Kansas Governor Sam Brownback has been on an all-out tour of state universities this week, calling on lawmakers to extend a sales tax and maintain funding for higher education in the coming budget.
State lawmakers are facing a budget deficit this year of hundreds of millions of dollars, following the passage of sweeping tax cuts last year. So, the current budget proposals out of the House and Senate call for reductions in funding to state universities.
The move would hit KU Medical Center particularly hard, according to officials there.
“The decisions that have to be made are very difficult and frankly, quite devastating and will set us back a decade,” said Doug Girod, Executive Vice Chancellor of the medical center.
Girod says the medical center would face a more than ten percent reduction in funds under the House proposal, putting its prestigious National Cancer Institute designation at risk and reducing the number of medical students admitted each year.
“I think the proposal in from of the legislature to cut this is a momentum killer. We want momentum to grow and to build,” Brownback said to Girod and others during a stop at the medical center Thursday afternoon, adding that it’s especially important the state support KU’s newer programs aimed at training more rural doctors.
Brownback said lawmakers’ actions reflect a lack of understanding of the complexities and needs of state universities.
“These are excellent people. It is a citizen legislature and a lot of them are new,” Brownback said. “And so they’re learning what all takes place, and these are complicated budgets.”
Brownback hopes an interim study of the state’s education programs will convince lawmakers the state can’t afford to further reduce university funding.
Brownback, who supported the recently enacted tax cuts, said extending a 2010 sales tax increase of six-tenths of a cent would ease that transition and fund the needed higher education programs at places like KU Med Center.