The officials reviewing and negotiating state budget allocations need to get on the same page.
After the Kansas Senate passed its budget bill this week, the governor’s office praised the Senate for adopting her budget recommendations for both K-12 and higher education. But, wait. While that seems to be true of the K-12 funding, the governor’s office later said it appeared that Senate cuts to higher education funding were deeper than the ones she proposed.
The chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee said the Senate budget would cut the higher education budget by 6.8 percent, but the Kansas Board of Regents said it was more like 12 percent. Earlier in the week the House had passed a budget it said called for a 3.6 percent reduction for higher education. The regents say it actually represents an 8 percent cut.
Any trained facilitator will tell you that one of the first requirements when working to reach a group consensus is for everyone involved in the negotiation to accept a common set of facts. It appears that state officials aren’t there yet.
There is no question, however, that these figures are important. The regents have agreed to freeze tuition at state universities next year, but only if the Legislature holds cuts in their budget to a certain percentage. Federal stimulus funds also are at stake. The state must show it is funding both K-12 and higher education at a certain level to receive those funds. If it falls below that level, it will endanger stimulus funding the state is counting on to avoid further K-12 cuts and to fund delayed maintenance on university campuses, which will improve state property and create new jobs.
If regents officials are inflating their budget losses to create panic, shame on them. If legislators are spinning figures in an unrealistic way to make cuts looks smaller, they are equally at fault.
We understand that a wounded economy, the availability of stimulus funds and other factors are making this year’s budget process particularly challenging. Perhaps when House and Senate negotiators sit down at the same table they can sort the situation out, but they need to be able to justify the figures they use not only to one another but also to the governor, the regents and federal officials — not to mention state taxpayers.
Maintaining a strong education system, from kindergarten through college, will play an essential role in the economic recovery of the state and the nation. Let’s make sure we are working with real facts and figures as we make those important budget decisions.