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Legislative leaders like CPE's tuition caps

FRANKFORT — The state's top two legislative leaders said Friday they are pleased with a tuition proposal from higher education's coordinating board and probably won't pursue a cap on tuition through legislation.

Earlier this week, the Council on Postsecondary Education proposed a tiered system for capping tuition increases in the coming school year. If approved, no state school could increase tuition by more than 5 percent.

Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, said the council "has taken a good step toward capping and keeping more affordable higher education in the state."

"If they make a good-faith effort to continue to do that, I think the General Assembly won't address that issue in this session."

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said he agreed with Williams. Their comments came during their weekly Friday news conference in the Capitol.

Under the council's proposal, the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville could charge up to 5 percent more in the 2009-10 academic year.

The six regional universities — including Eastern Kentucky, Morehead State and Kentucky State — could increase tuition up to 4 percent, while the Kentucky Community and Technical College System could hike its rate 3 percent.

Council members will be asked to approve the recommended caps at their March 6 meeting.

Tuition increases at state universities have been jumping 8 percent to 10 percent in recent years, prompting some state legislators to call for a freeze on tuition hikes.

After discussing tuition increases, Stumbo and Williams questioned why the Council on Postsecondary Education and Kentucky Community and Technical College System are spending money on media ads to sponsor University of Kentucky basketball games.

Stumbo said he doesn't yet know enough about the situation to determine whether the spending is appropriate. "We just need to find out why they are doing it and what their rationale is," he said.

Williams said they may be "trying to engender support to assure their continued existence."

Sue Patrick, a spokeswoman for the CPE, said the ads use state and federal dollars and are designed to recruit students and urge students to get prepared for college. She said the council is not spending money as a way to support college sports.

The KCTCS had no immediate comment.

In other legislative matters, Williams and Stumbo said:

■ That changes will be made in companion bills they sponsor that would set up an investigative agency of the legislature to oversee state government spending.

Stumbo said the changes will be announced Monday at a House committee meeting. He provided no further details.

■ That the legislature needs to freeze the state gas tax of 21.1 cents a gallon or the state's Road Fund will lose about $128 million. The tax, tied to the wholesale price of gasoline, is scheduled to drop by 4 cents April 1 if it is not frozen.