Gov. Mark Parkinson called on his fellow Wichita State University alumni Wednesday to support his call for increases to sales and tobacco taxes to preserve the university's programs through the recession.
Parkinson said he is confident that the recession will end, and when it does, Wichita in particular will be poised for a comeback because of pent-up demand for aircraft.
But he said he'll need lobbying help in Topeka from WSU alumni to preserve what the university has built over the years.
The state is facing about a $400 million shortfall; Parkinson has proposed a three-year, 1 percentage-point sales tax increase, a 55-cents-a-pack tax increase on cigarettes and quadrupling the tax on other tobacco products.
The state has cut roughly $1 billion from what was about a $6 billion budget and any further cuts will do long-lasting damage to colleges and universities throughout the state, the governor said.
Compounding the problem for Wichita is that the other state universities are the dominant political and economic interests in the relatively small cities where they are based, he said.
"In every other community in this state that has a major university — K-State, KU, Hays, Pittsburgh, Emporia — probably because of the size of those communities, their legislators are committed every session to doing everything they can for that university," Parkinson said. "They view that as their job.
"Probably because Wichita is a much larger city and has a lot of other interests, we don't have that same kind of undying loyalty from every member of the Wichita delegation."
Parkinson lauded the school's commitment to teaching aerospace engineering and entrepreneurship, which is difficult for other universities to match because of Wichita's historic roots in those fields. And he encouraged university officials to continue working to expand the university's fledgling dental education program into a full dental school, something Kansas does not now have.
With general state support flagging, universities like WSU will need to build endowments to eventually take up the slack in their budgets, he said.
Programs like dentistry that lead to high-income careers will be increasingly important because "it's hard for an endowment association to raise money if you don't have rich alumni," Parkinson said.
For now, WSU will have to work hard at the Statehouse to protect its share of revenue, he said.
He acknowledged that the Legislature hasn't warmed to his tax plan — it didn't get even a courtesy introduction in the Senate last week — but he said he thinks lawmakers will eventually come around when they see the impact of further cuts.
"I'm encouraging you to contact your legislator and say... we love you coming to our basketball games and our plays and our music events, but what we would really love is if you would help us out on our budget, because we're going to need some help from Topeka," he said.
In agreement was Jim Rhatigan, namesake of the Rhatigan Student Center where Parkinson spoke.
Now retired, Rhatigan was a dean and vice president of the university, where he worked from 1965 to 2002.
"People don't realize when you cut something, it doesn't show up the next year,'' he said. "It's much later when you see it happen.
"When you lose your top people, who are mobile, and your infrastructure starts to crumble, you'll know."
Patricia Rhea said she isn't looking forward to paying more taxes, especially since she was cut from full- to part-time after nine years at the Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum.
She said she thinks a tax increase of some kind is necessary, although she'd like to see property or income tax increases considered along with the sales tax Parkinson proposes.
But, she added, "the way he has laid it out for us, it seems to me that (sales tax) may be our only option."