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Brownback advisers call for more higher-ed support

By The Mercury

Gov. Sam Brownback convened his top panel of economic advisers on Kansas State University’s campus Tuesday, an appropriate place to hear a call for a greater financial commitment to higher education.

The Governor’s Council of Economic Advisors received various reports, including one from the head of K-State’s Institute For Commercialization who said investment in that area would be a key to the state’s economic progress. Kent Glasscock told the council that wealth can be fashioned from the knowledge produced on and around campuses.

“Through outreach into the private sector, we can connect to a global marketplace with our areas of expertise,” Glasscock said.

It was the second significant statement in two days regarding the importance of state spending on higher education, following up on the issuance of a national report Tuesday that noted declines averaging 20 percent in state commitments to university education. The level of that state commitment is expected to be a key issue as Kansans go the polls to select a new House and Senate in November.

“This is a big deal,” Brownback said, asserting that increasing the stature of the universities will require “reallocation of resources at the universities and investments from the state.”

The Council of Economic Advisors is a panel of 17 state business leaders named by the governor to recommend growth strategies. The panel was created last year. Its members include Jan Lyons, a Manhattan rancher and executive of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. Brownback chairs the council.

The governor described the session as an effort to improve the state universities’ rankings. The session included a presentation by KSU President Kirk Schulz on his administration’s efforts to elevate K-State to top 50 research status by 2025.

Although the council session focused on the status of higher education, the agenda was not limited to that. Council members from various industries stressed to Brownback their view that he needs to do a better job of spreading word about actions taken by the state to reduce business taxes. The Kansas Legislature last year passed a measure designed to exempt the owners of 191,000 partnerships, sole proprietorships and other businesses from income taxes. In addition, the new law also will decrease the individual income tax rates for 2013, with the top rate dropping to 4.9 percent from 6.45 percent.

“No one knows about the new tax structure,” said Ivan Crossland, chief executive officer of Crossland Construction and a council member. He said business owners need to know about the tax cuts so they will “invest in the economy.”

David Murfin, president of Murfin Drilling, said a lot of business heads don’t believe the tax cuts are coming. Some in Topeka have said the reductions are too steep, and will have to be modified by the 2013 legislature.

“We need to get this out in the social media,” Brownback replied. “Maybe we need to start a ‘Believe it’ campaign.”

Kansas Board of Regents Vice Chairman Fred Logan said the Regents have long-term plans to increase rankings.

“We are serious,” Logan said. “All of our universities are serious about their aspirational missions,” he said.

Economic council members said they were impressed with the K-State plan and a similar one created by KU, and recommended that the universities report more frequently on progress made on those plans.

Brownback suggested putting together a summit on higher education to look at “where we are and where we are going” and include leadership from “all sectors of Kansas.”

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