Tuesday, February 19, 2013

KU Medical Center under the budget knife; committee removes $10 million for health education building

By SCOTT ROTHSCHILD, The Lawrence Journal-World

A Senate committee Monday cut $10 million that was proposed in the Kansas University budget to help start construction of a $75 million health education building at KU Medical Center.

Gov. Sam Brownback put the $10 million in his two-year budget proposal, but the governor’s fellow Republicans on the Ways and Means Committee removed the funding. Sen. Tom Arpke, R-Salina, led the charge, expressing displeasure with tuition increases at KU.

“Looking at the overall performance of the regents universities, it seemed to me that the University of Kansas was being, in my mind, a little fiscally irresponsible in looking at their tuition increases of the last 10 years of over 200 percent,” Arpke said.

Arpke, chairman of the education budget subcommittee, also said he recently asked KU officials what they were doing with certain reserve funds and had not heard back.

“I also gave them a homework assignment. I have not received that information back, and so until that time, the funding will remain removed,” Arpke said.

Sen. Laura Kelly of Topeka, the ranking Democrat on Ways and Means, said construction of the building was crucial to the medical center’s future.

“The $10 million you are taking away here is just a down payment on a new facility — a new facility that they need to maintain accreditation,” Kelly said.

Ways and Means Chairman Ty Masterson, R-Andover, said removing the funds wasn’t a comment on whether the project was needed. Masterson said he told budget subcommittees to look for savings because of uncertainty about what the Legislature will do about taxes and other revenue proposals.

“Having a down payment on a new project is one of first places you look when you don’t know the landscape of what is happening on the revenue side,” Masterson said.

Kelly said removing the $10 million will hurt attempts by KU to raise private funds for the building.

After a subcommittee cut the funding last week, Brownback said the $10 million commitment from the state was important for Kansas to increase the number of physicians. Brownback also said he wasn’t overly concerned about removing the funding at this point because legislators were early in the budget process.

Kelly and Sen. Marci Francisco, D-Lawrence, voted for a motion to return money to the spending plan but were outvoted by Republicans on the committee. The Republican members then recommended approval of the KU budget without the $10 million. Only Kelly and Francisco opposed that.

Construction of the $75 million building has been a top priority for KU officials, who say the current medical training building is outdated.

Since 2011, the KU School of Medicine’s first-year class has increased from 175 students to 211. The proposed facility would accommodate an additional 25 medical students every year in addition to providing the advanced technology and simulation needed for medical students, KU officials have said.