Legislators pass budget package that would restore $15 million to Kansas higher education

Kansas state Reps. Brenda Landwehr, left, R-Wichita, and Troy Waymaster, right, R-Bunker Hill, confer ahead of the House's approval of a bill adding millions of new dollars to the state budget, Thursday, May 3, 2018, at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan. Landwehr is a member of the House Appropriations Committee and Waymaster is its chairman. (AP Photo/John Hanna)

? With money rolling in from a large tax increase enacted last year, Kansas lawmakers passed a spending bill Thursday night that adds $1 billion in new state spending through the end of the next fiscal year, with additional money going toward K-12 and higher education, social services, pension fund payments and state employee pay raises.

Included among the spending increases is $15 million for higher education, which would partially restore cuts that former Gov. Sam Brownback made two years ago to balance the budget in the wake of persistent revenue shortfalls at that time.

Of the $15 million, according to information from the Kansas Board of Regents, the KU campus in Lawrence would receive just less than $2.5 million in general operating funds, plus another $312,000 for the Kansas Geological Survey located on campus.

The KU Medical Center in Kansas City, Kan., stands to receive an additional $2 million for its operating budget, plus about $85,000 for medical scholarships and loans.

In May 2017, Brownback ordered $30 million cut from the state’s higher education budget, which resulted in tuition increases and program cutbacks on campuses throughout the Regents system. Last year, though, lawmakers restored $6 million of that amount, which still left colleges and universities $24 million below their pre-cut levels.

The spending plan also funds pay raises for judges, other judicial branch employees and workers in executive branch agencies, but it does not provide separate raises for employees in the Regents system who are governed by separate pay plans established by the universities, community colleges and technical schools.

It also partially restores some payments to the state’s pension system that lawmakers had delayed in prior years, and it frees up some money in the state highway fund to actually be spent on highway projects rather than being swept into the general fund to pay for K-12 transportation costs, as has been done in recent years.

The bill passed both chambers with broad bipartisan support — 98-23 in the House; 26-14 in the Senate — and now goes to Gov. Jeff Colyer, who still has line-item veto authority to remove some spending items if he chooses to do so.

Supporters of the bill said the increases really only satisfy pent-up demand for services that had gone underfunded in recent years due to revenue shortfalls that followed after the controversial income tax cuts that Brownback championed in 2012.

Opposition, however, came from conservative Republicans, who argued that while the state may be able to afford the increases today, official projections show the state is still on a path toward large deficits three to five years in the future.

The state’s long-term picture also could be affected by a new set of tax cuts that Republican leaders are still trying to get through the Legislature before they are forced to adjourn the session on Friday.

The Senate began debating that bill late Thursday and was still debating it after 10:30 p.m. If it were to pass, it would be sent to the House for consideration Friday.

Lawmakers have already scheduled Friday as the final day of the 2018 session.