Kansas Board of Regents approves smaller budget request and puts KU building project on hold

Hoping to appease Gov. Sam Brownback and the state Legislature, the Kansas Board of Regents on Thursday approved a slimmed-down budget request and put a major Kansas University building project proposal on hold.

The total increase sought by the regents was $31.8 million, down from the nearly $60 million that higher education institutions had sought. The request will now go to Brownback’s budget office. Brownback will propose a state budget in January for the Legislature to consider.

The biggest hit by the regents was to community colleges for technical education. Studies have indicated that workforce-related training is underfunded and needs a $60 million increase.

A staff proposal recommended $20 million, but, on a 4-3 vote, the board lowered that to $8 million.

Regent Fred Logan Jr. of Leawood said the $20 million request would produce “eye-rolling” among state leaders.

But Regent Tim Emert, a former Senate majority leader from Independence, said that asking for a lower amount at the start of negotiations was not a good strategy.

“I am no fortune-teller, but you will not get the $8 million. You might get closer to the $8 million” if the original recommendation is higher, he said.

Regent Christine Downey-Schmidt of Inman said she agreed with Emert, but because of the tight budget situation and Brownback’s stated support of technical education, she was willing to “gamble” and ask for $8 million in the hopes of getting the full amount.

Regent Kenny Wilk of Lansing told community colleges not to get discouraged,

saying that the budget request was part of “an ongoing conversation.”

Logan also successfully decreased the requested inflationary increase from $18.9 million to $12.7 million, saying that the lower figure was closer to the Midwestern regional inflation rate.

KU had sought a new $5 million annual appropriation to help pay off a bond issue for a proposed $78 million medical education building. The current facility, built in 1976, is obsolete, in need of repair and too small for proposed expansion, KU officials have said.

But Regent Chairman Ed McKechnie of Arcadia said there needed to be more work on funding proposals to pay for the building. The board sent both the KU medical building and a proposed expansion of the veterinary medicine program at Kansas State back to a regents committee for more study.

Board members said they were confident that later this year they would forward the medical building project to Brownback’s office for budget consideration.

KU officials said the new building is crucial to their efforts to train more doctors for the state.

As far as other KU requests, the board approved asking for $3 million in new funding to hire highly-sought-after research professors, and $1.9 million more for a medical scholarship program.

The board also recommended a 2.6 percent increase in student financial assistance systemwide.

By Scott Rothschild

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