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Kansas Governor Announces Bond Funding For New KU Med Building

Alex Smith

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback announced bonding authority Monday morning to help fund the construction of a new University of Kansas Medical Center education building.

The funding comes as part of a school funding measure the governor signed into law Monday afternoon. The measure was approved by lawmakers on April 6.

The bonds will raise $25 million of the $75 million needed to construct the building.

KU officials say the new building is needed to replace outdated facilities and adapt to newer teaching methods.

At a press conference on the Kansas City, Kan., campus on Monday morning, Brownback said the building would allow the school to create 50 new slots for medical students between the Kansas City and Wichita campuses.

The governor praised the school and its growth in academic rankings.

“We always know where our basketball, our football teams are ranked,” he said. “We should be as focused too on how our higher education institutions, like our medical school, law school, veterinary school and other are ranked.”

Sen. Laura Kelly, from Topeka expressed concern that the plan could ultimately leave the University of Kansas to repay the bonds. Kelly, who’s the ranking Democrat of the Senate’s budget writing committee, pointed out that the bonds could be repaid by either the state general fund or the university.

“I’m not sure they’re going to be able to issue these bonds,” Kelly said. “I certainly wouldn’t feel comfortable with no guarantee of state general fund payback. I think it’s mighty risky unless they do a heck of a fundraising drive.”

Early in the legislative session, a Senate committee endorsed giving KU $1.4 million a year for 15 years to help retire the bonds. But the first installment of that money wasn’t included in the final version of the 2015 budget bill.

The news follows a recent disappointment for KU officials seeking funding for the education building. 

Neither Brownback nor the Legislature supported KU’s recent request to use more than $20 million that federal officials recently returned to the state to help pay for the building.

The $20 million came from Social Security contributions made by KU on behalf of residents. It was later determined those contributions were not necessary.

“The way that it’s being spun right now is that we’re giving them (KU) $25 million in bonding authority to make up for the $24 million in FICA money that we stole from them, but the reality is we could just dump this right back on KU,” Kelly said.

Jim McLean of Kansas Health Institute News Service contributed to this story.

As a health care reporter, I aim to empower my audience to take steps to improve health care and make informed decisions as consumers and voters. I tell human stories augmented with research and data to explain how our health care system works and sometimes fails us. Email me at alexs@kcur.org.
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