Local politicians discuss issues, cuts to K-State funding

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A vote today in the Kansas House of Representatives could make millions of dollars of difference for K-State. Funding for the Seaton Hall renovation and proposed funding cuts are on the line, state Rep. Sydney Carlin, D-Manhattan, said at a public legislative forum Saturday.

The legislative forum was held at the Sunset Zoo and was hosted by the Manhattan Area Chamber of Commerce. It included four state legislators: Sen. Tom Hawk, D-Manhattan, and Reps. Carlin, Tom Phillips, R-Manhattan and Susie Swanson, R-Clay Center.

The House budget bill includes language that approves $60 million in bonding authority for Seaton Hall renovations and $3.7 million for debt service. The Senate budget bill, which does not have funding for the Seaton Hall renovations, includes $3.2 million in combined cuts to K-State for each of the next two years.

Carlin, a House Appropriations Committee member, said the House will vote today on the Senate budget bill. If the House approves of the Senate bill, the cuts will become final and funding for Seaton Hall renovations will not be included.

The $3.2 million cut comprises $2.1 million in general operational expenses for the university, $949,476 for K-State Research and Extension, and $146,270 for the College of Veterinary Medicine.

Hawk said several of his colleagues are enthusiastic about K-State Vision 2025 but unwilling to invest the necessary funds.

“Every businessperson knows that you have to pay,” Hawk said. “You have to invest, and we’ve been investing. And the state has an obligation to invest, even though our public universities have had to rely more and more on private funding.”

Hawk said that, despite the Salina campus’ positive impact on Salina, lawmakers’ policies do not reflect that.

“Unfortunately, our representatives – both in the senate and the house – from Salina forget what our university expansion in Salina does for the Salina community,” Hawk said. “And those people constantly, in their positions of power, do things that hurt K-State and hurt our Regents. I hope they will have a reckoning and realize that we need public universities desperately.”

In addition to the $3.2 million cut to K-State in the Senate bill, other state universities will also be affected. The University of Kansas faces a $4.6 million cut, but Pittsburg State University will receive an additional $1 million for their School of Transportation.

Hawk said the bill also changes the way certain types of scholarships are allocated to private and public universities. The Lawrence Journal-World reported on Wednesday that the bill requires $15.4 million in “comprehensive grant” funds be divided 75 percent to private institution students and 25 percent to public institution students. The need-based awards are usually split evenly.

“We need private schools,” Hawk said. “We need an educated workforce in Kansas. And I don’t think we can short-strip anybody, but to steal from K-State to give to Pittsburg or to steal from KU to give to Wichita State, or to steal from our public universities to give to private schools is not the solution.”

The legislators also discussed the repeal of the K-12 education funding formula and its replacement with block grant funding.

Phillips said that the 23-year-old funding formula deserved a reevaluation, but he did not support repealing it. He said the formula was complicated because it’s amendments reflect the diversity of Kansas and the student population, citing the higher fuel costs for rural districts and an influx of students who cannot speak English as examples.

Phillips said that the block grant system, which already has legal challenges, could result in a loss of $600,000 for the Manhattan-Ogden school district, according to his conversation with Superintendent Robert Shannon.

Hawk said the state government inflates its education funding numbers by transferring a 20-mill local property tax and the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System into the state education budget before sending the funds to their designated spots.

The legislators also talked about proposals to solve the funding hole in KPERS. Carlin said that the bond proposal is attractive to some because of the immediate infusion of cash but said it’s like using a credit card to pay your house payments.

Hawk said he favors a different committee proposal that solved the unfunded liabilities of KPERS by 2033 through a combination of employee contributions and state funding. The bond proposal, Hawk said, would take until 2043.

Hawk said that some of the proposed solutions may be logical for the state financially, but they will be bad for enticing state employees.

The state’s budget situation has resulted in several proposed tax increases. The legislators agreed that, even though it will do little to solve the problem, an increase on “sin” taxes of tobacco and alcohol is likely.

“There isn’t enough sin in Kansas to balance the budget,” Hawk said.

Other potential tax increases include a freeze on the income tax cuts, an increase in the sales tax and cutting the property tax homestead credit. Carlin said there is a proposal that would raise the property valuation of farmland, which would result in higher taxes.

“I am going to end up raising your taxes,” Phillips said.

He added that any tax increase should be a long-term solution rather than a short-term one.

“If taxes are increased, K-State will be okay,” Phillips said.

Phillips said he felt a lack of urgency about finding a solution for the problems with the state budget.

“It just seems like to me that the sense of urgency, the sense of we have to focus on the real issue at heart, hasn’t really emerged,” Phillips said.

The legislators voiced disapproval of using Department of Transportation funds to fill the budget hole, likening it to kicking the can down the road. They also supported a five cent, three-year fuel tax increase to raise funds for KDOT.

When talking about health care, the legislators agreed that Medicaid could potentially be expanded, but Phillips said he thinks the issue is too political to pass this session.

“Being so naïve as a freshman, I sat down with the chairperson of the committee and just pleaded my case on Medicaid expansion and quickly learned that if the speaker of the House doesn’t want it to be heard, it will not be heard,” Swanson said.

Phillips said he is concerned that without Medicaid expansion, rural hospitals will have to ask their communities for property tax funding because of lower reimbursement rates from the federal government for Medicaid patients.

“I think we’re really foolish,” Hawk said. “That money, which we paid in as Kansas tax payers, will stay with the federal government, and it will go to other states that (expand Medicaid).”

Carlin also expressed concern about the lack of discussion about health care.

“I think it’s also a revenge against the Affordable Care Act,” Carlin said. “Who are you hurting? You’re not hurting the president. You’re hurting our people.”

Phillips and Hawk said that they enjoyed working with Reagan Kays, senior in agribusiness and student body president, on the Lifeline 911 bill, which was passed the Senate last Wednesday.

“We don’t want to endorse them breaking the law and doing the wrong thing, but we don’t want somebody to lose their life for that,” Hawk said.

Phillips also said there are two bill concerning veterans affairs. One gives a preference to hire veterans and the other protects the jobs of members of the Air and National guards if they are called to another state.

There will be another legislative forum April 25 at the Union-Pacific Railway Depot.

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Jason Tidd graduated from Kansas State University's Miller School of Journalism and Mass Communication in May 2017. He was the spring 2017 editor-in-chief, fall 2016 news editor and spring 2016 assistant news editor. While at K-State, Jason played baritone in the Pride of Wildcat Land marching band.