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PSU officials recap ‘historic’ legislative session

July 05, 2012 12:00AM

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President Steve Scott addresses a campus forum on the 2012 legislative session.

PSU President Steve Scott, and Shawn Naccarato, the university’s director of government and community relations spent the better part of an hour on June 6 updating the campus community on the just-completed legislative session. It was the continuation of a series of forums and discussions the president has had with the campus about important issues affecting the university.

The president told the group that it was important to him that there was transparency on campus about the university’s efforts in Topeka and about the major issues the university confronts.

“I hope these updates have been helpful to you,” the president said.

Scott and Naccarato used adjectives like “historic,” “contentious,” and “significant,” to describe the 2012 session.

“There’s been a lot of tension between the left side and the right side of the political spectrum. I’m kind of old fashioned. I grew up thinking that solutions are kind of in the middle,” President Scott said, referring to the political battles over a wide range of issues. “But that’s not where the political process has led us.”

Scott and Naccarato highlighted a number of legislative actions this spring that were positive for PSU and they cautioned the state employees against overreacting to concerns about tax and budget changes that may not be felt for one, two or even three years.

Naccarato began the discussion by highlighting the university’s successes. Those include getting $500,000 added to the university’s base allocation to begin a degree program in polymer chemistry. It will be the first in Kansas.

Naccarato said the additional money will allow the university to hire four new faculty whose time will be split evenly between teaching polymer chemistry and doing research at the Kansas Polymer Research Center.

“Next year we will work to get the second $500,000 for the program,” Naccarato said.

Other successes for the university included additional funding for deferred maintenance projects and the reinstitution of the undermarket pay plan, which is a program designed to help make salaries for classified employees competitive with similar workers in the private sector.

Naccarato reported that although early in the session there seemed to be some support for a small across-the-board pay increase for state employees, that failed to survive the contentious negotiations in the final days of the session.

Changes were made to KPERS, the retirement system for public employees, Naccarato said. Those include an increase in the employer contribution in 2014-2015 for some employees and removal of the cost of living adjustment for employees hired after July 1, 2012. The new law also creates a new cash balance defined benefit plan for employees hired after July 1, 2015.

Naccarato also recapped several new laws that affect the university. Those include changes to the qualified admissions window and restrictions on the use of state money for remedial courses; an effort to expand the concealed-carry gun law to campuses, which failed; a plan to repeal in-state tuition for undocumented students; which failed; extension of the deferred maintenance tax credit, which passed; and a bill to streamline the process for obtaining educational license plates, which also passed.

Scott and Naccarato both agreed that it was too early to tell whether the massive tax reform bill that the governor signed would ultimately bring dramatic growth to the state’s economy and thereby increase state revenue or, as detractors claim, bring about financial calamity.

“It does worry me, but I’m not a tax expert,” the president said. “We just don’t know. But, we will know as this plays out.”

The president encouraged the staff, as good citizens, to be part of the discussion and to be involved in the political process.

“I don’t believe these issues are going away,” he said.

©2012 Pittsburg State University