House passes state budget plan

Joe Lord

One house down, one to go.

Kentucky’s House of Representatives passed a budget bill 94-5 Tuesday that would cut Western’s state funding by $1.4 million this year.

The budget is now being considered by the Senate, who will likely vote on it next week.

In the House’s proposed plan, Western would not get the $4.3 million in growth funding for the next academic year that Gov. Paul Patton proposed in last year’s budget plan, said Robbin Taylor, director of Government Relations. The university’s state funding would also be cut again by $1.4 million.

The growth funding would have helped ease Western’s growing pains. The university’s enrollment has grown 20 percent since 1998 with no significant funding increases, Taylor said.

The House’s proposal to cut growth funding came as a shock to Western officials.

“We recruited 1,200 new students in anticipation of that funding,” President Gary Ransdell said. “If we lose that money, it (would be) devastating to Western.”

The cuts may eventually trickle down to students’ wallets.

Though Western has already set tuition costs for the next school year, it may may have to increase tuition for the 2003-04 school year.

“If we had that kind of a cut, there is no way we could avoid having to revisit tuition,” Ransdell said.

Ransdell would not speculate on other possible changes the cuts could cause.

Despite the cuts, Taylor said the plan has some high points for Western — including money for construction projects.

The House budget includes $155 million in agency bonding authority, where state universities would be able to issue bonds for construction projects, Taylor said.

Such funds may be used to expand the parking structure or begin the second phase of the Downing University Center renovation.

“I think we will get all of what we need for parking,” Taylor said.

Also, the state’s matching funds program, Bucks for Brains, will be funded with $120 million through bonds from the state, Taylor said.

The University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville, the state’s research institutions, will share $100 million, Taylor said. The other state universities, including Western, will share the program’s remaining funds.

Western would get about $4.6 million from the program, Taylor said. That money would go into endowments for faculty positions and scholarships.

Despite the hit higher education may take, Taylor said the House plan spares K-12 education from cuts. About 20,000 teachers rallied in Frankfort last week urging legislators not to cut K-12 education.

The Senate has taken the House’s plan and has begun using it to form their own version, Taylor said.

“I think there are some things the Senate might want to make some changes in, but overall, in the circumstances, I think they did a fairly good job,” said Sen. Richie Sanders, R-Franklin, who is chairman of the Senate budget committee.

Taylor said she expects the Senate will also approve a $1.4 million cut in Western’s funding for this fiscal year. The Senate may try to find more money to give Western for next year.

“That’s my hope,” Taylor said.

Sanders said the House budget plan has none of the tax increases Patton proposed earlier this month.

This fiscal year, he said, was the first time Kentucky didn’t bring in more revenue than they had the previous year.

Sanders expects the Senate will pass a budget by next week.

“I’m hopeful they can overcome the losses that we faced in the House version,” Ransdell said.

The budget will then go to a joint conference committee, Sanders said. The conference committee will work out the differences between the two chambers’ budgets and send a final draft back to the House and Senate for approval.

Sanders said he expects the General Assembly to pass a budget by the middle of March. Both the House and Senate must pass the final budget with a three-fifths majority.

“It’s the most challenging budget since I’ve been around the General Assembly,” said Sanders, who has been a legislator for more than 12 years.

Reach Joseph Lord at [email protected]