Archive for Monday, September 14, 2009

Regents have key decisions to make

Budget request for Legislature to be set this week

September 14, 2009

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Higher education officials this week will decide how much to ask for from Gov. Mark Parkinson and the Legislature.

The Kansas Board of Regents is scheduled to consider its budget request for the next fiscal year on Wednesday.

Making a budget request is a balancing act, but especially so during hard economic times.

Do you ask for what you think you can get, what you need, or what you want?

Do you want to be seen as a team player, taking your share of pain for the overall good of the state budget and recognizing the varied interests before the Legislature, or do you act as an advocate for your special interest?

Legislative budget experts are predicting a state budget shortfall of $530 million, but Parkinson’s team has said those numbers are pessimistic. Even so, unless there is an almost immediate and dramatic economic recovery, the 2010 legislative session that starts in January is going to be devoted to trying to balance an extremely tight budget.

Higher education has been cut 12 percent, or $100 million, over the past year.

That brings the current state general funding level down to $753 million, which is $6 million over the fiscal year 2006 level of $747 million. That 2006 budget is important because under the federal stimulus plan, Kansas is eligible for big bucks from the federal government if it satisfies a Maintenance of Effort level, which is set at the 2006 level.

That Maintenance of Effort requirement can be waived, but to do so, the state would have to apply for a waiver. So far, no one is talking about doing such a thing, but it could become an issue during the legislative session.

So what should the regents do? Offer to reduce spending further, but not below Maintenance of Effort level? Ask for a flat budget that keeps appropriations at $753 million? Or start talking about increasing the budget back to pre-cutting levels?

Whatever higher education officials decide, they will be competing against other segments of state government that have also been hit hard in the current crunch, including social services, prisons and public schools.

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