Head to head: Cuts are all Brownback’s fault

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Feeling the pinch of K-State’s 5 percent tuition increase this semester? Thank Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, who has implemented unprecedented cuts to higher education funding.

Education funding comes from the state general fund, which is $338 million short this year. The state general fund is predicted to be $1 billion short by 2019. According to a June 2014 Wall Street Journal article, Brownback’s tax cuts have eliminated about $700 million in revenue, which needs to be made up through budget cuts – including those to higher education.

Our budget is in such disrepair, the Moody Investor Services has downgraded the state’s bond rating. To put it simply, a state’s bond rating is like its credit score, and Kansas’ just plummeted.

Blindly conservative Brownback says he believes in supply-side economics. He said he thinks that cutting taxes for businesses will attract more businesses to Kansas, and spur growth in our current businesses, resulting in more tax revenue for the state. In 2012, the tax cuts enacted in Kansas were among the biggest ever authorized by any state. These tax cuts are costing Kansas 8 percent of the revenue it uses to fund schools, health care and other services. It is predicted that the loss of revenue will rise to 16 percent in five years if the laws are not changed.

The tax cuts have also failed to stimulate the economy. Kansas is growing at a much a slower rate than surrounding states. In order to balance the budget, taxes need to be raised or budget cuts need to made. The ultra-conservative legislature, following Brownback’s poor leadership, won’t approve any tax increases. That means cuts have to be made, and they are brutal.

For the fiscal years 2014 and 2015, $35 million from the state’s higher education operating budget was cut. That affects regents universities like K-State, in addition to community and technical colleges.

Recently, the legislature (cheered on by Brownback) has cut the block grant that state regents universities use to pay their employees. Universities that underspent their salary budget line, usually due to open positions, had their salary line reduced to what they truly spent.

On the other hand, universities that used other funds to pay employees over the state budgeted amount had their salary funding cut by the amount of supplemental employee pay. K-State alone lost $4 million. In addition to the salary reduction, the overall general fund support universities receive from the state was slashed by another 1.5 percent.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reported that Kansas is one of eight states still funding higher education at post-recession levels. The state has cut higher education funding by nearly 23 percent, or $1,663 per student, adjusted for inflation. The recession ended in June 2009. Why is Brownback continuing to cut higher education funding, limiting Kansas’ recession recovery?

“We think that approach is kind of out of line with mainstream fiscal policy research,” Michael Leachman, one of the three authors of the center’s study, said to the Topeka Capital-Journal of Brownback’s supply-side economic practices. “So far, there’s no sign of an economic boost from the tax cuts.”

Brownback will say that the state is putting money into higher education, but that money is actually going in the Kansas Public Employee Retirement System. That’s the reason for the 5 percent tuition increase all K-State students suffered in August. Saying that money is going into higher education when it is going into KPERs is like buying cake for all of your employees, then saying the money you spent on the cake is their raise.

Brownback’s experiment with supply-side economics has failed to provide the state with the revenue it needs to fund basic services like affordable, quality higher education. This hole in funding resulted in Brownback’s insanely drastic cuts to higher education. Now, universities have no choice but to pass the financial burden onto their students.

The question stands: why is Brownback making it increasingly difficult for Kansas students and their families to afford college?

Brownback has had innumerable opportunities to encourage the legislature and lead the way to restoring Kansas’ higher education funding to pre-recession levels, and he failed to step up to the plate. It is time for someone new, who will go to bat for Kansas students and families struggling to pay for college by increasing state funding for higher education.

Maria Penrod is a junior in mass communications. Please send comments to opinion@kstatecollegian.com.

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