Kansas is at a crossroads, says Pittsburg State University President Steve Scott.
“The question is: Are we going to see higher education as an investment in the future or a drain on the resources of the state of Kansas?” he said.
Scott, speaking to faculty and staff members in a campus forum last week, said decisions the Legislature makes about higher education in the last days of its session, which resumes May 8, will be critical.
Shawn Naccarato, PSU’s director of community and governmental relations, said higher education is caught up in a political battle that boils down to whether to extend the life of a statewide sales tax increase in order to stave off cutbacks.
“We have become a pawn in a game of high-stakes poker,” Naccarato said.
The Legislature approved the sales tax increase in 2010 as the state faced a revenue crisis. It was to have been a temporary, three-year hike in the state sales tax to 6.3 percent from 5.3 percent. The tax originally was set to decrease on July 1 to 5.7 percent. Keeping the rate at 6.3 percent would generate about $258 million during the next fiscal year, according to state projections.
Under Gov. Sam Brownback’s proposal, total spending on higher education would remain about $2.5 billion for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1. The Senate budget calls for a 2 percent cut in funding for higher education, and the House budget calls for a 4 percent cut.