Ransdell optimistic about budget

Lindsey Reed

Western might get a reason to celebrate despite the $5.6 million budget cut last spring.

Some administrators on the Hill are optimistic that Western could receive more state funding now than if a budget was passed during the General Assembly session last spring.

President Gary Ransdell said legislators will have more confidence now than they did last spring because of an improved economy.

Ransdell said he believes Western and other colleges and universities might get more state funding when a budget is passed.

House Speaker Jody Richards, D-Bowling Green, said the economy grew more in the last six months than what was projected.

“I do think higher education will fair better than the budget the governor originally proposed,” Richards said.

The state’s economy grew 10.5 percent in July when original projections were only 3.5 percent, Richards said.

The General Assembly failed to pass a budget in April during the regular session.

Western is operating on the same state budget from last year minus $5.6 million, Ransdell said.

The governor is only allowed to spend the same amount that was spent in the last state budget, said Robbin Taylor, assistant to the president for governmental relations.

The General Assembly could pass a budget during the short session, which begins in January, or Gov. Ernie Fletcher could call a special session.

Taylor said a state budget would probably be passed after the November election.

“My hope is that more money will go toward higher education,” she said.

Fletcher previously said he would not call a special session until the House and Senate could reach an agreement, Taylor said.

Richards said he was unsure of when a budget could be passed, but it was still a top priority.

“The House tried very, very hard to get a budget,” he said. “The governor’s priority has been a tax plan.”

Taylor said $20 million has already been added to Fletcher’s spending plan for higher education. Half of that additional funding has already been distributed.

Western is expected to receive $581,000 from the $10 million, Taylor said. Most of the money will go toward a project to transfer some extended campus programs at the Owensboro Community College.

“The state’s revenue picture looks much brighter than it did in the winter,” interim economics chair Bill Davis said.

Davis said there are indicators that the national economy is still expanding, but at a slower rate than earlier in the year.

Kentucky is following national trends of employment growth and industrial output, Davis said.

All versions of currently known proposed budgets include $27 million to renovate Western’s science facilities, specifically Science and Technology Hall and Thompson Complex, Ransdell said.

There is $2.5 million in state funding and $4 million in agency bond authority to renovate Schneider Hall to become the Kentucky Academy for Math and Science, Ransdell said.

Western’s still lacks $2.5 million in state funding and another $1 million in agency bond authority to finish the total project, Ransdell said.

Administrators also expect bond authority to build a new health center for $4 million and a $7 million expansion of the South Campus for parking and classrooms, Ransdell said.

Authority to issue bonds for phase three of the Downing University Center renovation project is also expected, Ransdell said.

Western is currently generating revenue from donations, federal money and tuition, Ransdell said.

Sen. Virgil Moore, R-Leitchfield, said a state budget will probably not be passed before January.

Moore also believes higher education could get more funding.

“As the economy and wages and salaries increase, money for education will increase,” he said.

Reach Lindsey Reed at [email protected]