Topeka — With only Republican votes, the House on Tuesday gave preliminary approval to a budget that would cut higher education by 4 percent, keep public school funding flat and reduce dollars in numerous other areas of state spending.
Democrats said the austerity plan, on top of years of recession-era budget cuts, was being driven by Republican-approved income tax cuts.
"We have a budget built on a tax plan that doesn't support our children but sacrifices them for the benefit of the wealthiest among us and large corporations," said Rep. Ed Trimmer, D-Winfield.
Republican supporters of the budget said it was a responsible plan as they pushed it through on a 71-51 vote. A final vote on the measure is expected Wednesday.
Democrats said the 4 percent cut, totaling $29.2 million, to higher education would lead to tuition increases.
But House Appropriations Committee Chairman Marc Rhoades, R-Newton, said regardless of the budget, the state's universities will increase tuition. "They raise tuition because they want to," he said. "On higher education, it is out of control. At some point we are going to hit the stone wall," he added.
Higher education officials have argued that reductions in state spending on universities in recent years has had a direct impact on the size of tuition increases.
Under the 4 percent cut, Kansas University would lose nearly $10 million, including $4.2 million at the KU Medical Center.
House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, said the cut doesn't make sense when the Legislature wants KU Med to produce more doctors and nurses. "How are they going to do that?" he asked.
Higher education officials did win a victory when Rep. Ward Cassidy, R-St Francis, won approval of an amendment that lifted a wage and salary cap that had been placed on universities. Higher education representatives had complained loudly that the cap would have frozen even federal and private grant funds.
But the provision, essentially freezing salary and wage expenditures to current levels, remains in the bill for the rest of state government.
Rep. Melanie Meier, D-Leavenworth, said that will prevent the under-staffed prison system from filling vacant positions.
Several legislators complained they were given just a little more than one day to analyze the 512-page budget.
"I think they understand that there is so much bad stuff in this budget that they don't want people to have time to read it — or else they wouldn't support it," said Rep. John Wilson, D-Lawrence.