Topeka Higher education officials on Monday said a proposed cap on salaries and wages and a 4 percent budget cut would hurt research, the Kansas economy and increase student tuition.
"You're signaling to the marketplace that the state does not see higher education as an engine of economic development, innovation and discovery," said Steve Warren, vice chancellor for research and graduate studies at Kansas University.
Warren said the proposed cuts have made top faculty vulnerable to "poaching" from institutions in other states because the signal has been sent that "Kansas is not a stable environment" for researchers.
Representatives of universities, community colleges and technical colleges spoke to the House Education Budget Committee about the proposed state budget that the House will be debating on Tuesday.
That budget, pushed by Republican leaders in the House, includes a 4 percent, or $29.2 million, budget cut to universities, and a wage and salary cap for state government agencies, including higher education. That cap would cost higher education another $18.1 million, according to the Kansas Board of Regents.
University leaders said freezing salaries, some of which are funded in part with federal and private grants, would devastate efforts to work with businesses and industry to expand research.
Wichita State University President John Bardo said the cap would halt negotiations between the school and major businesses and the federal government on several research initiatives that have the potential to bring hundreds of engineers and support staff to Kansas.
"This salary cap will make that impossible for us," Bardo said.
Larry Gould, provost and chief academic officer at Fort Hays State University, said, "That four percent cut hits us right in the gut in regard to our ability to keep tuition down."
Higher education officials reminded legislators that the system has been cut 15 percent in state funding over the past five years.
They said a 4 percent cut would reduce the number of classes offered, increase class size and end some technical course offerings.
Gov. Sam Brownback proposed a flat budget for higher education with some specific enhancements, but both the House and Senate budget-writing committees have made cuts.
Rep. Gene Suellentrop, R-Wichita, and vice chair of the House Appropriations Committee, proposed the wage and salary cap. On Monday, he sat through the hearing where the higher education officials expressed their concerns.
Afterward, Suellentrop said legislators need more information from the schools.
"As the No. 2 person on the (Appropriations) committee, responsible for the taxpayers' dollars in the state of Kansas, I've got to be concerned about: Are these programs things that are actually going to materialize? Are they going to grow the number of jobs? Are they going to get us return on investment that we are being told that they might?"
He added, "We're not trying to micromanage them. We would like to have a little bit more in-depth conversation with them about their growth and plans."