Fall River — Higher education officials on Wednesday tried to figure out a strategy to deal with the new political reality — massive tax cuts signed into law by Gov. Sam Brownback and a more conservative Legislature elected with help from the governor.
During the Kansas Board of Regents' annual retreat, board member Ed McKechnie of Arcadia said if higher education officials try to lobby for their needs as they have before, "the folks who have been elected just see that as growing government."
Regent Chairman Tim Emert of Independence said, "We have a monumental task in an environment where everybody wants cuts." Higher education institutions have requested several high-dollar items, and the board is working to trim that down.
The regents budget request will then go to Brownback who will consider what to recommend to the Legislature when the 2013 session starts in January.
In the Republican Party primary last week, a group of moderate Republican state senators targeted by Brownback, the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and the billionaire Koch brothers was defeated. Many of those defeated legislative leaders had been strong supporters of higher education.
And earlier this year, Brownback pushed through reductions in the state income tax and elimination of income taxes on non-wage income for 191,000 business owners. Brownback says the tax cuts will fuel economic growth, but critics say it will short the state treasury billions of dollars in tax revenue, which in turn will lead to cuts to schools, social services and public safety.
Mary Jane Stankiewicz, director of government relations and communications for the regents, said the Brownback administration is telling agencies to be as conservative as possible in budget requests.
Given the election results and the phenomenal turnover of legislators in 2010 and now, "It's a brand new ballgame as we well know," Stankiewicz said.
But Regent Vice Chair Fred Logan Jr. of Leawood said Brownback has supported key higher education initiatives if they are linked to growing the economy. "You cannot have a pro-growth strategy in Kansas without higher education playing a key part, period end of story. That would be my message," Logan said.
Board members said the key to any success in budget requests winning legislative approval is to gain Brownback's approval and have him recommend the spending.
Emert said if Brownback doesn't propose a spending item in the budget, it will have no chance of passing the Legislature. "We need to tackle the elephant in the room," Emert said. "The list is too long, the numbers are too high," he said of the various proposals requested by the schools.
Kansas University is seeking $30 million in state funds to build a new medical education building at the KU School of Medicine in Kansas City, Kan. The debt service on the bond issue would be $3.9 million per year, KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little said.
KU has also requested an annual appropriation of $2.5 million to support a Kansas Institute for Translational Chemical Biology, which would be used in a developing new prescription drugs and medicines.
Other big-ticket funding requests before the regents include:
• $16 million in additional funding for technical colleges.
• $15 million for expansion of the Kansas Technology Center at Pittsburg State University.
• $5 million annual appropriation to expand agricultural research at Kansas State University.
• $5 million annual appropriation to improve the College of Architecture, Planning and Design at KSU.
• $5 million annual appropriation for a research synergy center at KSU.
• $8 million for community colleges.
• $5.25 million funding increase for the College of Health Professions at Wichita State.