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Kansas budget director: No room for higher ed concerns after prioritizing K-12 funding, executive branch pay

State Budget Director Shawn Sullivan answers reporters questions Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2018, during a briefing on Gov. Sam Brownback's plan to phase in a $600 million per-year increase in K-12 education funding over five years

— Gov. Sam Brownback's budget proposal for the fiscal year that begins July 1 calls for $290.2 million in new state spending, much of that earmarked for K-12 education, with about $11.1 million set aside for state employee pay raises.

Those pay raises would be targeted at executive branch employees who were left out of the pay raises that lawmakers approved during the 2017 session.

But employees of state universities governed by the Kansas Board of Regents — more than half the state government's total workforce — were not included in that pay package, a decision that surely came as a disappointment to many employees at the University of Kansas.

Brownback's budget director, Shawn Sullivan, however, said that was not an intentional slight to the universities, but instead a proposal made on the limited information the governor's office had about how much it would cost to include Regents employees.

"The universities are not on our payroll system, so we don’t have the ability to query who got pay raises and who didn’t," Sullivan said in a recent phone interview. "Perhaps we could have asked them in advance. I’m sure they would have given it to us. But in this case it was a matter of prioritizing executive branch employees with the governor’s proposal. That was simply it."

During the 2017 session, lawmakers attempted to address the fact that many state workers had not seen a pay adjustment in five years or more, dating back to the fallout from the Great Recession.

Long-term employees who had been with the state more than five years, but who had not seen a pay increase at least since 2012, were given a 5 percent raise. Those who had been with the state less than five years were given a 2.5 percent raise, regardless of whether they had seen any kind of adjustment during that time.

That meant a large number of employees, those who had been with the state five years or more and who had seen a pay adjustment, were left out of the plan.

That affected many people at KU and other universities, where officials had doled out some very modest increases during that time by dipping into reserve funds or making other budget adjustments.

According to data from the Kansas Department of Administration, there were 17,017 people employed by state agencies outside the Regents universities in fiscal year 2016, the most recent data available.

That compared to 19,459 people employed by the universities during that same year, according to figures kept separately by the Board of Regents.

Specific numbers about how many people were left out of the 2017 pay raises, both at the Regents universities and the rest of state government, were not immediately available.

Brownback's budget also did not address the No. 1 priority for both KU and the Board of Regents — full restoration of the allotment cuts that Brownback ordered in May 2016 in order to help balance the budget for the following fiscal year.

Sullivan said that was because the administration's top priority was to increase K-12 funding in order to respond to the Kansas Supreme Court's October 2017 decision declaring current school funding unconstitutional.

“The Governor prioritized K-12 education funding in his budget proposal in an attempt to comply with the Supreme Court order and to keep schools open," Sullivan said in an email. "As a result, all other requests were prioritized after K-12 and some areas such as restoring the higher education reductions made in fiscal year 2017 did not make it into the Governor’s proposal.”

In May 2016, at the same time he signed a budget bill for the following fiscal year, Brownback ordered $97 million in cuts to that budget, or roughly 4 percent across the board for agencies other than K-12 education and public safety.

For universities governed by the Kansas Board of Regents, that amounted to $30.7 million, including $10.7 million total from the University of Kansas Lawrence campus and the KU Medical Center.

According to Reggie Robinson, the university's vice chancellor for public affairs, the 2017 Legislature restored about $3.3 million of KU's allotment cut. But fully restoring the remaining $7.4 million was the university's one and only budget request this year.

"There are a lot of things that are important to KU as we approach this session, a lot of things that are important to the higher education system as we get ready for this session," Robinson said during a recent Legislative Priorities Breakfast sponsored by the Lawrence chamber of commerce.

"But we have one singular priority, and you heard it reported as part of the chamber’s list of priorities," he continued. "We want full restoration of the budget cuts we experienced in 2016."

Rep. Troy Waymaster, R-Bunker Hill, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, told reporters after the governor's budget plan was released that such plans serve as a template for lawmakers to work with, but he said the final budget that lawmakers pass will likely look much different.

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