Ky. House speaker floats higher education proposal

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Kentucky House leaders will try to spare
higher education from spending cuts as they plug away at erasing a
shortfall looming over the next state budget, Speaker Greg Stumbo
said Friday after meeting with university presidents.
Top House budget writers recently proposed a 2 percent cut for
public universities and colleges in the first year of the next
budget and flat funding in the second year.
The 2 percent cut would produce yearly savings of about $20
Stumbo reversed course Friday, saying he hoped lawmakers could
preserve that funding for higher education, but warning greater
accountability would be expected from the schools.
"Higher education has gone through a series of budget cuts,"
Stumbo told reporters after the hourlong meeting between House
Democratic leaders and university presidents.
"They have constraints - I understand growing demands in health
care, in retirement. ... We understand their problems."
Earlier Friday, Stumbo raised the possibility of attaching
conditions to preserving the funding for public universities, or
perhaps pooling the proposed cuts and making the schools earn their
share through improved performance or caps on tuition.
Stumbo, a Prestonsburg Democrat, backed off such conditions
later, but said the schools would face higher expectations.
"We told them that we want to help them," he said. "That in
exchange we expect results."
For one thing, lawmakers want a more seamless higher education
system, Stumbo said.
The House has passed a bill aimed at making it easier for
community college students to transfer to four-year public
universities. The Kentucky Community and Technical College System
would align its general education requirements with bachelor's
degrees programs at state universities. Stumbo said that should
have been done years ago.
Western Kentucky University President Gary Ransdell said he was
encouraged by the meeting.
"I think our legislative leaderships are trying hard to help
education and do what they can," he said. "And we're going to do
what we can to deliver on productivity."
Asked if he thinks the universities will be spared from cuts,
Ransdell replied, "It's way too early to start predicting what's
going to happen."
House Democratic leaders have suggested budget cuts and other
steps to try to plug a shortfall exceeding $1 billion for the next
two-year state budget cycle, which starts July 1. They also are
looking at suspending some tax exemptions to raise revenue.
The House leaders hope to finish work in the coming days on
their budget plan.
House leaders have been looking to replace $780 million in new
revenue that Beshear assumed in his budget from his support of
expanded gambling in Kentucky. Beshear's proposal to allow video
slot machines at race tracks has gone nowhere in the legislative
Senate President David Williams, a Burkesville Republican, told
reporters Friday that balancing the next budget will be impossible
"unless we have shared sacrifice."
Williams said he didn't think that a 2 percent cut would affect
operations "in any meaningful sort of way." He added that "the
expectations of excellence that we have should not be affected by
the fact that we spend 2 percent less money."
The Senate will put its imprint on the budget once the spending
plan passes the House.
Paul Patton, chairman of the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary
Education, said many of the issues discussed at the meeting didn't
revolve around immediate budget matters. Participants talked about
retention and graduation rates, accountability and the ease of
transferring credits.
Patton, a former governor, said the university presidents laid
out that their schools are faced with rising costs for operations,
retirement and health care.
"If they get flat funding, they are still going to have to
figure out how to cover like a 3 or 4 percent cost increase that's
going to be there," he told reporters. "So that's effectively a
cut in we got level funding."
Since the 2007-2008 fiscal budget year, the state's public
campuses - including the community and technical colleges - have
been cut more than $78 million, or 7 percent, according to figures
from the Council on Postsecondary Education.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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