As much as I'd like to again send you a message about the memories that Jayhawks continue to share with me about their experiences at KU, I need to instead update you on where the university's budget and other priorities currently stand in the Kansas Legislature.
Despite the fact that lawmakers now face a budget gap of just over $100 million this year, and more than $400 million next year, we remain cautiously optimistic about the outlook for KU's budget.
There is a strong feeling among many legislators that higher education has already taken a disproportionate level of cuts and that additional cuts should be avoided if at all possible. Whether the state's revenue situation will allow us to avoid another round of cuts remains to be seen.
KU and KUMC together have suffered $37.3 million in cuts and unfunded mandates since the start of the budget crisis. In addition to the short-term effects of fewer employees, larger classes and reduced enrollment capacities, these cuts have the potential to cause long-term damage to the state's prosperity.
Legislators know the ways we contribute to the economy - from sending more than 6,000 graduates into the workforce each year to spurring growth through research - and they share our belief that strong universities can ensure Kansas will be ready for the recovery.
The support among legislators that you have created through your work, and that our allies in Jayhawks for Higher Education and around the state have reinforced, is tremendously helpful.
I believe this support is a prime reason why the budget-writing committees in the Kansas House and Senate have both proposed keeping the higher education budget essentially flat in FY 2011, despite the looming shortfall. This is just a first step, but it is a positive one.
To avoid additional large cuts the state will have to identify a new source of revenue. Governor Parkinson has proposed an increase in the sales tax, while legislators are currently looking more closely at elimination of tax exemptions. Needless to say, this will be a contentious issue.
No final action on next year's budget will take place until after the Consensus Revenue Estimating Group issues its new revenue projections on April 15. That report will set the stage for what is likely to be a flurry of activity as the Legislature works to end its session by early May.
As we wait for the next steps on the budget, I can report to you that several bills of importance to KU have already passed one chamber of the Legislature and are on track to becoming law.
KU has saved $1.76 million over two years thanks to the Purchasing Pilot Project, which is why the Kansas House overwhelmingly approved a bill making this project permanent and expanding it to all Regents universities. HB 2433 is currently being debated in the Senate.
Additionally, HB 2415 will give KU the flexibility to maximize the amount of money it receives when selling surplus property. It has also passed the House and been sent to the Senate.
Other KU-related measures, such as a bill enabling increased efficiency when it comes to managing donations and a bill to strengthen the Health Care Stabilization Fund, are both still under discussion and we anticipate their passage, as well.
I encourage you to stay informed about legislative issues and to feel free to contact your elected officials - without using university time or resources, of course - on matters of importance to you.
One way to keep informed is by visiting the KU Government Relations site at http://www.govrelations.ku.edu where weekly updates and copies of testimony are posted.
You can also receive updates and details on how to contact legislators by visiting http://www.kualumni.org/jhe and joining Jayhawks for Higher Education.
As the legislative session progresses, we will continue to update the campus community through messages like this one, as well as through budget forums when needed.
Besides staying informed on the issues, what we can all do is continue to deliver the excellent education, cutting-edge research and beneficial services that Kansans have come to expect and are proud to support.