House budget bill would delay capital projects

Shawntaye Hopkins

Kentucky legislators continue to move toward a General Assembly vote on the state budget in April.

But if the state House has its way, colleges and universities will have to wait before putting up or knocking down any bricks for some projects.

The House passed a budget Tuesday that would delay funding for capital projects, but it preserved money Gov. Ernie Fletcher has proposed for higher education to compensate for enrollment growth.

The vote was 64-36.

Fletcher made his budget proposal in January.

Only one technical amendment on the floor was added to the budget bill, which was passed unanimously on Friday by the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee, said Rep. Harry Moberly, D-Richmond.

“We think we greatly improved the budget that the governor recommended,” said Moberly, chairman of the appropriations committee.

But not all state representatives agreed. All House Republicans voted against the bill when it was presented on the floor.

Fletcher called the budget bill an “affront to the people of Kentucky” in a story in The Courier-Journal on Sunday.

Fletcher also said he was proud of the Republicans for voting against the bill.

The budget bill is now being reviewed by the Republican-led Senate.

Robbin Taylor, assistant to the president for governmental relations, said the only question is how the Senate will revise the bill.

But from a political standpoint, change may not be easy, she said.

“It is difficult to undo some of what the House has done because the House has given significant raises to teachers and other state employees,” Taylor said.

Fletcher proposed about $400 million in bonds to be used for building projects by colleges and universities. For Western, that meant money to renovate science buildings.

Those projects were delayed one year so that the bonds would be available in 2006, Moberly said. The money that would have been used for capital projects next year will instead be used to secure more money for mostly elementary and secondary schools.

President Gary Ransdell said it is disheartening that the money to fund debt service is being used for salary increases for state employees and public school teachers.

“My question then is who’s looking out for college and university teachers and employees,” he said. “Once again, student-funded tuition becomes the only way for our faculty and staff to get any help.”

Ransdell said the delay in funding for building projects will eliminate the possibility of getting any priority projects funded in the next biennium.

John Osborne, associate vice president of campus services and facilities, said a delay in the renovation of Western’s science buildings will significantly impact the quality of instruction.

“All of those facilities are in desperate need of renovating and modernization,” he said.

The House also approved a bill that would allow universities to use money in their own budgets for housing and auxiliary projects, to be repaid by students, said Rep. Robert Damron, D-Nicholasville, who sponsored the bill.

“It really gives the university flexibility to meet the needs of students that the students are willing to pay for,” he said.

The bill includes $11 million for phase three of the Downing University Center renovation, $4 million for student health services and $4.2 million for parking and dining improvements for the community college.

Ransdell said the bill is tremendous because it would allow Western to initiate certain projects without affecting the state’s debt.

The $5 million that Fletcher proposed to compensate some colleges and universities for enrollment growth remains in the House’s budget bill.

A regional stewardship trust fund in the amount of $4.5 million was included in the House budget, Moberly said.

The Council on Post-Secondary Education would disperse the money to institutions for economic development projects, he said.

The House budget bill also calls for more oversight by CPE in university tuition increases, Moberly said.

A CPE hearing would be required for all tuition increases, he said.

Reach Shawntaye Hopkins at [email protected]