Topeka — Kansas University's National Cancer Institute designation would be at significant risk if budget cuts proposed by House Republican leaders were enacted into law, officials said Wednesday.
The leaders of state higher education institutions briefed the Kansas Board of Regents on the proposed cuts and said they stood with Gov. Sam Brownback who is calling for a continuation of the current level of funding for higher education.
The House has proposed a 4 percent cut to higher education, plus a salary cap, while the Senate has recommended a 2 percent cut. The 4 percent cut and salary cap would total more than $20 million at KU, Gray-Little said.
"If we get the level of cuts that have been proposed in the House it will have a negative effect on our ability to provide the kind of workforce that the state needs," KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little said.
Kansas State University President Kirk Schultz called the proposed budget cuts "momentum killers."
But House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, has said the argument that such cuts would hurt "has no merit."
Last year, KU's Cancer Center won NCI designation after several years of effort. The designation will open up more research and clinical trials, but officials said renewal of the designation will be difficult to achieve under the proposed cuts. The salary cap would hinder the center's ability to hire and retain top cancer researchers, KU said.
KU released a list of cuts that would have to be enacted if the House budget gained approval. Those include:
— Reducing by 36 the number of medical students KU admits each year. Three-quarters of the reduction would be in Wichita. The School of Medicine-Salina would close.
— Cutting by 50 the number of nursing students admitted and by 30 the available medical resident positions.
— Elimination of 38 faculty positions on the Lawrence campus. KU said the school would become a "farm team" for universities in other states.
— Risk of losing membership in the prestigious Association of American Universities.
Other regents universities presented similar scenarios of losing faculty, shutting down courses, more crowded classes and losing ground to other states.
"Some of the proposed cuts will set us back a decade in funding," said Regents spokeswoman Mary Jane Stankiewicz.
Several board members said they didn't understand why higher education was being targeted for the bulk of proposed cuts.
Regent Robba Moran said states that are investing in higher education are the ones attracting large corporations. "(University) rankings do matter and rankings don't come with inexpensive faculty," she said.
Regent Fred Logan Jr. said neither the House nor Senate budget proposals are pro-growth, but he added he was confident Brownback will be able to get the Legislature to adopt his budget plan.
Brownback plans to tour next week to rally support for his higher education budget. The Legislature returns for the wrap up session on May 8.
In focusing on higher education, Brownback is also pushing for making the 6.3 percent state sales tax rate permanent. Under current law, the sales tax is supposed to decrease to 5.7 percent on July 1.
Democrats have been critical of Brownback's sales tax plan. “Kansans should not be fooled," said Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka. "The sales tax increase will not protect higher education. The governor is using a smoke-and-mirrors strategy to hide the real reason behind the budget cuts – his irresponsible income tax cuts.”
Topeka — Gov. Sam Brownback on Tuesday said he wants the Legislature to conduct an in-depth study of public higher education in Kansas.
Brownback's comments came as he lobbies fellow Republicans to keep higher education funding at current levels and reject proposed cuts. The GOP-dominated Legislature has proposed a 4 percent budget cut in the House and 2 percent in the Senate.
Brownback said he would like legislative leaders to initiate a study on higher education after the current legislative session is over.
"What I hope we do is a big interim study on higher ed funding," Brownback said.
He said the cause of rising tuition, how funds are allocated and administrative costs are "all legitimate questions." But, he said, resolving those issues is difficult in an 80-day legislative session.
Brownback will start a tour next week of various higher education institutions to push for his budget plan. He said universities, community colleges and technical schools need stable funding after having been cut during the recession.
He said the way to provide stable funding would be making the 6.3 percent state sales tax permanent. Under current law, it will decrease to 5.7 percent on July 1.
Democrats say Brownback plans to use revenue from the higher sales tax to further reduce income tax rates. When asked about that, Brownback said of the Democrats, "If they've got another place to come up with the resources, I'd love to see it. I would hope that they would vote for it too."
