With state dollars getting tighter, officials hope to persuade communities to increase local taxes for public university improvements.
In return, the local communities will reap the benefits of increased academic and research activity.
That's the theory behind the proposed Johnson County Education and Research Triangle Authority, which, if approved by Johnson County voters, would benefit Kansas and Kansas State universities.
"We want to have a role in the new economic investment in research," said Mary Birch, coordinator of the triangle. "Higher education has great economic development potential for a community."
Earlier this year, the Legislature approved and Gov. Kathleen Sebelius signed into law a bill that could set up the Johnson County Education and Research Triangle Authority to impose taxes and divvy those funds up among three projects in Johnson County - the KU Cancer Center, the KU Edwards campus and K-State's food security institute.
The authority could impose a sales tax of up to two-tenths of a cent, a property tax of up to 2 mills, or both, provided the combination of revenue did not exceed the lesser amount of either tax by itself.
Birch thinks about $15 million in tax revenue would be needed annually.
But nothing will happen unless voters give their OK.
The bill requires the Johnson County Commission to determine within two years whether to submit the proposal to voters.
Birch said she expects such a proposal to be on the ballot in November 2008.
If approved, the tax revenues would start to roll in in 2009.
Right now, officials are putting together economic studies and a more detailed plan on how the money would be spent.
When proposed to lawmakers, officials said the funds would go toward a clinical trials unit in northeast Johnson County for the KU Cancer Center; a business, engineering and technology center for the KU Edwards campus; and a food security and research building at Kansas State University's location in Olathe.
Dr. Roy Jensen, executive director of the KU Cancer Center, said the proposed funding is important to the development of the center as it strives for designation as a national cancer center.
And, he said, partnerships with local taxpayers are necessary.
"That's the reality that we face today," Jensen said. "States probably can't afford to fund 100 percent of what we are trying to do, and they shouldn't have to."
Birch said she believed Johnson County residents would elect to tax themselves to improve higher education in the area.
"Johnson County has a history of supporting education. Many of our supporters liken it to the idea of starting Johnson County Community College," she said. "This is kind of that attitude."