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Topeka — The idea of having counties where regents universities are located increase local property taxes to help pay for $660 million in university repairs is picking up steam in the Legislature.
"The universities are a great economic benefit for those communities that host them," Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, said Friday.
"I don't think it's wrong to ask communities to share at least in some small way with this problem," Morris said.
Morris' comments came at the midway point of the 2007 legislative session.
Lawmakers have yet to come to an agreement on how to pay for a mammoth backlog of repairs and maintenance projects that have accumulated over the years at the six regents universities, including Kansas University.
Morris noted that the cities of Wichita and Topeka already assess local property taxes to help support Wichita State University and Washburn University.
House Speaker Melvin Neufeld, R-Ingalls, and House Democratic Leader Dennis McKinney, of Greensburg, also said such a proposal should be considered in the other counties where regents institutions are located.
Costs of universities
Sen. Marci Francisco, D-Lawrence, however, said she wouldn't be interested in such a plan.
"Property taxes are too high," Francisco said.
Francisco said legislators also must consider that while universities provide many benefits to their home counties, they also increase costs in public services.
"I hope the Legislature takes its responsibility for some of this funding rather than just identify other people who could spend money on this," she said.
"If we're looking at tuition, we're putting it on students," she said. "If we're looking at local property taxes, we're putting it on that unit of government."
So far this session, the House has approved a measure that would free up $15 million in additional funds per year for maintenance. Neufeld said House Republicans will provide an additional measure soon, but said the details hadn't been worked out yet.
Gov. Kathleen Sebelius has proposed a plan to increase turnpike tolls and borrow funds to provide $575 million over six years. The toll proposal has been panned, but House and Senate leaders say borrowing funds could be part of the mix.
And a Senate task force has issued a report that includes numerous funding ideas, including increasing student fees, property taxes and even expanded casino gambling.
Morris said he would favor dedicating casino gambling revenue to university maintenance.
Morris said a plan that provides the regents universities with $100 million per year for maintenance and repairs would be enough.