Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Budget subcommittee cuts KU Med Center proposal, recommends audit of KU

By SCOTT ROTHSCHILD, The Lawrence Journal-World

A Senate budget subcommittee on Tuesday recommended a $10 million cut in Kansas University’s proposed budget and a sweeping audit of the school.

And one member of the subcommittee, Sen. Caryn Tyson, R-Parker, said she had concerns about student leaders from public universities who were “regurgitating” talking points given them by the Kansas Board of Regents. The students were in the Statehouse on Monday to talk with legislators about higher education issues.

Tyson said in her conversation with the students, they brought up the regents’ position in favor of in-state tuition for the children of some undocumented workers, as well as opposition to concealed carry of guns on campuses.

“If I want to be lobbied by the Board of Regents, I can go talk to them. I want to hear what the students’ concerns are, what their actual experiences are,” Tyson said.

Zach George, the government relations director for the KU Student Senate, helped organize Higher Education Day, when approximately 150 students from across the state met with legislators.

George said student leaders worked for months on what issues to talk to legislators about. He said he resented Tyson saying that the students were parroting what the regents wanted.

The regents, he said, “didn’t have a say on the issues that we chose that affected us and were important to us.”

On the budget issues, the proposal by state Sen. Tom Arpke, R-Salina, would remove Gov. Sam Brownback’s recommendation that provides $10 million over two years to go toward building a new health education building at the KU Medical Center.

Arpke, chairman of the Senate Ways and Means subcommittee on education, also recommended a full legislative audit of costs at KU, saying that the school’s expenses are too high compared with other schools.

Arpke said he was concerned that KU’s enrollment has dropped over the past several years, and he said the school needs to do more to make sure students graduate in four years.

In response to the subcommittee’s action, KU spokesman Jack Martin said, “The governor’s budget recommendations wisely reflect the need our state has for additional doctors and we hope at the end of the day the majority of Kansas legislators will agree it is a wise investment in Kansans’ health.”

As far as Arpke’s concern over costs at KU, Martin said, “Governor Brownback has indicated that KU needs to compare itself against its national peers, and compared to our fellow research universities, KU’s tuition is in the lower third.”

Martin said the school also is in the midst of a comprehensive effort to reduce administrative costs.

The subcommittee recommendation next goes to the full Ways and Means Committee.

Sen. Laura Kelly, D-Topeka, said the subcommittee doesn’t have purview over capital improvement budgets.

“It’s not in this budget and the committee cannot deal with this,” Kelly said. She said if the KU Medical Center has to look for other sources of funding for the building perhaps it should look at savings at other campuses. In addition to Kansas City, Kan., the medical school has campuses in Wichita and Salina.

KU has made construction of the $75 million health education and training facility at the KU Medical Center in Kansas City, Kan., a major priority.

Construction of the building is part of KU’s initiative to increase the number of physicians trained in Kansas.

KU had wanted the state to release $25 million that was returned from the federal government as part of a FICA refund related to payroll taxes paid back in the 1990s.

In his budget proposal, Brownback released $10 million from the FICA refund and deposited the other $15 million in the state’s all-purpose general fund.

Under the Senate subcommittee’s plan, that $10 million would be removed from KU’s capital improvement budget proposal. Of that $10 million, Arpke recommended $1 million for a technology center at Fort Hays State University, $600,000 to be directed to Washburn University and the rest put in the state’s general revenue fund.

Arpke said he thought KU could continue with plans for the health education building. “We’re not done discussing the budget at this point,” he said.