Fletcher outlines budget plan

Shawntaye Hopkins

FRANKFORT – Kentuckians have gotten what Gov. Ernie Fletcher calls a prescription for the state.

Now the pros and cons of higher education’s dosage will be weighed by university administrators and state legislators.

Fletcher presented a $14.9 billion state budget proposal on Tuesday for the next fiscal biennium to the General Assembly. Legislators will consider the proposal and are expected to pass a budget this spring.

Western received money for several renovation projects, but no money was added for operational expenses.

Fletcher alloted no money for the “Bucks for Brains” program, but did fund additional research space at the University of Louisville and the University of Kentucky.

“This budget is conservative, goal-driven and compassionate,” Fletcher said. “It reflects a lot of tough decisions, and it calls on each of you and every Kentuckian to make reasonable sacrifices for a better future.”

For students, those sacrifices could mean greater tuition.

“It’s distressing that there will not be operational money of any consequence for higher education in the next two years,” President Gary Ransdell said. “Tuition will be the only source of revenue until the fall of 2006.”

The Board of Regents vowed not to increase tuition by more than 10 percent this upcoming fall after creating a $200 increase this semester.

Ransdell said he intends to honor that promise, but Western students might face similar increases within the next two years.

“Any discussion of tuition from this point forward has nothing to do with our budget cut,” Ransdell said. “It has everything to do with the lack of state funding. The lack of state funding is more detrimental to us than the budget cut.”

But Fletcher did propose money to help ease problems brought on from enrollment growth.

He also proposed funding to renovate the science buildings on campus, the Kentucky Academy of Math and Science and several other building projects related to Western, Ransdell said.

Still, some of those projects were not fully funded.

Fletcher, Kentucky’s first Republican governor in 36 years, included $5 million in the budget for 2005-06 to fund enrollment growth for the state’s colleges and universities.

The Fletcher administration has expressed an intention that the money is to be divided between Western and Northern Kentucky University, said Robbin Taylor, assistant to the president for governmental relations.

“I don’t know how that will play out, but it is encouraging,” she said.

The Council on Post-Secondary Education has not yet decided on how the money would be divided, said Sherron Jackson, assistant vice president for finance and equal opportunity at the CPE.

“We would have to do an analysis to see what the patterns of enrollment growth have been,” Jackson said.

He said the money has not been given to any specific university or community college.

“We will fight for as much of that money as possible since we have grown the most,” Ransdell said.

Western will probably be one of the major beneficiaries of the money, said Rep. Harry Moberly Jr., D-Richmond.

Western received $27 million to renovate Science and Technology Hall, the north and center wings of Thompson Complex, Hardin Planetarium and Snell Hall. But the university needs $33 million, Ransdell said.

Western could get the additional $6 million through the General Assembly, Ransdell said.

Fletcher proposed $3.5 million in state funding for the Kentucky Academy of Math and Science and authorized another $4 million to be spent by Western on the project, Ransdell said.

Western needed $5 million in state funding and $5 million authorized for the academy and renovation of Schneider Hall, Ransdell said.

Western administrators will continue to work toward getting the unfunded margin in the General Assembly, Ransdell said.

There are also several Kentucky Community and Technical College System projects that will benefit Western, Ransdell said. Those include facilities in Owensboro and the Trimodal Transpark.

He said the budget proposal was what he expected from a capital projects standpoint, but higher education did not get the additional funding he’d hoped for in the 2005-06 fiscal year.

House Speaker Jody Richards, D-Bowling Green, said he was also pleased with the money for building projects.

But because universities wouldn’t get money for operational expenses, students will face larger class sizes and increased tuition, Richards said.

“That’s a tax on Kentucky parents and Kentucky students,” he said.

Fletcher has not increased state taxes.

“When I ran for governor, I promised to balance our budget without increasing the burden of taxes on hardworking Kentuckians,” he said. “I have kept my promise.”

A $302 revenue shortfall is expected for this fiscal year, Fletcher said. A $710 million deficit is predicted for the 2004-05 fiscal year.

Fletcher called in December for $23 million in higher education cuts to help fix the shortfall this fiscal year. He later called for another $41 million in higher education cuts this fiscal year to create $100 million to place in the into 2004-05 budget.

“Just at a time when we’re beginning to do well with our college-going rate – people in college and our graduation rate – then along comes these cuts, and I’m afraid that’s going to have a very dampening effect on enrollment and that is not good,” Richards said.

Fletcher created a budget based on the current tax codes, and has not yet done anything to change the tax systems, said Rep. Jim Wayne, D-Louisville.

Wayne said he thinks there will be some changes to the budget in the General Assembly.

Fletcher made some public school program cuts, but increased funding in other areas such as teachers’ salary. He also proposed that Medicaid be modernized within its current budget.

Reach Shawntaye Hopkins at [email protected]