Student Governing Association paired with the Alumni Association and the Governmental Relations Office to bring local political leaders to K-State for Pizza and Politics with student leaders. Raney Gilliland, director of the Kansas Legislative Research Department; Dan Murray, interim director of government relations for the Kansas Board of Regents; and Sen. Michael O’Donnell, Kansas Senator from the 25th District; answered questions submitted by the Governmental Relations committee about Kansas policy, budgeting, and higher education.
“I feel that Pizza and Politics is an important event because the origins of the event began as an educational event to inform constituent groups on campus of the value that state and local governments play into the role of higher education,” said Garrett Kays, governmental relations legislative assistant and junior in agricultural economics.
Following the election, all three speakers said they agreed that balancing the budget was high on the priority list for legislators in the upcoming year. Gilliland said he anticipates that the governor will propose a two-year budget as was the case two years ago.
“Kansas enacted some very aggressive tax cuts not too long ago,” O’Donnell said. “When you make a tax cut, you have to balance your budget. What we’re trying to do is make sure that we’re meeting all of our obligations. We’re going to have to be very deliberate and skillful during this next session in making sure that we have a balanced budget and we don’t sacrifice any of our quality services that we provide to Kansas.”
Issues discussed also included where higher education funding fit in as a priority for legislators. With higher education only making up about 12 percent of the budget, ensuring that colleges and K-State get a piece of the pie will be a continued challenge for K-State and Board of Regents representatives.
“The universities set their priorities but then they go to the Board of Regents and the Board of Regents decide what the priorities really are for the system as a whole. Then they come to the legislature with those priorities,” Gilliland said.
Murray said that he has concerns that education is the easier place to cut than road maintenance and other necessary budgetary needs, which could hurt how much funding education receives in an already tight budget.
“Even on the years that we didn’t cut, higher education cost continue to go up and up,” O’Donnell said.
O’Donnell said he believes that K-State is the most popular university within the legislature, which can be incredibly beneficial to representatives who lobby for the benefit of the university.
Speakers said that it’s important for students and K-State representatives to be armed with facts and knowledge when dealing with legislators, but to also approach the conversation in a non-combative way. Kays, who was heavily involved in the planning of the event, said he believes that students being informed and involved in local and state government is vitally important for the strength of K-State and Kansas.
“I think it’s easy for a lot of students to not pay attention to state politics and policy as well,” said Kays. “I think a majority of people are just worried about what’s happening in Washington. But I’m a firm believer that Topeka has just a big an impact, especially on students.”