The tax changes approved last year with only Republican support and signed into law by Gov. Sam Brownback are being called the worst tax measures passed by a state in the last two years.
That's according to an article in Governing magazine link textthat quotes right- and left-leaning financial experts.
Exempting from taxes pass-through income for business owners provides "an incentive to game the tax system without doing anything productive for the economy," said Joseph Henchman with the Tax Foundation.
Nick Johnson with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities said the tax package "fails both vertical and horizontal equity tests." And he said the size of the cut was so "jaw-dropping" it will prevent the state from making investments in education and infrastructure.
Topeka - Not a good day weather-wise to showcase the Kansas River, but Gov. Sam Brownback and an enthusiastic group of supporters of the Kaw braved chilly winds Thursday to launch an effort to increase recreational use along the 173-mile river.
"The Kaw is a tremendous asset," Brownback said during a new conference announcing the formation of the Kansas River Development Committee.
Advocates of the Kansas River are hoping to get more people canoeing and kayaking, camping on sandbars, fishing and watching wildlife along the river.
"This is just another step in something great that is happening," said Brian Leaders, landscape architect with the National Park Service.
Last year, the National Park Service designated the river as a National Water Trail.
Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism Secretary Robin Jennison said there are 18 boat ramps in 15 communities along the river. Jennison said he would like to see at least two more ramps along the 30 or so miles between Belvue and Topeka. Thursday's news conference was held at Kaw River State Park.
Here is a promo that Brownback and then-Interior Secretary Ken Salazar did last year about the Kansas River.
Topeka — Is Gov. Sam Brownback moving closer to siding with expansion of Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act?
In a two-minute question and answer session with reporters, Brownback, a Republican who opposes the ACA, said his administration is looking at options and alternatives.
"We're still working on Medicaid, what we can do that we could make it work," he said.
Brownback then talked about wanting to make sure the state budget was in good shape and that when he took office in 2011, he was facing a shortfall "after the Sebelius administration."
Former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat, left Kansas to become President Barack Obama's secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Sebelius was succeeded by Mark Parkinson, the former lieutenant governor, who had to deal with record revenue shortfalls during the Great Recession. Ironically, it's Sebelius, as HHS secretary, who is working with governors considering Medicaid expansion.
While many Republican governors, including Brownback, have been critical of Medicaid expansion, some are warming to the idea since the federal government will pay for the first three years, and 90 percent of it after that. Some have also said that it would be unwise for a state to leave federal money on the table for other states to take.
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, has been trying to persuade Republican legislative leaders to get on board. Earlier this week, Nixon said that if Missouri were to reject expansion of Medicaid it would become like a town from the 1860s that refused a railroad or a city from the 1960s that rejected an interstate highway. In Kansas, estimates indicate that Medicaid expansion would extend coverage to 200,000 more people.
Currently, Medicaid provides health care coverage to about 380,000 Kansans. The largest portion of them — about 230,000 — are children. The rest are mostly lower-income, pregnant women, people with disabilities and elderly people. The $2.8 billion program is funded with federal and state dollars.
Medicaid in Kansas doesn’t cover low-income adults who don’t have children. And a nondisabled adult with children is eligible only if his or her income is below 32 percent of the poverty level, which is less than $6,000 per year. That is about the most difficult eligibility level in the country.
But starting in 2014, the ACA creates an eligibility level of 138 percent of the federal poverty level, which is $15,415 per year for an individual and $31,000 per year for a family of four.
In the Legislature, Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, has been open to the idea of expanding Medicaid, while House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, hasn't.
Two years ago, Gov. Sam Brownback signed into law a bill that prohibits private insurance companies from offering coverage for abortions in their general plans except when a woman's life is in danger.
Under the law, Kansas residents or employers who want abortion coverage must buy supplemental policies, known as riders.
But Sen. Marci Francisco, D-Lawrence, said she tried to purchase such an optional rider under the state health insurance plan, but it was not available.
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment confirmed that the state health insurance plan does not offer that coverage as an optional rider.
