Private funding of buildings on Kansas college campuses debated

Plagued by historic decreases in revenue, the Kansas Legislature has stopped appropriating state tax dollars to build facilities on the campuses of state universities.

But now some legislators are expressing unease with the addition of new facilities paid for with privately raised funds and other revenues that aren’t tax dollars.

Recently, members of the powerful House Appropriations Committee held a lengthy discussion over whether to approve a number of capital improvement projects at Kansas State University that were included in the Kansas Board of Regents’ budget.

“Voters sent us to Topeka to quit spending money,” said Rep. Anthony Brown, R-Eudora.

But the ranking Democrat, Rep. Bill Feuerborn of Garnett, said, “We could move forward or we could stop everything. We should thank the Board of Regents for putting money back into campuses without government dollars.”

But Brown said one of his concerns was whether the state would be responsible for the maintenance of the new facilities, even if they were built with private dollars. The state already has a backlog of maintenance needs that has grown to $876 million, according to the regents.

Rep. Virgil Peck, R-Tyro, agreed, questioning $50 million in improvements for Bill Snyder Family Stadium. The project will be funded with bonds paid with Kansas State University’s athletic department ticket revenues.

Peck asked if the state would be on the hook to repay the bonds if the ticket revenues are insufficient. The committee’s staff said it wouldn’t.

K-State had more than 10 projects before the Appropriations Committee funded with private funds, federal research funds and special revenues, such as those paid by students for housing.

While several Appropriations Committee members questioned the spending, others said that because the projects didn’t involve direct state tax dollars, they were OK with them.

Rep. Owen Donohoe, R-Shawnee, said he felt his job was to cut government spending: “These are private funds. I don’t think people asked us to cut private funds.”

By Scott Rothschild

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