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KU’s sneaky bonding move a symptom of other problems

Even if it followed the law, University of Kansas officials’ use of a Wisconsin agency early last month to borrow $330 million for new facilities certainly looks like a maneuver “circumventing legislative oversight and escaping the public view,” to quote House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell. KU chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little and other administrators were well aware of lawmakers’ concerns about the project, and Moody’s Investors Service had just downgraded the university’s credit outlook from stable to negative in December related to risks of such bond-financed expansion. Taken together with the Brownback administration’s under-the-radar deals to finance a $20 million Capitol power plant and lift the transportation borrowing cap, KU’s move underscores the need for the Legislature to step up its oversight of state fiscal management, especially of debt. But the KU gambit raises a serious side issue, which is how state universities are supposed to meet their ongoing facilities needs in a time when legislative support is flat or shrinking and legislative anger over tuition increases is growing. – Rhonda Holman

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