Friday, June 7, 2013

Regents blast higher education budget cuts approved by Legislature, say tuition will increase, call on Brownback to veto portion of cuts

By SCOTT ROTHSCHILD, The Lawrence Journal-World

College students at public universities in Kansas will pay more in tuition because of budget cuts to higher education that were approved by the Legislature, officials said Thursday.

In considering proposed tuition increases at Kansas University and other universities, Kansas Board of Regents members roundly criticized the budget cuts approved this weekend by Republican legislators.

Short-sighted, vindictive, hypocritical and irresponsible were just some of the adjectives used by regents to describe the $66 million, or 5.7 percent cut to higher education over the next two years.

The appropriations bill includes a 1.5 percent across-the-board cut for each of the next two years and caps salary expenses, which some universities, including Kansas University, have said will be difficult to handle.

For KU, the budget cuts will total $13.5 million over two years, or 8.2 percent for the KU Medical Center and 3.8 percent at KU-Lawrence.

Regents urged Gov. Sam Brownback to veto the part of the bill that caps salary appropriations. Brownback's office said he will review the budget bill over the next few days.

Regent vice chairman Fred Logan, of Leawood, said Brownback "needs to send a message to the Legislature that that kind of bad public policy isn't going to be tolerated." It was unclear whether a veto of that provision would actually have any monetary effect or just serve as a policy statement.

On Thursday, KU proposed a 4.4 percent increase in tuition and fees for incoming freshmen and increases ranging from 5.32 percent to 7.64 percent at KU Medical Center.

Even with the increases, programs and services at KUMC will have to be cut because of the ways the legislative budget cuts are structured, said Dr. Doug Girod, executive vice chancellor at KUMC.

"There is no way to close this gap with a tuition increase," Girod said. He said a 2 percent increase was added to the tuition proposal after the budget cuts were approved, but "that doesn't come close to touching our cuts." He said a 12 percent tuition increase would have been needed to offset the budget cuts to KUMC.

Instead, he said, cuts will have to be made in staff and programs at KUMC. "We're at the point where we are trying to figure out what businesses to get out of," he said.

The problem is made even more difficult, he said, because while the Legislature cut KUMC's budget it added a budget provision that says KU can't reduce enrollment or eliminate programs at KUMC campuses in Salina, Wichita, Kansas City or Lawrence. Not only does that tie administrators' hands, but officials also noted that Lawrence is not a KU Medical Center campus.

The Legislature also rejected a proposal from Brownback to provide $35 million in bonding authority and $10 million in funding to jump start construction of a new medical education building at KUMC. KU has said it needs the building to produce more physicians for the state.

Regent Dan Lykins, of Topeka, said the budget actions by legislative leaders seemed vindictive. He added, "It is just mind-boggling that this would come out of a group of legislators that we just assume is doing the best for Kansas, when obviously it is not."

During the session, House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, and House Appropriations Chairman Marc Rhoades, R-Newton, said they believed higher ed could be cut even deeper. State Sen. Tom Arpke, R-Salina, was instrumental in removing Brownback's recommendation on funding the medical education building because he said KU had been irresponsible in increasing tuition over the past 10 years.

But Regent Robba Moran, of Hays, praised KU and said she didn't understand legislators who make negative statements about the school. "They are an outstanding university that we should be proud of. If you want to have outstanding universities you have to pay for them," Moran said. She praised KU's business dean Neeli Bendapudi as a pro-business, free-market dean who is generating enthusiasm.

Regent Christine Downey-Schmidt, of Inman, called the Legislature's appropriations bill "the most irresponsible" in her 20 years of state government experience. "I think the governor should just be furious," she said. Brownback had urged the Legislature to reject cuts to higher education.

Downey-Schmidt said the higher education budget approved by the Legislature was full of "hypocritical decision-making" and "short-sighted ideological focus."