Board of Regents goes to Frankfort for funds

Administrators, faculty, staff and students traveled with the Board of Regents to Frankfort March 12, just shy of Northern Kentucky University’s 40th anniversary, to convince legislators and Gov. Steve Beshear to counter the proposed 12 percent budget cuts with a tax hike on cigarettes.

“We don’t like taxes, but what do we like less?” University President James Votruba said at the Board of Regents meeting, which took place in the Capitol. He pointed to declining admissions and less community involvement as potential fruits of the possible $6.4 million loss in funding.

“It really comes down to what you want Kentucky to be,” Votruba said.

Kentucky is currently facing a $900 million budget shortfall. Several measures, including taking funds rolled over from previous years, have ameliorated the situation, but not resolved it. Beshear cut three percent from every state agency’s budget. For the next fiscal year, he offered an additional 12 percent of cuts to higher education.

The House approved of a 25 percent increase on cigarette taxes March 12.

University officials made the trip, which also celebrated the signing of the bill establishing what would become NKU on March 14, 1968, to explain NKU’s dire straits if the cut was enacted as is.

A previous rally, held Feb. 20, had higher-ed institutions’ students from across the Commonwealth descending on Frankfort to rally for more finances and against the cuts.

The March 12 visit, however, gave administrators and staff a chance to voice their concerns to legislators.

Sen. Katie Stine, Highland Heights’ congresswoman and Senate president pro tempore, heard some of those concerns.

“We have been focused on education because we know it’s important,” she said.

A select few students, who had political science internships in Frankfort, were on hand to help guide administrators, unfamiliar with the marble Capitol building, to the various senators offices.

Ray Hartke, a senior majoring in political science and public relations, was one of them.

“It’s great to be a part of this,” he said. The non-traditional student said when he graduated high school in 1983, NKU was hardly anything special. Quite the opposite.

“If it was the only school you could go to in the area, you’d go somewhere else,” he said.

Now, he said NKU is an excellent institution, and he’s glad to help The Norse “maintain our momentum.”

After being ushered into both the House and Senate chambers for congratulations on NKU’s birthday, the Board of Regents meeting convened, with Sec. of State Trey Grayson, Sec. of Education Helen Mountjoy and an “excited” Beshear. The governor acknowledged the dilemma facing his state, noting that he was hoping for a solution to the budget woes.

“We can’t afford to let this state go back – particularly in education,” he said. He praised NKU as one of three legs of the stool holding up Northern Kentucky, the other two being the region’s vibrant growth and its cooperative nature.

He added that the cuts weren’t something he wanted to begin with, but Kentucky had to prepare for the near billion dollar shortfall.

According to a memo circulated among attendees, the “current 2008 session priorities” were:

– Rescind the proposed 12 percent cuts to state funding.

– Fund Bucks for Brains at $18 million.

– Construct the Health Innovations Center and College of Business Building at $92.5 million.

– Renovate Founders Hall to the tune of $27.5 million.

– Authorize $23.5 million to be spent on the Lakeside Student Housing Project.

Lakeside’s funds have already been secured; it merely needs the State Congress’ go ahead to commence.

Even with those two buildings and an already-funded Informatics building, however, NKU would still need two more academic buildings to meet current student demand.