Regents, legislators talk budget

Shawntaye Hopkins

FRANKFORT – There wasn’t a face off on the court.

Western instead joined other schools such as the University of Louisville and University of Kentucky in promoting a common interest.

Administrators, alumni and others from Kentucky universities lobbied for higher education in Frankfort last week.

Thursday was not just another day for them – it was Higher Education Day.

The state Inter-Alumni Council hosted a breakfast for legislators, alumni and visitors from the various schools that morning.

The groups split up to meet with legislators afterward.

President Gary Ransdell said issues concerning the capital projects funded through Fletcher’s budget proposal and tax modernization were key topics in his discussion with legislators.

“We emphasized the importance of keeping the capital projects that are currently in the budget to remain in what will eventually be the final budget,” he said.

Gov. Ernie Fletcher spoke at the breakfast and thanked university leaders for finding efficiencies and making sacrifices during budget cuts.

Fletcher said he urged the group to increase graduation rates to improve the state’s wealth.

“We’ve done a good job at recruiting – we can do a better job at seeing them through to graduation,” he said after the speech.

House Speaker Jody Richards, D-Bowling Green, also took the podium.

“The more we take from our universities now, the more we take from their futures,” he said.

Mike Foster, president of the Inter-Alumni Council, said budget cuts reduce the efficiency of colleges and universities.

“We’re trying to emphasize the fact that the state’s most important investment is education,” Foster said.

The Inter-Alumni Council was created in fall 2003 that consists of three alumni from each of Kentucky’s universities and community colleges, Foster said.

The legislative liaisons from each university organized the legislators’ meetings on Thursday, said Robbin Taylor, assistant to the president for governmental relations.

Taylor said she has never seen all the university presidents in Frankfort on the same day.

“By the time we left yesterday, they all knew we’d been there,” she said.

U of L President James Ramsey said Higher Education Day was successful.

“You’ve got to be here, you’ve got to be present and make yourself be known,” he said.

Ramsey said the university administrators were successful in educating legislators about the schools’ needs.

Rep. Tommy Thompson, D-Owensboro, agreed with administrators that Higher Education Day was beneficial in helping legislators gain greater perspective about higher education’s needs.

“I’m just hopeful that as we continue to debate and deliberate on this budget we can find a way to shift more funds into higher education,” Thompson said.

Legislators were also encouraged by administrators to promote tax reform to create new revenue for funding education, Ransdell said.

“I think everyone supports this governor and whatever tax reform package he brings forward, and I think the capital projects that are in the budget will likely stay there,” he said.

Student Regent John Bradley also referred to the money Fletcher proposed for capital projects at Western.

Fletcher proposed $27 million for the renovation of science buildings on campus, and $7.5 million for the Kentucky Math and Science Academy. Money was also proposed for other buildings throughout the state that are related to Western.

“I’m hopeful that the house will keep these priorities in mind when working on the budget,” Bradley said.

But it is likely that legislators may find it difficult to fully fund all of the capital projects in Fletcher’s proposal while higher education is being cut, he said.

University cuts total $64 million. Western’s budget is being cut $5.6 million.

Even if the capital projects are not funded, higher education will probably not see increased funding in operational expenses, Bradley said.

“Today was a success at the very least,” Bradley said. “At the most I think our leaders heard us and I think we have some great advocates.”

Reach Shawntaye Hopkins at [email protected]