Protect funding for higher education

Brownback right to resist efforts to cut it

By The Mercury

Given the many needs of Kansas State University and the other Kansas Board of Regents institutions, simply maintaining current state funding for higher education seems inadequate. Yet given legislative proposals that call for funding cuts of up to 4 percent, maintaining current funding this year is the best the institutions can hope for.

Gov. Sam Brownback, who wants to maintain current funding levels for the major institutions as well as for community colleges and technical colleges, is taking his case in the next couple of weeks to a number of Regents institutions, including, on May 6, KSU.

“What I want to do is lay out the full vision for higher education in Kansas,” the governor said Tuesday.

His vision is at odds with Republican majorities in both the Kansas Senate and House. The House is calling for a 4-percent funding cut for higher ed. That would trim $29 million in operational spending in addition to $18 million in salary cuts. As for the Senate, its proposal calls for a 2-percent funding cut.

Although Gov. Brownback is right to fight against further cuts to higher education, we hope he recognizes that it can be done without keeping the statewide sales tax at 6.3 percent. He’s insisted all session on keeping the sales tax at that level despite the commitment of legislators and then-Gov. Mark Parkinson three years ago — and the sentiment of many present legislators — to allow it to expire on July 1.

Gov. Brownback has indicated that the higher sales tax is necessary to offset the loss of revenue stemming from last year’s massive income tax cuts and additional income tax cuts he seeks. We acknowledge the benefit of income tax cuts: they leave money in taxpayers’ pockets and attract new businesses and residents. But if the governor and Legislature keep the sales tax at 6.3 percent, they should include provisions to ease the burden on low-income Kansans, such as exempting food and other necessities.

We also hope the governor doesn’t attempt to link stable funding for higher education to keeping the sales tax at 6.3 percent. That funding can be maintained without the higher sales tax if the governor taps the brakes on his drive to eliminate income taxes.

Eliminating income taxes might be a worthy goal, but the pace at which income taxes are being cut is creating preventable funding shortfalls that affect higher education as well as the state’s other core responsibilities.

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