Topeka — Gov. Sam Brownback's flat-funding budget proposal for higher education is a far cry from what the Kansas Board of Regents wanted.
But the regents praised the governor on Thursday, considering the state's tight financial situation.
"The important point here is the governor has made a policy decision that he is not going to support cuts to higher ed," said Regent Vice Chairman Fred Logan of Leawood. "He recognizes that there is no better pro-growth strategy than having a strong system of higher education," Logan said.
Chairman Tim Emert of Independence said there was no complaining from the regents. "We were anticipating that it could've been worse," he said.
But Emert said that if revenue proposals from the governor fail in the Legislature, the funding situation for higher education will get worse.
Specifically, Brownback wants the Legislature to make the 6.3 percent state sales tax permanent, instead of allowing it to fall as required by current law to 5.7 percent on July 1. And he wants to eliminate the mortgage interest tax deduction.
The state's budget crunch is the result of income tax cuts Brownback signed into law that lower rates and eliminate state income taxes for nearly 200,000 business owners.
Coming into the 2013 legislative session, the regents had requested a $47.1 million increase for higher education, which included a 1 percent pay raise for employees.
But essentially, there will be no systemwide increases for two years under Brownback's spending plan, although he recommended some projects get started, such as the proposed $75 million medical education building at Kansas University.
"Putting money in there for the health education building was really a critical policy choice on his part," Logan said.
Brownback has recommended $35 million in bonding authority and $10 million from the state over two years to build the medical education building and training facility at the KU Medical Center in Kansas City, Kan. KU has said it will raise private funds to make up the rest of the cost.
In seeking state help, KU had wanted the state to release $25 million that was returned from the federal government as part of a FICA refund related to payroll taxes paid back in the 1990s.
But the governor has recommended releasing only $10 million and depositing the other $15 million in the state's all-purpose general fund.
Brownback also has initiated a two-year budget cycle. On Thursday, the regents directed universities to propose tuition rate requests covering a two-year period. Rates now are set annually.
Under the directive, universities will provide a tuition rate request for the fiscal year starting July 1, and a "soft" tuition rate for the fiscal year starting July 1, 2014.
The "soft" tuition rate request could be modified by the regents at the request of an institution in spring 2014.
Regent Kenny Wilk of Lansing initiated discussion of a two-year tuition rate request, saying it could improve long-term planning, and dovetail with the governor's two-year state budget plan.
Aside from financial issues, the regents plan to oppose expected bills that would allow concealed carry of guns on campuses and seek to repeal a law that allows in-state tuition for some undocumented students.
Under current law, students are considered Kansas residents eligible for the less expensive in-state tuition if they graduated from a Kansas high school or received a GED, have lived in the state for three years and pledge to become citizens. There are approximately 600 students enrolled under the law at state universities, community colleges and technical colleges.
Logan defended the law. "It's also important for our economy because those students are going to have better training, better education, and they are going to be really great productive citizens here in Kansas," he said.