Funding up in air

The Kentucky House of Representatives rejected the Senate’s proposed state budget by a vote of 58-38 March 29, which leaves funding for Northern Kentucky University projects up in the air for at least two more weeks.

“It’s frustrating, because the university is so in need of the things that were in the budget,” said NKU President James Votruba.

The budget provided for $47.5 million to build a special events center at NKU, a $5.5 million funding increase from previous estimates.

It allowed for construction on the center to begin in 2004 or 2005, a year earlier than initially planned.

The proposed budget also included $38 million to help build a new student union.

“The Senate version of the budget was the best version the Northern Kentucky region and NKU has ever seen,” said Sen. Katie Stine, R- Campbell, Pendleton.

A committee of conferees from the House and Senate will meet during the next two weeks to negotiate a compromise.

The draft of the budget will then be presented to the legislature on April 12 and 13, according to Majority Caucus Chair Rep. Jim Callahan, D-Campbell.

“I’m confident if we work together, we can and will develop a budget that we can deal with at the present time,” Callahan said.

“We have to balance the bottom line. We can’t come in with an unbalanced budget.”

“I think NKU is still going to see a lot of positive things in this budget,” Votruba said.

“But I don’t expect it to get any better. That was a terrific budget that was proposed.”

The bill passed through the Senate March 29 by a vote of 22-0-16.

All Republicans in the Senate approved the bill, but Democrats abstained from voting.

It was presented to the Democrat-controlled House for a vote later that day.

Callahan said he felt the House did not have adequate time to review the budget bill before voting on it.

“We had a $14.9 billion budget, and we never saw it,” he said. “It’s unprecedented. Any reasonable man, be it Democrat or Republican, (would) certainly want to have the ability to look at it.”

“We didn’t have that luxury of time,” Stine said. “I’m disappointed in what the House did. It got into a political dogfight, which is unfortunate.”

She encourages students to contact their state representatives and ask them to consider the needs of NKU when revising the budget bill.

The legislature’s decision on the state budget will not necessarily cause a tuition hike at NKU, according to Votruba.

“I don’t see a further reduction in our budget for next year unless Kentucky revenue falls short,” he said.

He said an increase in tuition would be caused by the rising cost of education, which includes such university needs as improving academic programs, repairing campus buildings, and paying for the mounting cost of health care.

University officials will decide by mid-April how much of a tuition increase to recommend to the Board of Regents, regardless of the General Assembly’s decision on the state budget April 12 and 13. He said it is possible that the General Assembly will not reach a decision when it reconvenes.

“It’s hard for me to know how this plays out,” he said. “Part of it is making sure we have enough budget reserves in case future cuts are necessary,” he said.

Votruba said he hopes to announce the tuition hike decision prior to the May Board of Regents meeting in order to get feedback from students before the board makes its final decision.

The issue of a tuition increase has been a volatile issue on campus since the state announced cuts to postsecondary education funding in January, which included a cut of over $4 million to NKU funding.

Gov. Fletcher has proposed alternative initiatives, which include funding for the special events center and new student union, as a way to compensate for cuts to NKU base funding from the state.

Votruba said university officials would continue to lobby in Frankfort for the university’s needs.

He said state senators and representatives of the Northern Kentucky Region have “really been there for NKU.”

“We’ll continue to tell NKU’s story down there,” he said.