Topeka Kansas Board of Regents members, who carry deep political connections, are trying to connect with the incoming Kansas Legislature, which features dozens of freshmen who aren't knowledgeable about Statehouse politics, but will be deciding key issues for higher education.
"The learning curve is huge," said Mary Jane Stankiewicz, director of governmental relations and communications for the regents.
"There are lots of new faces in all different places. We are trying our best to get out ahead of the curve on some of these topics and issues," Stankiewicz said Thursday.
The regents have held several "meet and greets" with legislators and plan several more before the 2013 session starts Jan. 14.
In the 125-member House, there will be 50 new members. The 40-member Senate has 16 new members, although 12 of those have served previously in the House. Leadership in both chambers and on numerous committee chairs also has changed.
Republicans hold overwhelming majorities; 92-33 in the House and 32-8 in the Senate.
And by most accounts, majorities in the House and Senate will be conservative and more in line with Gov. Sam Brownback.
Higher education has several key issues before the Legislature, one of the most important of which is funding.
The regents have requested a $47.1 million increase in state funding, while Brownback's Division of the Budget has recommended a $48.7 million cut.
Kansas University also has lobbied heavily for a $30 million state commitment to help it build a new $75 million medical education building.
Brownback will make his final budget recommendation when the session starts, but money will be tight because of tax cuts signed into law by the governor.
The top tax rate will drop to 4.9 percent from 6.45 percent, and the state will exempt the owners of 191,000 businesses from state income taxes. Legislative researchers project the tax cuts will create deficits of $2.5 billion over six years.
Other issues related to higher education are bound to crop up during the session, such as efforts to repeal in-state tuition for some undocumented students, and to allow concealed carry of a gun on campuses.
Regents Vice Chairman Fred Logan of Leawood said he has traveled quite a bit since the election to meet with new legislators.
Regent Dan Lykins of Topeka, a longtime Democratic Party worker, asked Logan, a Republican, if he told any of the new legislators "how to find a Democrat."
Logan replied, "I have been meeting with Democrats as well."