Extension cuts not as draconian as predicted
By AMY BICKEL
Special to The Hays Daily News
HUTCHINSON -- As Kansas lawmakers continue to battle the budget this week, a drastic cut to Kansas State Research and Extension might not be as deep as first thought.
Kansas legislators met only briefly Wednesday -- at an impasse over a proposed budget that at one time included what amounted to an 11-percent cut to Kansas State University's Research and Extension department -- a measure that would have taken $6 million out of the university's budget and translated to 100 faculty and staff positions.
In a letter that spread across Facebook last week, John Floros, dean of K-State's College of Agriculture, said such cuts would be a "crisis in the making."
But things are a little brighter for the department, which works in a variety of ways to help and grow Kansas agriculture, the state's biggest industry.
Rep. Marc Rhoades, R-Newton, chairman of the House Appropriations and Legislative Budget committees, called the more far-reaching cuts to Research and Extension a "clerical error" that was addressed in the past week.
"In capping higher education salaries for 2014, we saw four higher education institutions had expenditures below their 2013 approved budgets. During conference committee, half the capped money was restored to those schools," Rhoades said in an email to the Hutchinson News on Wednesday.
"However, the KSU Extension Service was inadvertently included with KSU as one unit when calculations were made. Once the oversight was noticed, that portion was restored."
Rep. Don Hineman, R-Dighton, said he and many of his colleagues expressed concerns about Extension cuts and that he would have voted against any measure that included them.
While it appears those extensive cuts aren't part of a budget, "no one knows what it will take to build a budget," he said. "But I do hear enough negative comments about it I don't think it would pass."
Earlier this month, the House and Senate Conference Committee had agreed to a 1.5-percent across-the-board cut to higher education for fiscal 2014 and an additional 1.5-percent cut for fiscal 2015. Also, the plan called for an immediate salary cap lapse -- a sweep of all vacant positions starting from March, Floros said.
That would have amounted to an 8 percent permanent budget reduction -- or an 11-percent cut in all -- slicing approximately $6 million from the $50 million typically allocated by the Legislature.
The measure in the Senate still calls for a 2-percent cut to higher education, Floros said, adding that is a "great relief" compared to the previous measure.
"But we are still left with a cut, and we have a workforce that has not had a salary merit raise in six years," he said Wednesday. "We take great pride for the people we have, but if we have to compensate, the quality of our organization will suffer."
The university's total budget is $150 million, he said, adding K-State ranks the lowest in the Big 12 for salaries and ranks 41 out of 48 land-grant institutions regarding pay.
Floros said that for every dollar invested in the College of Agriculture and K-State Research and Extension, $20 to $40 in long-term economic growth is created.
Research and extension also has changed in 100 years, he said. Research scientists and specialists today work on water issues, youth development, rural development and health care education, as well as education through conferences, workshops and online tools.
"Their discoveries create real advances to our food and agriculture systems, resulting in the safest food supply and most efficient production possible," he said in the letter. "Investment in their work generates 40 to 80 times the economic benefit as compared to what the state invests."