KHI News Service

Senate committee axes $10 million for KU medical school expansion

By Mike Shields | February 18, 2013

As part of their ongoing consideration of subcommittee reports, members of the Senate Ways and Means Committee today voted to cut the $10 million proposed earlier this year by Gov. Sam Brownback to be used as a down payment on modernization of the University of Kansas School of Medicine's facilities in Kansas City.

The action was taken with a voice vote, but the two Democrats on the eight-person panel asked to have their opposition to the move recorded. The six Republicans supported it.

Kathy Damron, a lobbyist for KU, later said she felt confident — because of questions raised by some committee members — that university officials would get an opportunity to have the matter reconsidered before the panel votes out a completed budget plan, which it still is in the process of assembling.

Sen. Ty Masterson, the Andover Republican who chairs the committee, said the recommendation to eliminate the spending for the medical school reflected his instructions to subcommittee chairs that they look for places to cut since it remains unclear whether the governor's proposal to extend a sales tax increase to help pay for his spending recommendations will fly with legislators.

Lawmakers are still "looking at an unknown horizon," Masterson said with respect to how they will manage to pass a balanced budget.

"I don't think it's a comment on the merits of the program," he said, of the committee's vote.

The spending plan presented to the Legislature by Brownback last month has an estimated $503 million budget gap that must be closed by tax increases, spending cuts or some combination of the two — assuming the Legislature meets the legal requirement that the budget not only be balanced but also include cash reserves totaling 7.5 percent, which would be more than $400 million.

"I think (Masterson's) comments about the budget were very insightful," Damron said, "because the governor's budget is predicated on more revenues (tax increases) and that connection is not always clearly drawn."

Sen. Tom Arpke (R-Salina).

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The vote today came during consideration of the report from the higher education subcommittee chaired by Sen. Tom Arpke, a Salina Republican.

"I'm not denying it's an important project," Arpke said of the proposed medical school expansion. "I just think we need to be fiscally responsible."

Arpke said he would oppose restoring the funding until KU officials complete "a homework assignment" he said he gave them.

He said he wanted KU officials to explain what they intended to do with $165 million in reserves they are holding.

"I'm looking at $165 million," he said, "and I don't see any recommendations from them on what that's being assigned for or what it's being saved for."

Arpke said he also was disturbed that student tuition at KU has increased "200 percent over the past 10 years," or significantly more than at the other state universities.

Some GOP members of the committee signaled they would support the money for the medical school contingent on getting some questions answered.

Sen. Jim Denning, an Overland Park Republican, said he would like to see some more information on how many more residents KU would be able to train with the new facility.

"If this is a big plan to actually increase the number of residents, I would be in total support of it," he said.

KU officials have said they could train about 25 new doctors a year on the Kansas City campus after the improvements, and need the new facilities anyway or else the school's accreditation could be in peril.

“If you're not an accredited medical school, your students can't take board examinations. Your graduates cannot get into residency programs that are accredited. And in most jurisdictions if you can't sit for your boards and you don't graduate from an accredited residency program, you can't practice (medicine), you can't get a license. So accreditation is a huge deal,” said Dr. Glen Cox in a recent interview with KHI News Service.

Cox is the dean in charge of keeping the school OK with the Liaison Committee on Medical Education, the national group that certifies medical schools.

The current education building on the school’s Kansas City campus was built in 1976 and officials here say if it isn’t obsolete it is nearly so, especially given the changes happening in the ways doctors and other health professionals are trained.

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