Topeka Republicans on the Senate budget-writing committee Tuesday approved a higher education spending plan that Democrats said will hurt Kansas University. Republicans denied the accusation.
Ways and Means ranking minority member Laura Kelly, D-Topeka, said the proposed budget "capriciously and unfairly targets the University of Kansas" and, if enacted, would send the message "that the Legislature does not support its flagship university."
Committee Chairman Ty Masterson, R-Andover, said Kelly's comments were "unusually inflammatory," adding, "I don't think it's a fair assessment."
The measure next goes to the full Senate.
Kelly complained about the budget because it omitted $2 million for KU's Translational Chemical Biology program, which would help commercialize state of the art drug advances.
Gov. Sam Brownback has also pushed for funding the program, and of his proposed enhancements at each of six public universities, KU's was the only one deleted by the Senate committee.
KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little said removal of the $2 million was a "great disappointment."
Asked what she thought of comments that KU seemed to be under attack, Gray-Little said, "I think that's a reasonable view. It's hard to explain otherwise why that project was taken out and the others were not. I don't know what the reasons are, so I can't say that's exactly what's happening."
During the committee meeting, Vice Chairman Jim Denning, R-Overland Park, said he needed more information about the Translational Chemical program. "It is the flagship," Denning said of KU. "We all support it."
Kelly also criticized the committee budget because it did not include $1.4 million for a bond payment that would be used to help start construction of a $75 million health education building at the KU Medical Center.
Last week, KU officials said the medical school could have faced accreditation problems if it didn't get started soon on constructing the new building because its current facility is outdated.
But on Monday, KU announced it was re-accredited for eight years. The accrediting body did cite the need for a new facility and said the school must show progress by August 2015.
Masterson said that gives officials time to come up with a plan of action. But Gray-Little said the project must be further advanced.
"The point that we've been making is that in 2015, a plan that says we are still looking for funds to do something is not a very convincing plan. So we need to be further down the road," she said.
State Sen. Tom Arpke, R-Salina, said KU has enough in internal funds to build the health education building. He cited a report that showed KU would receive $1.17 billion from various revenue sources this fiscal year, and is expected to spend $986 million. That leaves $184 million to cover other expenses, he said.
But Gray-Little said no university is expected to spend down its revenue to zero each year, and it is common practice to have some funds in reserves.
And according to KU, the Lawrence campus has $3.7 million in reserve funds, while KU Medical Center has no reserves.