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Biennial budget at current services
First time in a decade
By Richard Veilleux - June 20, 1997
State legislators on June 4 approved a 1997-99 state budget that includes more than $147 million for UConn in each of the next two years, the first time in a decade the University has received a budget that approximates the state funding necessary to provide services at a constant level from one year to the next.
The package, about $28 million more than UConn received during the 1995-97 biennium, also contains language exempting UConn from the mid-term rescission that have plagued the university's finances for six years. Additionally, the General Assembly agreed to continue the matching grant program, in place for the past two years, for gifts received through 2005. The additional $52.5 million in state matching grant funds will match each $2 raised privately with $1 of state money.
Legislators also increased financial aid pools for the first time in a decade, adding $3 million to the Connecticut Aid for Public College Students Program (CAPCS) and $1 million to the Scholastic Achievement Grant (SAG).
The positive end to what began as another tough year for the operating budget pleased President Philip E. Austin.
"I am extremely pleased with the bipartisan support we received from the members of the General Assembly. The General Assembly is becoming increasingly aware that the University is vital to the state's long-term economic growth. At the same time, the direct connection between the level of state support and the quality and accessibility of a UConn education is more clear than ever. With appropriate levels of state funding, UConn will fulfill its mission of ensuring an educated and productive citizenry for the coming century," Austin said.
During a special session of the legislature which began Wednesday, it was also expected that the General Assembly would pass the State Bond Act. The act is expected to include $8 million for Connecticut Innovations Inc. (CII), of which $6 million will be invested in UConn's applied research initiative, the Critical Technologies Program, during the next two years. This amount may be further augmented by other funding from CII. The program directly benefits the state's businesses and industries in the areas of advanced materials, marine sciences and technology, environmental research, biotechnology and pharmaceuticals, and photonics.
The UConn Health Center also fared well, receiving nearly $127 million in operating funds for the 1997-99 biennium, about $12 million more than its allotment in the previous two years.
Speaker of the House Thomas D. Ritter, D-Hartford, credited Austin, in large measure, for UConn's success.
"President Austin's strong advocacy on behalf of UConn was critical in developing legislative support for the University this year," Ritter said. "Although our public colleges and universities are still underfunded in my opinion, I believe we have begun to see a renewed commitment by the state toward higher education."
Austin agreed that the budget suggested positive legislative regard for higher education but he acknowledged that UConn still faces a number of fiscal challenges.
"We are not out of the woods yet. Our deficit elimination program still has two years to run. We need to focus resources on strategic priorities as we reposition our academic programs. But we are certainly in better shape than we have been in more than a decade," he said.
Austin singled out the leaders, both Democratic and Republican, in the House and Senate for their efforts in getting support for the budget. He said Ritter was unwavering in his support for the University. He praised Kevin B. Sullivan, D-West Hartford, Senate president pro tem; the delegation from the Stamford area, led by Senate Majority Leader George C. Jepsen, D-Stamford, and House Majority Leader Moira K. Lyons, D-Stamford; House Minority Leader Robert M. Ward, R-Northford, and Senate Minority Leader Adela Eads, R-Kent. Austin also noted the efforts of the leadership of the education and appropriations committees.
Closer to home, Austin credited the work of local representatives and senators, as well as members of the alumni association, the UConn chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), and the University of Connecticut Profes-sional Employees Association (UCPEA), who banded together to form the core of Friends of UConn, a grassroots advocacy effort that helped direct more than 13,000 letters, post cards and phone calls to state legislators. He said their efforts were instrumental in winning the additional funding.
Scott Brohinsky, director of university relations and UConn's chief governmental relations officer, agreed, and added special words of praise for Ritter.
"When the UConn community works together to achieve a common objective, the effect on the legislature cannot be overstated. By helping to generate nearly 13,000 cards and letters from across Connecticut, the UConn community helped legislators understand the broad statewide support this institution commands. The direct assistance of the Alumni Association, AAUP, and UCPEA once again demonstrates the depth of their commitment to and support for the University of Connecticut," Brohinsky said.
Among other items, the new funding will allow the university to effectively implement the plan to reduce the UConn's structural deficit. The deficit is expected to decline to about $7 million by the end of the 1996-97 fiscal year. The deficit reduction plan, adopted two years ago by the Board of Trustees, calls for the university's finances to be in balance by the end of the 1998-99 fiscal year.
Because of UConn's unique mission, including the intense competition it faces for students, faculty and staff, as well as for grants and private donations, legislators also preserved the University's flexibility in implementing the early retirement incentive program - flexibility that state agencies did not receive. Most prominent among these was that UConn was exempted from language allowing the state Office of Policy and Management to withhold funding from agencies, if not enough employees responded to the retirement incentive to meet OPM's cost-savings goals. Instead, about $2.7 million, during the two-year budget has been removed from UConn's total allotment as the institution's contribution to the goal.
In addition, UConn is not constrained by the strict refill controls included in the early retirement incentive legislation for state agencies. Instead, its continued autonomy allows positions to be refilled in accordance with program priorities and operational needs.
Trustees and UConn officials will discuss the biennial budget during their annual budget workshop, scheduled for June 24, from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m., in Bishop Center.