Thursday, April 15, 2004

NKU chief presses lawmakers for budget

Colleges risk falling behind in recruiting

By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

HIGHLAND HEIGHTS - Northern Kentucky University President James Votruba spent much of Wednesday imploring state lawmakers to resolve their budget differences and pass a two-year spending plan.

If legislators fail to do so, Votruba said, not only will NKU and Gateway Community and Technical College have to wait at least a year for an estimated $100 million in funding, but Kentucky will fall farther behind other states in job recruitment.

"As we try to grow this economy, we're tying one hand behind our back," Votruba said. "We're trying to market a state to companies that don't know what our tax policy or expenditure policy will be for the next two years.

Tuesday, for the second time in two years, the General Assembly's Democrat-controlled House and Republican-held Senate could not agree on a two-year state budget. Gov. Ernie Fletcher's tax plan, which would raise some taxes but lower others, emerged as one of the major sticking points.

Left on the table were tens of millions of dollars for higher education in Northern Kentucky, including:

• $42 million to $47 million for a special events center at NKU.

• $39 million for a new student union and $9 million for a new parking garage at NKU.

• $14 million to expand the nursing school at Gatewood's Edgewood campus.

Without the special events center, Votruba said, planning could stall on a project to build a hotel and corporate conference center on land near NKU's main entrance, off of U.S. 27 in Highland Heights.

Nearly 30 developers have expressed interest in the project, which is seen as key to an ongoing effort by Northern and local officials to develop a technology business park near the campus.

Votruba said interest would cool without the 10,000-seat special-events center.

"We waste another year of planning and progress if we don't get a budget," he said. "It makes no sense."

Fletcher could call lawmakers into a special legislative session before July 1 - the end of the current fiscal year - to pass a budget. And though the governor said Tuesday that he has no intention of doing so, Votruba believes Fletcher would reconsider if legislative leaders agreed to work on a compromise.

So Votruba spent much of Wednesday on the phone with lawmakers - pleading NKU's case and urging them to go back to the bargaining table.

"What happened here is we ran out of time in the legislative session," said Votruba. "We still have some of April, May and June before the fiscal year ends."

"My hope and belief is that the General Assembly and the governor ought to work hard over the next couple of weeks, get back in session and get the budget done," he said. "There's too much a stake to let this go another year."

House Majority Caucus Chairman Jim Callahan, D-Wilder, spoke to Votruba on Wednesday. He said that he would "encourage" Fletcher to call a special session, but was not optimistic that would happen.


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