Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Brownback to visit KCKCC later this month in tour to defend higher education plan

By SCOTT ROTHSCHILD, The Lawrence Journal-World

Gov. Sam Brownback on Monday announced that he will hit the road next week to defend his higher education budget proposal against cuts offered by his fellow Republicans in the Legislature.

Brownback said funding to Kansas universities, community colleges and technical schools represents a core responsibility of the state "that we must protect."

He added, "My proposed two-year budget holds higher education harmless and includes targeted funding important to our state’s economic growth.

"I have challenged education leaders to focus their schools on improving student results. It is important we keep state funding level."

While Brownback has recommended continuation of the current level of funding for the next fiscal year, the House has proposed an across-the-board cut of 4 percent, or $29.2 million, while the Senate recommended a 2 percent cut.

In addition, Brownback's budget plan provides $10 million over two years to jumpstart construction of a health education building at Kansas University Medical Center.

Right before the Legislature took a month-long break, it appeared that House and Senate budget negotiators were nearing Brownback's position, only to pull back. The budget-writing committees return later this month and the full Legislature meets for the wrap-up session starting on May 8.

Brownback's tour to emphasize higher education funding will start Monday, April 22 at Wichita State University and Butler Community College.

He will visit Washburn University and Washburn Institute of Technology in Topeka on April 23; Pittsburg State University, April 24; Kansas University School of Medicine and the Kansas City, Kan. Community College on April 25; Emporia State University on April 26; and Kansas State University on May 6.

Brownback also said the Legislature needs to prioritize funding of the Career and Technology Education program, which is aimed at helping students get marketable skills when they enter the workforce.

"Cutting funding for the community and technical colleges that support the CTE program would hinder students from obtaining industry-recognized credentials by the time they graduate from high school and diminish the workforce pool for businesses,” Brownback said.

The issue of higher education funding will be tied closely to tax discussions in the Legislature. Brownback wants to keep in place the 6.3 percent state sales tax rate, which was supposed to decrease to 5.7 percent on July 1. The Senate has agreed to that position, but not the House.

Brownback has said the sales tax rate needs to be kept higher to help balance the budget, but House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, said that was a false argument.

"Kansans deserve to know that Gov. Brownback's sales tax hike is not being offered to pay for higher education. It is paying for massive tax breaks for the wealthy and big corporations," Davis said.

Davis added, "Further, a sales tax hike is not a solution — it's a stall tactic. Even if Gov. Brownback does raise the sales tax, Kansas will still face a $781 million deficit by 2018 as a result of his income tax cuts."

Last year, Brownback signed into law cuts in state income tax rates, eliminating income taxes for the owners of nearly 200,000 businesses and doing away with tax credits designed to help low-income Kansans.

Brownback has said the income tax cuts will boost the economy while Democrats say the cuts will benefit mostly the wealthy at the expense of the poor and funding of crucial state services, such as education.