Brownback undecided about proviso on KU, K-State budget cuts

photo by: Peter Hancock

Gov. Sam Brownback says he has been talking with university officials in Kansas about how to absorb the funding cuts called for in a budget bill passed by the Kansas Legislature.

TOPEKA — Gov. Sam Brownback said Wednesday that he has been talking to state university officials about ways to absorb the $17.7 million cut in higher education funding called for in the recently passed budget.

But he said he hasn’t decided whether to use his line-item veto authority to strike a provision that would make Kansas University and Kansas State University shoulder a bigger share of those cuts.

“The budget passed by a narrow set of votes, and these provisions for some of the members were quite significant in their voting for the budget provisions. Budgets are hard to pass, as you know,” Brownback said during a Statehouse news conference. “We will look, and we’re studying all of that, studying it carefully and listening to people before making any decisions.”

The $17.7 million cut to the state’s six universities amounts to about 3 percent of their direct state aid. But instead of applying the cut uniformly to each institution, language inserted into the bill says the cuts must be uniform in proportion to each school’s all-funds budget.

photo by: Peter Hancock

Gov. Sam Brownback says he has been talking with university officials in Kansas about how to absorb the funding cuts called for in a budget bill passed by the Kansas Legislature.

That means KU and K-State, both of which have larger total budgets because they receive significant federal research funding, would take proportionately larger cuts, while smaller schools such as Pittsburg State and Emporia State universities would take smaller cuts.

KU’s funding cut would grow to $5.2 million, instead of $4 million if the cuts were spread evenly. K-State’s cut would grow to $4.1 million instead of $3 million.

The language was inserted at the request of Sen. Jake LaTurner, R-Pittsburg, who said he wanted to protect Pittsburg State, which is in his district. Some Democrats, however, charged that Republican leaders granted his request solely to help him in what is expected to be a tough re-election campaign.

The budget bill passed the Senate, 22-18. It passed the House, 63-61.

Last week, KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little and interim K-State President Gen. Richard Myers sent open letters to alumni from each school, urging them to contact Brownback’s office and ask him to line-item veto the proviso on university funding cuts.

Tim Caboni, KU’s vice chancellor of public affairs, confirmed that KU officials had met with Brownback and communicated their opposition to the proviso, but said Brownback gave no indication about whether he plans to veto the proviso.

“The proviso language penalizes the University of Kansas and K-State because of our research successes,” he said. “We remain strongly opposed to the proviso and hope the governor treats fairly the two state universities that produce the most graduates, the most jobs, the most startup companies and the most economic development that benefits all Kansans.”

Brownback also said Wednesday that he will have to make significant allotment cuts of at least $22 million to the budget before he signs the bill in order to comply with the Kansas Constitution’s requirement for a balanced budget.

That’s how much spending needs to be cut in order to leave the budget with a projected zero ending balance. Lawmakers, however, assumed Brownback would find roughly $92 million in cuts and efficiency savings in order to leave an ending balance of $69.8 million.

Those cuts would be in addition to the $115 million being taken out of the state highway fund to shore up the general fund and in addition to continuing to delay a $92.6 million payment into the state pension fund that was supposed to have been paid in April.

Ordering allotment cuts in a budget that hasn’t even been signed into law yet may be unprecedented in Kansas history, but Brownback said he believes he has the authority and that the Constitution requires it.

“Our assessment is that you need to do the allotments before the signing of the budget,” he said. “You have allotment authority that is separate from the budget. When the amount of the ending balance is below a certain level, there is allotment authority that’s granted.”