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Budget battle begins
UConn faces 12.6% cut in state appropriations
by Thomas Becher (February 21, 1997)
With the threat of a 12.6 percent cut in the University's share of the state budget looming, administrators, faculty, staff, students and alumni were scheduled to testify Thursday before the General Assembly's Appropriations Committee.
It's the first step toward adding money back to what Gov. John G. Rowland's budget office has proposed -- spending reductions in current services amounting to $13.8 million in 1997-98 and $15.1 million in 1998-99.
When counting fringe benefits the University must pay from its funds, if the proposal is adopted, the totals rise to $18.1 million in 1997-98 and $19.8 million in 1998-99 -- for a total cut of $37.9 million during the biennium. [ Please see the budget summary below.]
The UConn Health Center also has been affected by the proposal from the Office of Policy and Management (OPM): cuts of more than $11 million in the biennium.
President Philip E. Austin, speaking to the Board of Trustees last Friday in Stamford, said the OPM plan would mean the end to entire programs and departments if the General Assembly does not add money back this spring.
"I am deeply disappointed," he said. "Not much more can be cut."
Any cuts in current services would jeopardize new programs Austin had proposed, including additional money for critical technologies, technology transfer and undergraduate education.
Austin testified before the Appropriations Committee that the University cannot sustain additional cuts. He pointed out that open positions have been kept vacant, that expenses are being reduced, and that tuition increases have been kept to a minimum.
The University originally submitted a budget request for 1997-99 that seeks to increase current services appropriations by about 4 percent over this fiscal year, when the University received $135.9 million.
The University requested $148.9 million in 1997-98. The request for 1998-99 was $152 million. UConn's request would allow the University to continue offering the same services currently provided to students. State funding has remained flat since 1988-89.
If approved, the proposed cut would reduce the University's current budget to $135 million in 1997-98 and $136.8 million in 1998-99. The University receives less than one-third of its total budget from state appropriations.
The plan would cut state support 10 percent for UConn, the Health Center, the Connecticut State University System and the community-technical college system. That counters trends around the nation, where spending for public higher education is up an average of 4 percent.
Bleeding to death
The state's shift to high-tech jobs, including advances in biotechnology pioneered at UConn, requires a strong research university, Austin said at last Friday's Board of Trustees meeting.
"The only way we're going to attract jobs is attracting firms with high value added," Austin said. "That cannot be done if we are bleeding to death. And we are bleeding to death."
He criticized OPM's budget analysis.
"The person who wrote those numbers was smoking something illegal," Austin said.
The budget summary concluded that UConn's bureaucracy includes too many administrators, who are overpaid. OPM records show that 445 employees earn more than the governor's salary of $78,000. UConn officials counter that more than 30 of those people bring in more than $1 million a year each in research grants.
The University has been doing all it can, developing a budget-balancing plan and offering an early retirement incentive, Austin said.
"Painful cuts have been made," he said. "As compelling as it might be politically, it has nothing to do with what has happened to the University of Connecticut the last four or five years."
Staffing at the University is 10 percent below the number in 1990 and 12.5 percent below July 1, 1989, according to the Office of Legislative Research. UConn has lost 554 positions since 1990.
"We must clean up the quality of rhetoric in this debate" Austin told trustees. "(UConn) is the only platform that will restore the economy in this state."
Legislative leaders in the Democratic-controlled House and Senate have pledged to add back at least some of Rowland's proposed cuts. But Austin said the University, its employees and supporters must engage state legislators and amplify the impact of any more cuts.
"If anything like this budget sticks, I will come to you with closings of departments and programs," Austin said. "I will not participate in across-the-board cuts."
Meanwhile, UConn employee unions were swift in their denunciation of the budget proposal.
"The governor's budget cuts for higher education show his willingness to sell the future for a few pieces of silver today. He cares not about the future of the students of today or tomorrow," said the statement from the UConn chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), the Connecticut State University AAUP, the Congress of Connecticut Community Colleges and the University of Connecticut Professional Employees Association (UCPEA).
"Our people are Connecticut's best resource, yet he shackles the middle class and poor to less opportunity, higher costs of education, fewer resources, and a dark age for Connecticut public higher education. This attack on higher education also cripples meaningful activity in economic development. Promises for a better economic picture are broken with this budget; and done so by the governor with a wink, a nod, and a smile.
"This budget must not pass as presented. A tax cut for some is in fact a huge tax increase for all who seek a public college education in Connecticut."