Topeka — A move to plug nearly $50 million of federal stimulus funds into Kansas higher education was rejected Tuesday by House Republican budget writers.
Democrats criticized the decision, saying it could result in fewer Kansans being able to afford college, and fewer campus building repairs getting done.
“Stimulus money can’t stimulate unless it’s utilized,” said state Rep. Tom Burroughs, D-Kansas City.
“The Legislature cannot afford to turn down help from the federal government,” said state Rep. Bill Feuerborn, D-Garnett, the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee.
But Republicans said they needed more information on the federal stimulus package before recommending use of the funds.
“My preference is that we have all the facts together,” said Appropriations Chairman Kevin Yoder, R-Overland Park.
Vice Chairman Jason Watkins, R-Wichita, said he wanted to “make sure we’re doing it right.”
They said the issue could be reviewed again next week or during the wrap-up session that starts April 29.
The dispute represented the first dust-up in the Kansas Legislature over the use of Kansas’ share of the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which was approved last month by Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama.
Burroughs made a motion to put Gov. Kathleen Sebelius’ budget amendment into the Appropriations Committee spending recommendation.
The proposal would have added $49.6 million in federal stimulus funds to post-secondary institutions for deferred maintenance projects and tuition assistance.
But Republicans, who hold significant majorities in the Legislature, rejected Burroughs’ motion.
Democrats said they didn’t understand why Republicans wanted to delay a decision on the higher education stimulus funding when GOP officials already accepted stimulus funds for K-12 schools. Higher education has already sustained a 4.25 percent budget cut in the current fiscal year.
“I have not heard a good reason why we have to wait,” state Rep. Barbara Ballard, D-Lawrence, said.
Democrats said that there is a backlog of “shovel ready” deferred maintenance projects, that the funding increase will create jobs and that construction costs are low.
But state Rep. Barbara Craft, R-Junction City, and other Republicans said they wanted to wait until the federal government had finished writing rules and regulations for use of the stimulus funds.
“There’s a good chance that the money will be put in,” Craft said.
Another Republican, state Rep. Mitch Holmes, of St. John, said he feared the regents universities would grab all the deferred maintenance funds and leave none for the community colleges.
But Democrats said that the Legislature and Kansas Board of Regents have already approved a schedule of repair projects for all higher education institutions.