“Kansas is at a crossroads,” PSU President Steve Scott told faculty and staff Tuesday. “The question is, ‘Are we going to see higher education as an investment in the future or a drain on the resources of the State of Kansas.”
Scott, speaking to a campus forum on the legislative session, said decisions the legislature makes in its waning days could be damaging to PSU and all of higher education.
Scott and Shawn Naccarato, director of government and community relations for PSU, laid out the various funding proposals that are on the table. Although in his budget Gov. Sam Brownback recommended flat funding for higher education, the Kansas Senate budget calls for a 2 percent cut and the House for a 4 percent cut. The two latter budget plans also allow the expiration of the .6 percent sales tax increase while Brownback calls for extending the sales tax increase.
The so-called veto session to resolve those differences begins May 8.
Saying he was choosing his words “very, very carefully,” Scott said the worst-case scenario under the House budget “is equivalent to the reduction of 30 positions on campus.”
The president was quick to emphasize the words “equivalent to.”
“That does not mean there will be 30 positions cut,” he said.
Naccarato said higher education had been caught up in a political battle over the extension of the .6 percent sales tax increase.
“We have become a pawn in a game of high-stakes poker,” Naccarato said.
He pointed out that in order to fill the hole created by allowing the .6 percent sales tax to expire, legislators had few choices.
Naccarato said that under the House bill, cuts to higher education would be $76.5 million.
“Forty percent of the cuts needed to get to a balanced budget come from higher education,” he said.
President Scott said he had testified before legislative leaders and advocated for continuing support for higher education. He confessed some puzzlement with some people who did not understand the value higher education brings to the state.
“Our Kansas Chamber of Commerce seems to believe that the less revenue Kansas has, the better off our state residents are,” Scott said.
President Scott said he was communicating with alumni and friends of the university, asking them to make their opinions known to their own legislators.
“We are reaching out to our graduates through the Gorilla Legislative Network (GLN), e-mails and blogs,” Scott said. “We need for them to be advocates and participants.”
The president, who frequently conducts open sessions with the campus community on legislative and budgetary issues, said his goal wasn’t to create anxiety but to provide information.
“I don’t want you to be totally stressed by this,” Scott said, “but you should understand this. Our goal is for people to understand the depth of the situation and to advocate (on behalf of higher education).”
He concluded by encouraging faculty and staff to continue to serve students and the community.
“Each one of us can play a role in having a successful fall,” Scott said. “Not everyone can play a role in making Topeka do the right thing.”
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