R-Lawrence.