Pending budget cuts cause ‘concern’
Marcus Clem | Collegio Reporter
Massive state income tax cuts signed into law by Gov. Sam Brownback earlier this year have created a need to slash spending in Topeka.
As a public university and a member of the Kansas Board of Regents highe
r education system, Pittsburg State is in part funded through the budgetary process.
While Brownback has promised to protect education, it is prudent for Pittsburg State to plan for a tight state budget that could affect the university, says university President Steve Scott.
“Some people believe that it is going to be devastating,” Scott said. “There are others who believe that it is going to cause the state economy to grow and the revenues will come along and the state will be in good shape.”
In any case, Scott says he is concerned.
“We are concerned with the downside of that rather than those who say it is all going to work out. It makes sense for us to be more prudent and careful in our planning.”
That planning is primarily in the hands of John Patterson, vice president of administration and campus life. Patterson says that the university mainly seeks to acquire state funding through the annual Kansas Board of Regents Higher Education Unified Appropriation Request.
After it is sent to the governor and various state offices that finalize the executive recommendation for funding, the request is delivered to the state Legislature. Over the course of an about 90-day session, the state House and Senate decide what increases or decreases relative to the previous year will occur. Pitt State then receives a share of the unified appropriation as determined by the Board of Regents. This process is likely to begin in January 2013 and be finalized by May, Patterson says.
“Right now, it is way too early in the process to accurately predict what the legislative outcome will be,” Patterson said.
The governor’s office has notified most state offices and departments that they should plan for up to a 10 percent decrease in funding.
“It will certainly force a lot of decisions to be made,” said Daniel Betti, professor of political science. “If you think about a 10 percent cut, look around you and see: What would you cut from this university, to make up the 10 percent shortfall? Do you think you could find that 10 percent that doesn’t need to be spent? That is the question that people should ask themselves to see if they support this tax policy or not …
“That is a heck of a prospect, though, cutting 10 percent of your budget. Imagine cutting 10 percent of your own personal budget. I do not envy the people of this university that might have to propose that plan.”
Scott says he is confident that the governor will stand by his pledge to maintain higher education funding at its present level.
“I think the governor really understands the importance of higher education in terms of growing the economy and moving the state forward,” Scott said. “He really has been on record about how we need to continue to invest in our education.”
Patterson provided documentation showing that the Board of Regents has requested a 1.7 percent increase in university funding as well as a 1 percent increase in employee salaries. It is not yet clear whether these increases will be provided in addition to the promised protection from cuts. Scott says that the university has recent experience with these problems.
“It is in some ways sad to say, but we have experience with this,” Scott said. “We know there are ups and downs in the state funding. To some extent you’ve seen a lot of pressure on tuition … We know there are limits to that state funding.”
For the state as a whole, about $2 billion in revenue decreases will be affecting the state government’s annual budget over the course of the next four years.
The revenue loss stems from this year’s income tax changes that would lower the individual income tax rate from 6.45 to 4.9 percent and exempt owners of 191,000 small businesses and partnerships from any income taxes to the state, according to The Kansas City Star. The state is prohibited from taking on debt, so that shortfall must come out of the budget at one point or another.
“Good policy is always a matter of what you want to produce,” Betti said. “It looks like Brownback and Republicans in Kansas want to produce a smaller government. If you want to produce a smaller government, you have to cut the amount of money that government is taking in. That’s really the only way to go about doing that.”