Wagle, Brownback hope to restore funds universities lost in budget cuts

06/12/2013 6:44 PM

08/08/2014 10:17 AM

The state budget hasn’t been signed yet, but some officials – including the governor and Senate president – already are planning a bid to restore at least some of the money Kansas universities lost to this year’s cuts.

Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, said she thinks the salary and wage cap proposal in the budget bill passed in the after-midnight hours on June 2 will badly hurt universities and hamper Wichita State University’s efforts to improve its offerings in technological studies – especially aviation, where the university is a national leader in research.

“Its passage will have a huge impact on attracting the best and the brightest talent to compete in a marketplace that is increasingly becoming more high tech and specialty focused,” Wagle said. “Unless there is an outcry from those who are affected, legislators might not understand why this is bad.”

Although he can’t use his veto power to restore cuts to higher education, Wagle said she’s hoping Gov. Sam Brownback will denounce the cuts when he signs the budget bill and try to restore them through a budget supplement when the Legislature returns to the Capitol in January.

“The governor’s hands are tied today, but he can turn back the clock by funding that cut and sending us a governor’s budget amendment,” Wagle said. “I’m confident the Senate would welcome that amendment and pass it quickly through the process.”

Brownback “likely will submit something in January” to try to get the Legislature to restore funding to the 2014 and 2105 fiscal years, said his spokeswoman, Sherriene Jones-Sontag.

While approval would be a virtual slam dunk in the Senate, it’s likely to face more opposition in the House.

During this year’s budget deliberations, many House members were a lot more hawkish about cutting budgets than their Senate counterparts.

In the end, both houses agreed to cut general fund support for universities by 1.5 percent and institute a salary cap going forward.

In total, the cuts took about $33 million off Brownback’s recommendations for higher education funding each of the next two years.

The actual cut to WSU is calculated to be about 3.1 percent. Of that, 1.5 percent is the across-the-board cut and the rest is from the salary cap.

WSU President John Bardo has proposed an 8 percent tuition increase; 3.5 percent to offset the state cuts and 4.5 percent for other university priorities, including a pool to fund merit raises for faculty and some staff.

Unlike most state agencies, the new legislation leaves universities the option of fully funding positions and even giving raises, but the money to do that is not in the state allocation and would have to come from someplace else.

“I opposed the salary caps, the Senate opposed them, the governor opposed them, and we all opposed them because it’s a really bad idea,” Wagle said. “In passing the salary cap, the Legislature as an entity is trying to micromanage agencies’ budgets without having experience with or knowledge of the impact of those salary cuts.”

The salary caps, she said, “will hurt jobs. They will hurt aerospace.”

She said the legislative session ended badly, with many people upset about the salary cap.

“The implementation of a salary cap is a brand new concept to the Legislature,” Wagle added in an e-mail on Wednesday. “The cap language was an amendment that never had a hearing and was not subject to legislative scrutiny.

“I think it flies in the face of sound fiscal management by removing incentives and rewards for exceptional outcomes. It is the ‘dumb down’ approach to managing a regents budget.”

Wagle said the Senate only agreed to the budget bill as a last resort, when it became apparent that the House was unwilling or unable to pass a budget without a salary cap.

She said part of the problem is that the 125-member House has dozens of new members, many of them unfamiliar with some of the realities of governing a state. Micromanaging salaries at universities, she said, is impossible to do well from the Legislature.

“It is a task beyond what we have the capability of doing,” she said. “We’re better at the broad brush than we are at telling agencies how to spend their money.”

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