Francisco, a supporter of abortion rights, said, "I was going to encourage women to do it because the more women of my age who sign up, the cheaper it is going to be for everybody, so then you just make it something that people can afford." Francisco is 62.
The American Civil Liberties Union had challenged that law, saying that women's medical needs should be covered in their insurance policies. Supporters of the law said people who oppose abortion shouldn't be forced to pay for such coverage in general health plan.
The ACLU dropped its lawsuit earlier this year after a federal judge had ruled that the group had failed to prove that the Legislature's motivation in passing the law was to make it more difficult to get abortions.
A measure allowing alcohol consumption in the Statehouse was approved today by the Senate.
Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, said the proposal was aimed at allowing drinks to be served next year at an event to commemorate the completion of the lengthy Statehouse restoration project. Wagle said drinks would be sold and the profit would go to a charity.
But several senators said the bill was too broad, allowing state leaders to allow alcoholic drinks at any "official state function." "Alcohol offends some of our constituents," said Sen. Pat Apple, R-Louisburg.
Others were upset the provision was slipped into a conference committee report without being considered as a stand-alone bill before the full House or Senate. Still, the proposal passed 29-10.
The Kansas Department of Agriculture announced Thursday that it is moving to Manhattan in summer 2014.
The plan is to house the agency in a new 50,000-square-foot facility built by the Kansas State University Foundation in the group's research park.
Agriculture Secretary Dale Rodman said the decision was made to move so the agency could work closer with other agricultural and bioscience entities, including the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility. "Manhattan is the value-added center for agriculture," Rodman said.
KDA will maintain its main administrative offices in Topeka, but will move the majority of its programs to Manhattan. In addition, the department will maintain current field offices in Stafford, Stockton, Parsons and Garden City.
Several Kansas officials on Tuesday called on Congress to approve immigration reform.
"We need a national solution and we need it soon," said Allie Devine, a former Kansas agriculture secretary.
In Washington, D.C., several Republican and Democratic senators are trying to craft a bill to secure the nation's borders, improve legal immigration and offer eventual citizenship to millions of people now in the country illegally.
Mike O'Neal, former Kansas House speaker and now chief executive officer of the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, said, "A well-crafted and targeted worker program, coupled with an effective border protection policy, offers the best hope of a ‘win-win’ strategy.”
Others speaking in favor of a bi-partisan immigration measure were the Rev. Mark Mertes of Blessed Sacrament Church; the Rev. Jason Schoff of Mission Adelante; both of Kansas City, Kan.; and Bob Stephan, former Kansas attorney general.
"Hispanics and other undocumented workers contribute to our society and they deserve a solution to solve the dilemma that faces them and our nation. We must design a road to lawful status and citizenship that respects those who have been in line and awaiting naturalization," Stephan said.
The roundtable discussion featuring Kansas officials was held at the Savior Pastoral Center Retreat and Conference Center in Kansas City, Kan. The event was sponsored by the Washington, D.C.-based National Immigration Forum.
Topeka — House and Senate budget writers on Tuesday remained at an impasse over funding of higher education.
The House has approved a 4 percent reduction to higher education while the Senate has proposed a 2 percent cut.
In addition, the House has proposed other cuts from job vacancies, salary caps and other changes for a grand total of $63.35 million in reductions, compared with the Senate's cut of $21.25 million.
On Monday, Kansas University Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little met with House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, and other House leaders to talk about higher education funding.
Higher ed officials pointed out that a recent national report noted that recent cuts in higher education have led to steep tuition increases.
States are spending $2,353 or 28 percent less per student on higher education in the current fiscal year than they did in 2008, when the recession hit, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
During that period, tuition has increased $1,850, or 27 percent, the study said.
"Reversing these trends and reinvesting in higher education should be a high priority for state policymakers. A large and growing share of future jobs will require college-educated workers," the study said.
Gov. Sam Brownback has proposed keeping higher education funding at its current level.