Topeka Kansas higher education officials on Wednesday thanked the 14 chambers of commerce that said they could support a tax increase to help resolve the budget crisis.
In a letter to the leaders of those local chambers, the Kansas Board of Regents said it “will take the next decade” to recover from budget cuts already made to higher education.
The letter said further cuts will jeopardize important federal funding “that has served as a life-preserver for our state’s higher education system.”
Kansas legislators are at an impasse over how to fix a projected $450 million budget hole for the fiscal year that starts July 1.
Nearly $1 billion has been cut from what was once a $6.4 billion budget. That includes $106 million, or 13 percent cut from higher education.
Gov. Mark Parkinson, a Democrat, has called for a tax increase to bridge the remaining shortfall, but House Republican leaders and the statewide Kansas Chamber of Commerce have opposed any tax increase.
Last month, 14 local chambers broke ranks from the statewide chamber position, and wrote state leaders, saying they were concerned that further substantial cuts would hurt business development by doing permanent harm to the quality of life in Kansas, which they said includes education and transportation.
“If revenues must be enhanced for basic government services, our chambers can support rational state revenue enhancements,” the chambers wrote.
The chambers that signed the letter were: Arkansas City, Dodge City, Emporia Area, Grant County, Greater Kansas City, Greater Topeka, Hutchinson-Reno County, Hays Area, Kansas City, Kan., Manhattan Area, Northeast Johnson County, Olathe, Overland Park and Salina Area.
Higher education officials agreed with the local chambers. “It is heartening to know that we all share the recognition that healthy local businesses are essential for a thriving economy and that a healthy Regents system — equipped to meet the state’s demand for a well-trained workforce — is essential for businesses to reach their full potential,” the regents’ letter stated. It was signed by Regent Chair Jill Docking, Vice Chair Gary Sherrer and Regent President and Chief Executive Officer Reginald Robinson.
The regents’ letter states that because of recent budget cuts, more than 1,000 employees and positions have been laid off, held vacant or eliminated and more than 450 academic programs have been eliminated.
“Tuition has increased, institutions are now turning away qualified Kansans from high demand programs, and some institutions are considering enrollment caps,” the regents’ letter stated.
Legislators return to session on April 28 to put together a state budget.