House, Senate pass budget

Joe Lord

Cuts were certain.

A legislative special session, an option.

Increasing tuition, a possibility.

All have been mentioned in the past year since the General Assembly left Frankfort without a state budget. But those uncertainties will soon fade.

Both the House and Senate passed a final version of the state budget last night, giving Western a $1.4 million cut this year and a $3 million increase next year.

The Senate vote was 36-1, and the House vote was 87-7, said Brian Wilkerson, spokesman for House Speaker Jody Richards. The bill now moves to Gov. Paul Patton?s desk.

Because Western is getting an increase next year, the university will not revisit tuition rates again for the next academic year, President Gary Ransdell said.

The $3 million increase comes from an $18.9 million pool the legislature wants to give Kentucky?s state colleges and universities in 2004, said Robbin Taylor, director of government relations.

“Given what’s going on in states that surround us and states across the nation, we’ve got to feel pretty good about that,” Ransdell said.

Kentucky’s state colleges would also share $155 million in agency bonds for construction and renovation projects, said Sen. Richie Sanders, R-Franklin.

Taylor said Western would get $20 million from the agency bonds, possibly using it for the parking structure expansion and the second phase of the Downing University Center renovation.

The budget also includes $120 million in bond money for Bucks for Brains, the state’s matching funds endowment program, Taylor said. Of that, Western would get $4.6 million.

Public education will also get a boost.

Sanders said K-12 education would get a total increase of $69 million over the next two years of the state’s fiscal year.

“Education is education,” Taylor said. “We’ve got to have educated high school students to come into college or else we have to do a lot of remedial education.”

Taylor said the Kentucky Educational Excellence Scholarship would get an additional $9.3 million, mostly in unclaimed prizes from the Kentucky Lottery.

The Kentucky Academy for Math and Science, a project based at Western, was not given any funding in the final budget, Taylor said. The House had included $1.5 million in its budget for the project, but the Senate took that money out.

Kentucky has been without a state budget since July. In lieu of a budget, the state has been running from an emergency spending plan issued by Gov. Paul Patton after the legislature failed to pass a bill last year.

Administrators had expected a cut this year, setting aside $1.4 million of its base budget to cover any possible cuts in state funding.

The university is about seven weeks behind in forming its own budget, Ransdell said.

Sanders said the $3 million increase next academic year is meant to help ease enrollment growth at Western.

“I think that’s more than any other university,” he said. “Reason being because they’ve had such an increase in the number of students attending Western.”

Western has 3,300 more students than it did in 1998, Ransdell said.

The budget passed the legislature without any significant tax increases, Sanders said. Patton had called for tax increases in a January speech to the full legislature.

Sanders said legislators focused on reducing spending instead of increasing revenue.

The budget includes some ‘one-time’ money that won’t be available for the state’s next fiscal year, Sanders said.

“I would say that this budget, in these economic times, is probably as good as we could have hoped to get,” Taylor said.

Reach Joseph Lord at [email protected]