Tuesday, August 6, 2013

House’s top budget writer says legislators will have lots of questions for higher education officials

By SCOTT ROTHSCHILD, The Lawrence Journal-World

TOPEKA — The chief budget writer in the House today said that legislators will have a lot of questions for higher education officials when the state appropriations committees tour regents universities.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Marc Rhoades, R-Newton, said he knows school officials will have items they want to show off, but that he and other legislators are more interested in other areas.

For example, Rhoades said, at Kansas University, "I want to know more about the infrastructure setup. There is a lot of all-funds dollars, a lot of outside money that comes in. Where is that going? Do we have to always build a building, you know, because somebody wants their name on it?"

Both the Appropriations Committee and Senate Ways and Means Committee plan to visit each of the public universities, a community college and technical college next month.

During the 2013 legislation session that ended in June, Republicans approved about $44 million in cuts to universities over two years, making Kansas one of only a handful of states that reduced funding to universities. For each of those years, the schools are looking at cuts of about 3 percent.

Last week, House Democratic Leader Paul Davis, of Lawrence, said he hoped legislators on the tour would have the opportunity to speak with students who saw higher tuition increases because of the state budget cuts.

"I think it's very important that legislators understand that the rising cost of college is having a real impact on the kind of student loan debt that graduates are having to shoulder, and also impacting the ability of some people to even attend college," Davis had said.

But Rhoades said he didn't think meetings with students would be fruitful.

"If I say, `Yeah, hey set up some meetings with some students,' I'm going to get the creme de la creme. I'm going to get the folks that are going to be the Student Senate folks that are going to toe the line, and that's not what we're interested in," he said.