Salary cap to be fought

By The Mercury

Representatives of the Kansas Board of Regents are expected to testify Monday afternoon against a proposal introduced in the Kansas Legislature that they say would cap salaries and wages at higher education institutions.

Vanessa Lamoreaux, associate communications director for the Regents, said the hearing is being conducted by the House Education Budget Sub-Committee. The measure, HB2231, was sponsored by the House Appropriations Committee and would cap salaries and wages at current spending from all funding sources for all state government agencies. Lamoreaux said the measure’s effects also include “grants and other external funding sources used to attract and retain talented professors and leaders at higher education institutions.”

  She said the measure “would stifle research efforts among state universities in hiring new personnel to work on specific grants and contracts awarded by federal and other organizations,” and would also reduce alternate salary funding options from non-state funds to employees at state universities.

The hearing is part of a broader legislative effort to approve measures that would spend some $14 billion, including $6 billion from the state general fund.

Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce said that the state would face a deficit in fiscal year 2018 of approximately $135 million based on current budget and tax projections. The plan calls for 1.8 percent increases in state government spending in each of the next two fiscal years and a 4 percent increase in each year after that.

Legislators built the budgets on tax plans that would make further reductions in income tax rates, although the House version wouldn’t keep in place a 2010 increase in the state sales tax rate that is scheduled to expire after June 30. The Senate version would keep the sales tax rate at 6.3 percent, instead allowing it to slip to 5.7 percent.

House Taxation Committee Chairman Richard Carlson said the chamber’s tax plan is different from the one proposed by Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, but has the same goal of eliminating the state’s income tax.

“The House plan is responsible and sustainable because it controls spending and you never cut taxes more than the growth of the economy allows,” said Carlson, a St. Marys Republican. “We’re just taking a slightly different path.”

Senate President Susan Wagle said she had concerns about the budget committee’s proposed reductions for state research universities and hoped legislators could find savings elsewhere.

“I believe there are places where there is money that we can take a look at,” said the Wichita Republican.

Like the Senate, the House budget proposal doesn’t cut K-12 schools, public safety or state hospitals. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Marc Rhoades said legislators took recommendations from state agencies to make $25 million in spending cuts.

House Minority Leader Paul Davis and Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley criticized the proposed budgets for trimming spending from Brownback’s recommendations for higher education. The governor has proposed holding spending flat, and Davis and Hensley say reducing it will force tuition increases.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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