Topeka — State officials on Wednesday recommended a 4 percent funding increase for higher education and expressed fears about possible cuts during uncertain economic times.
"We're in unprecedented times in many ways," said Diane Duffy, vice president for finance and administration for the Kansas Board of Regents.
"I'm not sure anybody is clear about a forecast," Duffy said. A downturn in the economy has reduced state revenue below projections.
The regents' recommendation would increase state funding to higher education by approximately $33 million for the next fiscal year, which starts July 1, 2009. That includes universities, such as Kansas University, community colleges and technical schools.
Regents members said that amount would only cover inflation.
The proposal will now go to Gov. Kathleen Sebelius' budget office for review. Sebelius will unveil her state budget to lawmakers when the 2009 legislative session starts in January.
"We are in the context of a very difficult budget environment," said Reginald Robinson, president and chief executive officer of the regents.
The regents also complied with a directive from Sebelius for state agencies to submit budget proposals that would reduce the current fiscal year budget by 2 percent, and the next fiscal year budget by 5 percent.
But the regents warned that such cuts - $16.3 million the first year and $56.9 million the second year - would have a devastating impact.
In its budget document, the regents stated: "At the request of the governor's budget director, the board submits this list of possible actions, but notes that the impact of base reductions of this magnitude would be crippling and institutional changing."
Under the 2 percent cut, schools would have to delay hiring and reduce equipment purchases. But the second-year whack would result in laying off 609 people and cutting educational programs, according to the regents.
KU Provost Richard Lariviere agreed such a proposal would have drastic consequences for KU.
He said state leaders are trying to determine how to navigate through tough economic times while maintaining high standards.
"How much will it cost to keep a university like KU competitive with the best institutions that we can compare ourselves to?" he said.
As something of an add-on to its budget request, the regents also asked for a 1 percent increase for faculty salaries, which would cost $8 million.
During discussion, several regents emphasized that the 4 percent overall increase was the board's main concern, and the 1 percent for salaries was put in there to remind legislators of the request by universities to close the gap between their faculty salaries and those of comparable schools across the nation.