Topeka The Kansas Board of Regents has asked Gov. Kathleen Sebelius to submit a $47.7 million budget amendment as a down payment on repairs to state universities.
The action comes as lawmakers today start working on the final state budget and as available revenue shrinks because of natural disasters, a costly settlement with the federal government for Medicaid expenses and already-approved tax cuts.
"As you know, this is an issue that only becomes more expensive and more dangerous the longer it is ignored," Reginald Robinson, regents president and chief executive officer, said in a letter to Sebelius about the repairs at universities.
Budget experts met Monday to review state revenue and emerged announcing that the economy is in good shape but the state budget cupboard is bare.
And that means many critical areas - taking care of social-service waiting lists and fixing crumbling classrooms at universities - may get shortchanged.
Shannon Jones, spokeswoman for a coalition of human service groups, noted lawmakers approved tax cuts and expanded gambling during the first part of the regular session but failed to address key social service issues. And that concerns her.
Regents officials have been lobbying lawmakers all year to address the backlog of $663 million worth of deferred maintenance and repair projects. But lawmakers have failed to come up with any solution.
In his letter to Sebelius, Robinson said the proposed $47.7 million would pay for the top needs at each regents school. That would include $8.8 million at Kansas University to repair and replace deteriorating utility tunnels and $7.9 million at KU Medical Center for repairs at the Applegate Energy Center.
"If we intend to keep the best and brightest students in Kansas, we must invest in and protect our state university infrastructure," Robinson said.
Sebelius' office declined to say whether the governor would issue a budget amendment for the funds, although she has said in the past that the Legislature must address the problem.
Sebelius' budget director Duane Goossen said the governor will make budget requests today of at least $53.5 million to correct problems the state has had with the federal government involving Medicaid.
Essentially, the federal government has ruled that the state has taken too much money for Medicaid expenses related to special education, and it will cost $37.4 million to cover a decrease in federal funds coming to Kansas and $16.1 million to cover the reduced federal share going forward.
In addition, Sebelius will request approximately $20 million in disaster funds to help with repairs associated with a major storm that hit western Kansas.
Added to funds locked away for school finance and tax cuts, there's not much left.
Despite the financial strain, budget experts Monday said the state economy is in good shape, avoiding some of the problems experienced in other states.
Sebelius said the economic news was "very encouraging." She urged the Legislature to focus on health care and early childhood programs when it returns. The full Legislature starts its wrap-up session April 25 while budget committees will start work today.
House Speaker Melvin Neufeld, R-Ingalls, said that while $36 million in tax cuts approved by the Legislature put a squeeze on revenue, the cuts will, in the long term, help the economy.
"I am confident the Kansas economy will remain strong," Neufeld said.
The state revenue projections for the budget also don't include funds expected from expanded gambling, officials said.