Pittsburg State University conducted a legislative town hall meeting this week in an effort to keep the university community informed on state decisions that may impact campus.
PSU President Steve Scott, chief strategy officer Shawn Naccarato, and legislative liaison Riley Scott hosted the town hall at 2 p.m. Monday, April 29 in Ballroom C of the Overman Student Center as state legislators are set to return to session Wednesday, May 1 with continued discussions on the restoration of funding for higher education as part of the agenda.
“We think it’s just so important that you keep in mind what’s going on in Topeka because it has such a dramatic impact on the campus and has over the past decade, as you all know,” said Scott. “I think it’s really important we come together periodically.”
Since 2008, Kansas state universities have been dealt funding cuts resulting in a system-wide loss of roughly $100 million. The Kansas Board of Regents have asked for a $50 million increase to base funding for this fiscal year, with Kansas Governor Laura Kelly recommending a $10 million base increase. State budget committees have currently agreed to a $16.5 million increase, with the Senate open to discussions that could result in up to $33 million in additional base funding for higher education.
“We are getting some somewhat positive signs of openness from the Senate that they are willing to continue discussing, particularly given the consensus revenue estimates which have just recently come out that are not downgrading,” Naccarato said. “We have been up in our receipts last month and other months, so we should be in a position where $33 million would not kill the budget.”
Kelly has also recommended a 2.5 percent pay increase for all state employees, including those employed at state universities. As it stands, the Kansas House of Representatives have adopted the governor’s recommendation, however the Senate have yet to do so.
“We’ve been very grateful to Governor Kelly for her recommendation on that because in year’s past, as you recall, there’s been times where we were not included in that, or if we were included there was no funding associated with it,” Naccarato said.
In the past, discussions on the K-12 budget have taken higher priority during sessions. However, this year the budget has been settled for the time being, with the Kansas Supreme Court scheduled to address the legislation in June or July.
“In previous years that’s been one of the bigger issues, is that (K-12) has spilled over, and that is the most contentious,” Naccarato said. “It’s either that or tax increases or cuts are the most contentious three things… Now the court might have a different perspective, but it’s settled for this session and they actually had a bipartisan support of this formula, so we’ll see how that rolls out as the court comes in.”
Talks over Governor Kelly’s planned expansion of Medicaid and ensuring funding of the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System (KPERS) are also expected at Wednesday’s session. Kansas’ 10-year transportation plan known as T-Works will be ending soon and may influence budgetary spending as well.
“There is pressure, even though that bill won’t be completed this year, to save money in the budget now so that that funding is there next year when they do another transportation plan,” Riley Scott said. “So that’s another challenge. It’s a good time in the sense that we actually have money in the budget and we’re going to end with money in the bank so to speak, but there’s pressure to hold on to that money and not spend it all now on priorities that are in front of us today, saving for namely transportation in the future.”
At this time, Riley Scott believes this session will continue on into next week despite Republicans looking to address lingering tax concerns after Kelly’s veto of Senate Bill 22 and end the session before Democrats can force a vote on Medicare expansion.
“They want to be out as soon as possible,” he said. “… I don’t think they could get done by Friday but work into the weekend. Work Saturday, Sunday if necessary and get it done. I think it’s a bit ambitious, I think it’s a good target for them to shoot for, but I would imagine that will bleed over into next week.”
For those who were unable to attend, a recording of Monday’s town hall is archived at pittstate.tv.