Archive for Thursday, March 8, 2007

Back to business at Statehouse

March 8, 2007

House members resumed their regular legislative schedules this week, attending committee hearings, meeting with constituents and meeting on the floor daily. For the next several weeks, we will consider bills that have already passed through the Senate. Likewise, the Senate is working the House bills that we passed out over the course of the last seven weeks. By the end of March, the Legislature will have heard a variety of issues and those agreed upon by the full House and Senate will be enacted into law.

Bioscience tour

The Kansas Agribusiness Retailers Association and the Kansas Chamber of Commerce hosted a tour last week for 56 members and staff of bioscience sites in three cities. In Manhattan, the group toured NanoScale Corporation, a subsidiary of K-State's research department. The group lunched with the Kansas Farm Bureau, hearing presentations from the Kansas State University BioSecurity Facility, ICM, Inc and Bayer CropScience. The next stop on the tour was CritiTech and Higuchi Bioscience Center in Lawrence. Finally, the group visited Intervet in De Soto.

Kansas is currently pushing for the opportunity to host the National Bio and AgriDefense Facility. The rapid growth of the bioscience industry in Kansas and the state's recognition as a leader in the field has made a strong case for winning the facility. The bioscience tour gave legislators an excellent opportunity to view the businesses that have been directly affected by incentives the Legislature has passed on their behalf and to get a real feel for how the bioscience industry is giving back to the Kansas economy.

Disparity dollars for deferred maintenance

House Majority Leader Ray Merrick released preliminary numbers addressing the deferred maintenance backlog. The budgetary information from the Kansas Board of Regents shows disparity between Kansas' flagship universities' tuition in relation to their peer institutions.

"Kansans are paying a premium for education at state universities and should not pay another penny toward increasing tuition rates," Merrick said. "There is a real problem with the way the Kansas Board of Regents has built their budgets and paid for expenses. Crumbling classrooms need attention but Kansas families have paid enough."

Research shows a vast disparity in tuition rates between resident and non-resident students and between Kansas universities and peer institutions. Information provided by the Kansas Board of Regents and the "Chronicle of Higher Education" indicates that non-residents pay an average of $3,000 less per year to attend Kansas Regent schools than they would at peer institutions across the country.

Kansas University and Kansas State University students are paying between 11 to 15 percent more in tuition than students at peer institutions. In addition, non-resident students are paying an average of 20 percent less to come to Kansas schools than Kansan students pay when they go elsewhere. The policy essentially charges Kansas students more than other states charge their residents for higher education, while providing a $3,000 discount for students from outside of Kansas.

Raising non-resident tuition rates to the national average would produce a $33.5 million a year revenue stream. This adjustment would provide annual revenue for deferred maintenance expenses and protect Kansas students from tuition increases proposed under that pretext.

The Kansas Board of Regents estimates the current backlog of deferred maintenance expenses between $500 and $700 million dollars. Merrick began to study tuition rates more than a year ago and saw the connection between disparity and deferred maintenance needs. Majority Leader Merrick believes the numbers show that the Kansas Regents need to be better stewards of Kansas' education dollars. Our students should not be expected to subsidize out-of-state students' tuition, or the backlog of deferred maintenance.

The House Appropriations Committee and the House Leadership team are working to ensure that the disparity dollars are addressed in our comprehensive package for deferred maintenance. Addressing crumbling classrooms was a top priority on the House Republican Caucus Agenda.

This week at the Statehouse

The newly established health task force was expected to complete its hearings and make proposals for a comprehensive health care plan earlier this week.

The House Appropriations Committee is working on the details of the Governor's proposed budget to determine the top funding priorities for Kansans. The Governor's budget is expected out of committee this week. HB 2264, which exempts federal social security from state income tax was set for debate on the floor of the House earlier this week as well.

For more information on the daily happenings of the Kansas House of Representatives, visit the Web site at www.kansashouse.org.

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