TOPEKA — Kansas public universities located in Hays, Pittsburg, Manhattan, Lawrence, Emporia and Wichita dodged a financial bullet.
A proposal to eliminate a 1 mill statewide property tax providing $38 million annually in support of university building maintenance was shot down Monday by the Senate Assessment and Taxation Committee.
The bill was opposed by the Kansas Board of Regents and the Associated General Contractors of Kansas because it would have left funding of repairs or upgrades on each campus to the whim of politicians in the Legislature.
“Because facilities are such an important aspect of what we offer our students, we are opposed to legislation that would result in fewer state dollars available for maintenance annually,” said Eric King, the Board of Regents’ facilities director.
Sen. Jeff Longbine, an Emporia Republican on the Senate committee, said a deteriorating, nearly empty high-rise structure next to the Capitol, Docking State Office Building, was proof lawmakers were unlikely to respond adequately to ongoing maintenance needs of the public universities. Collectively, the universities are responsible for 1,000 buildings with a replacement value of $10 billion.
The bill also would end a 0.5 mill property tax levy generating $19 million annually for a separate fund supporting non-university state agencies. These entities also would be forced to compete for maintenance appropriations from the Legislature.
Loss of dedicated funding for maintenance will jeopardize safety of people at the Kansas School of the Blind, said Jon Harding, superintendent of the school in Kansas City, Kan.
The legislation would earmark more than $50 million for building maintenance annually from the general state treasury subject to consent of the House and Senate and the governor.
Republican Sen. Caryn Tyson, chairwoman of the committee from Parker, said she was surprised by defeat of the bill. She said it didn’t appear her Senate committee colleagues understood the bill.
Kansas Policy Institute lobbyist Dave Trabert said Senate Bill 466 was good public policy because state agencies shouldn’t be automatic recipients of tax dollars for building maintenance.
“There is a constituency for every dollar spent and they all want more,” Trabert said.