- Associated Press - Friday, March 7, 2014

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Kentucky House members working on the next state budget have been unable to find money to restore cuts to higher education that the governor proposed, House Speaker Greg Stumbo said Friday.

In January, as part of his two-year state spending plan, the Gov. Steve Beshear included a proposed a 2.5 percent cut in operating funds for universities and community and technical colleges in the first year of the budget cycle.

As House members have worked on their version of the budget, they have “desperately tried to find a way to restore that money,” Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, told reporters. “Unfortunately, there’s not funds available, as best we can tell.”

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“Money is very tight in this budget,” he added.

The proposed spending cuts would be the latest endured by Kentucky’s public higher education system. If they go through, colleges and universities will have lost 17 percent of their funding since 2008.

The full House is expected to vote on the budget next week, after it emerges from the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee. That panel has been reviewing Beshear’s spending proposals for weeks.

The budget that passes the Democratic-led House is expected to resemble the Democratic governor’s recommendations.

Once the House wraps up its version, the budget work will shift to the Republican-run Senate.

Senate President Robert Stivers said Friday he has some questions about how the universities handle their finances. He said tuition increases at universities have outpaced the rise in their fixed costs.

“There’s not a lot of correlation there, and I have a real question why they do that,” the Manchester Republican said.

As the starting point in the budget work, Beshear presented a $20.3 billion state spending plan for the two years starting July 1.

The governor proposed an extra $189 million over current funding for the state’s main funding formula for K-12 classrooms.

He also proposed pay raises for teachers and other school employees, and recommended spending $36 million over two years to expand preschool services to serve an estimated 5,125 more 4-year-olds.

He targeted more funding for textbooks, staff development, extended school services and school safety.

As promised, Beshear found extra money for Kentucky’s elementary and secondary education system by recommending $98.6 million in spending cuts.

Meanwhile, Stumbo predicted the House will move ahead with Beshear’s recommendations on capital projects, which would be welcomed by the universities and colleges. Beshear proposed about $520 million in state General Fund bonds to finance a range of university projects. His proposal also included giving universities the authority to issue more than $700 million in agency bonds, which the universities would pay back themselves.

Stumbo expressed support for another proposal to finance a flurry of construction on community college campuses.

Beshear proposed issuing $145.5 million in agency bonds to pay for up to 75 percent of the construction projects. The remaining costs would be covered by local communities where projects occur, as well as other public or private sources, he said.

Students would pay a fee to help pay for the construction work.

Stumbo called community colleges the “best bang for the buck” in higher education and said those schools “need some sort of definitive building program to meet their needs.”

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