Higher Education Wants A Spending Spree

Higher Education Wants A Spending Spree
By Karl Peterjohn, Kansas Taxpayers Network

Soaring spending has not been spent evenly. The six Regents universities in Kansas initially asked for $727 million to fix deeply neglected buildings at these campuses. Governor Sebelius has performed a valuable service by responding that the Kansas Turnpike have higher tolls to fund this spending.

The value in Governor Sebelius’ proposal is not based upon its merits. Higher education and the Kansas turnpike are both state entities but are related about as much as lightning and lightning bugs. Since the Kansas turnpike is funded with tolls, so this state agency operates with very little legislative oversight and even less public attention.

That is unfortunate because the Kansas turnpike was supposed to become a free highway when the original bond funding was supposed to be paid off well over a decade ago. Sadly, that hasn’t happened so the turnpike jobs are safe and additional bond funding has turned this temporary entity into a permanent fixture. Here is a case where one generation of politicians made promises and their successors’ successors ignored those promises. Politicians have been known not to keep their promises so it is not surprising that a former state senate minority leader now heads up the turnpike authority.

The turnpike does generate a steady stream of income and Governor Sebelius wants an additional portion of that used for the six Regents universities initial spending plan. This is based upon the dubious notion that the universities are “under funded” and lack funds for building maintenance. That is despite the fact that these six universities are spending a combined total of over $1 billion in tax funds and tuition for their operations. Taxpayers have increased their funding 55 percent during the last decade and now totals over $9,000 per pupil and that ignores hundreds of millions more paid in tuition.

The universities operate primarily for the benefit of administrators and senior faculty. Look at where a sizable portion of this increased spending will go. At K.U. there are two airport hangars that need $378,635 for covering their aircraft.

The K.U. chancellor’s, home, garage, and guest house need $607,027 in repair spending. That is property tax-free housing for the chancellor. That is the largest chunk of the $1,392,547 needed to properly house the six Regents institutions’ presidents and one K.U. chancellor.

In addition, the Regents are claiming that millions more are needed for facilities like Allen Field House, Bramlage Coliseum, and Ahearn Field House. A number of these sports complexes generate massive sums of cash in men’s sports. The universities complain about a lack of funding but their endowments have been growing nicely and that seems to be completely ignored in the public discussion here.

The average Kansas taxpayers do not get to live in property tax-free housing. The average Kansan is not making the large salaries enjoyed by Regents institution leaders who are all making massively more in salary than even the governor. In the last few years the average student at these schools has been facing double digit annual percentage increases in their tuition while the university presidents are enjoying annual double digit percentage increases in their salaries.

There is support from free spending editorial pages, like the Wichita Eagle, that have endorsed the Regents original spending package. Providing the Regents with a fiscal pass on how this deterioration in facilities occurred ignores responsibility for operating the university system during the last decade. In Bill Graves’ first term as governor his “crumbling classrooms” proposal was passed and was supposed to help the Regents universities and their buildings and facilities. Basically a decade later, taxpayers are spending more, students are paying higher tuitions, and facilities are still a mess.

Needless to say, salaries for administrators and faculties as well as benefits have grown much faster than the average Kansan’s income. Ohio University Professor Richard Vedder’s “Going Broke By Degree” book outlines this problem well. The situation in Kansas is not unique and exists in many other states. The absolute real financial burden of sending a child to college has grown substantially over time. Moreover, that burden has grown faster than people’s incomes. Giving the Regents a blank check will aggravate and worsen this state’s fiscal problems while not addressing the real challenges in higher education.

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