Well, time is running out, and we now know the size and scope of our state's budget problem.

In the next few weeks the Kansas Legislature must decide how to address budget shortfalls for the next fiscal year, which begins in less than 70 days.

The future of our state, and especially western Kansas, is at stake.

Fort Hays State University and the Kansas Board of Regents system have done all we can to cooperate with the Legislature because we understood the difficult choices that had to be made during the national economic collapse.

Over the past year, the state's higher education system has absorbed cuts in state funding of about 13 percent.

As a result, we did a lot more than tighten our belts.

Employees have been laid off, positions have been left unfilled, services have been eliminated, programs have been reduced and class sections have been cut.

But higher education is not alone. School districts are scheduled to be closed.

Prisoners are being released. Senior citizens' homes and services are being limited.

Veteran services are being reduced. And National Guard armories are being closed.

Most of these budget-driven negative decisions are impacting rural and western Kansas.

Our quality of life, as we know it, is at stake. The next set of budget decisions will define what future life will be like in western Kansas.

The citizens of southwest Kansas are fortunate to have legislators who are committed to protecting their quality of life. I commend Sen. Steve Morris, Hugoton; Rep. Melvin Neufeld, Ingalls; Rep. Larry Powell, Garden City; Rep. Pat George, Garden City; Rep. Gary Hayzlett, Lakin; Rep. Jeff Whitham, Garden City; Rep. Bill Light, Rolla; and Rep. Carl Holmes, Liberal.

These are leaders who are ready to make tough choices, which might include steps to generate new revenue. They are not part of the crowd that shouts "no" to every solution.

They are not saying no to our western Kansas way of life.

When funds grow short, western Kansas is more vulnerable than the rest of the state. The governor's solution of budget cuts and revenue enhancements is a fair and reasonable solution.

Others may surface in the next few weeks of the session.

Thank goodness we have legislators willing to say yes to protect our way of life.

Further cuts in essential social services, education and our correction system may seem like a short-term solution, but they are actually a prescription for disaster.

We must educate ourselves out of this recession. Our citizens must receive the education necessary to reach their full potential and find creative answers for the future.

We need a trained workforce. We need retraining for employees who want to pursue new opportunities.

In short, we must seek alternatives to further budget cuts that reduce services to western Kansas and to the state as a whole.

We are fortunate to have these senators and representatives from western Kansas who understand exactly what is at stake.

EDWARD H. HAMMOND.

Hays

Hammond is president of Fort Hays State University.