State senate restores budget cuts, slices renovations


Cash-strapped state universities are finally seeing some light at the end of a tunnel fraught with budgetary woes. 

Late Monday, the state Senate passed a budget proposal that would eliminate Gov. Steve Beshear’s 2.5 percent budget cut. For WKU, that cut meant an impending $1.8 million loss if passed by legislators. The loss would’ve compounded a guaranteed $3.1 million budget hole the university faces while balancing next year’s budget. 

However, the Senate’s proposal wasn’t without its drawbacks. Senate leadership removed the funding for capital projects, including the $48 million needed for WKU to renovate Thompson Complex Central Wing. Of the $520 million in state capital projects, only two projects survived with funding in tact. 

President Gary Ransdell said the Senate’s decision puts university administrators in a difficult decision.

“How do you choose your right arm or your left arm?” he said. “We’re pleased that the senate has found a way to restore the budget cut, but it took away the capital projects. We need Thompson Complex renovation in the worst way.” 

The next step for the budget is joint discussion between the Republican-led Senate and the Democratic-led House that could continue on into late next week. 

Robbin Taylor, vice president for Public Affairs, said she’ll be in Frankfort on the university’s behalf until the session comes to a close and everything is finalized.

“No rest for the weary quite yet,” she said. “We are hopeful that in the compromise agreement they will both restore the cut and include the projects. That’s what we’ll be advocating.”

Taylor said she was prepared for significant differences between the House’s proposal and the Senate’s. The appointed conference committees for both Senate and House leadership will negotiate a final budget, which will then be presented to the full membership for a vote. 

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonburg, said there is “wiggle room on both sides.” Ransdell hopes that wiggle room will result in acceptable compromises on both the budget cut and capital projects. 

“I’m hoping the House and Senate can come together in some compromise,” he said. “I’d be willing to accept a reduced budget cut if we can get some funding for the capital projects even if we have to split it — the university cover some and the state cover some.”

Senate leadership had difficulty in acquiring more debt for capital projects, with the biggest ticket item being a Rupp Arena renovation requiring $65 million from the state. Debate surrounding the capital projects and other budgetary matters led to 11 Democrats abstaining from the vote.

“They hinted they were having a hard time with taking on more debt for capital projects and they’d hinted they were trying to address the budget cut,” Ransdell said. “I was pleasantly surprised that they found the full two and a half percent, and not too surprised with their action on capital projects. I just hope House leadership can restore those projects.”

If the final budget alleviated the budget cut, WKU would be willing to acquire debt in order to begin the Thompson Complex renovation, Ransdell said. 

“We might be able to take on some debt in order to complete a project like that if the state will fund most of it,” he said. “If we can get some relief on the budget cut, we’re well-down the road toward building a balanced budget … We’d be willing to entertain those compromises.”