Friday, February 27th marked the halfway point of the 2015 Legislative Session. With the turnaround looming the legislators quickened their work and defied all predictions by finishing onThursday night and banking the Friday for the end of the session. All nonexempt bills that were not passed from their chamber of origin are now dead for all practical concerns and, following a long weekend, the members returned to Topeka on Wednesday to deal with the rest. Below is a brief recap of some of the more interesting developments from the session thus far.
On Friday revenue estimates for February arrived and they brought some much needed good news. Revenue for the month was $22.1 million above estimates. While the state is still $37 million below estimates for the fiscal year with four months yet remaining this was a welcome change. What remains to be seen is if this was a one-month uptick or the beginning of a trend.
Both House Appropriations and Senate Ways and Means continue to slog through the process of putting together a budget that meets the state requirements for core services and matches the revenue numbers the Tax Committees have to work with. It has been a tumultuous first half of the session with money being taken and added to programs at a frenzied pace. One of the most telling examples was the House Social Services Budget Committee removing the $7.2 million in funding from Parents as Teachers only to have it returned at the rail the following day and the proposal sent back to committee for further review. The mosaic that is the FY 2016 and 2017 budget will be an ongoing issue for the remainder of the session.
On February 10th and 11th, President Scott presented testimony on behalf of PSU to House and Senate budget subcommittees. Our testimony focused on the strong growth, momentum, and impact at PSU and the threat posed by any reductions in our base funding. President Scott urged support of Governor Brownback’s budget proposal of stable funding for PSU.
The House Education Budget Subcommittee issued their recommendations on February 19th endorsing, in large part, the Governor’s recommendation for stable funding. The full House Appropriations Committee adopted the subcommittee report into the full budget bill, which will be debated later in the session.
The Senate Education Budget Subcommittee issued their recommendations on March 4, 2015. The Senate Subcommittee proposed maintaining funding for PSU and an additional $1 million in new funding for both FY16 and FY17 to support development of a School of Transportation in the College of Technology. On March 5th, the Senate Ways and Means Committee adopted the subcommittee recommendations but left open the possibility ofreopening a number of higher education related issues during the future omnibus budget discussion.
Budget and Tax Policy
The issue of taxes are lurking in the background and shadowing all budget debates. A host of proposals have come forward ranging from limiting how long property tax exemptions can be used for renewable energy sources to taxes on aviation fuel. Tax rates on businesses, STAR Bonds, and ROZ exemptions have also been discussed. These are in addition to the proposed increases in alcohol, tobacco, and agricultural land property tax. Each of these has faced harsh criticism and opposition from interested parties.
The current plan appears to be that the Budget committees will put together the budget and then the Tax committees will figure out how to pay for it. It is not the usual way it is done but it should prove interesting moving forward.
PSU/City of Pittsburg Land Exchange
For more than a year PSU and City of Pittsburg officials have been exploring a land exchange in the southeastern corner of the city to facilitate planned residential growth of the city as well as future planned development for PSU. On February 24th, the Pittsburg City Commission unanimously approved the proposed exchange.
The agreement provides 72.7 acres to the city in exchange for 30.3 acres to PSU. This will provide the city with approximately 50 acres of prime residential development land, significantly supporting the residential (as suggested by the recent housing study) and economic development needs of the city.
The exchange would clean up the map and rearrange ownership providing PSU a single undivided parcel of just over 100 acres with frontage road access to a major road (Centennial). This will support future planned development and expansion for the area and maintain the site used for international Baja competitions.
Overall the proposal substantially cleans up the map and supports growth and development for both the University and the City. We’vereceived positive feedback and support from the Pittsburg community and are excited to work with the city on another partnership that promotes the common good of our community. We are fortunate to have such a strong partnership relationship with the City of Pittsburg. Now our work turns to securing legislative approval of the proposed exchange, which we expect during this session.