21st Century UConn is
Highlight of Governor's Budget
By Richard Veilleux
Pledging to complete the task of making UConn "one of the most modern and exciting public universities in the country," Gov. John G. Rowland in his budget speech on Wednesday proposed a $1.3 billion extension of UConn 2000 through 2015, including $50 million to enhance the University's growth during the last year of the current 10-year program.
The proposal, which Rowland has designated "21st Century UConn," will fund more than 40 new construction projects, including new academic buildings and residence halls at the Storrs and regional campuses, the Health Center and the School of Law. University officials say that, if approved by the General Assembly during the 2002 session that opened Feb. 6, the funding also will help renovate virtually every building on campus not already renewed through the earlier program.
"We've got our best chance ever to keep Connecticut's best and brightest just where we want them - right here in Connecticut - and we are going to run with it," Rowland said. The original UConn 2000 program was signed into law by Rowland in June 1995.
"The governor's commitment to the University, first demonstrated six-and-a-half years ago, remains exceptional," said President Philip E. Austin. "We are deeply grateful for this wonderful proposal."
Rowland's proposal highlighted an otherwise sobering budget message. He told legislators they will face tough decisions during the next three months, noting that the state faces a $350 million deficit in the budget year that ends June 30, and a projected $650 million deficit in the 2002-03 budget year.
To close that funding gap, the governor's proposed budget spreads cuts across a wide range of state agencies, including higher education.
The rescissions already imposed on the University's operating budget in the current year have been incorporated into the governor's fiscal year 2002-03 proposal, reducing the appropriation by $5.1 million at Storrs and $1 million at the Health Center. Nonetheless, officials note, the total operating budget still will be $13 million more than the University received in 2001-02.
Austin characterized the proposed operating budget as one that presents significant challenges. "We are mindful of the state's fiscal constraints, and we view the operating budget proposal in that context. I do not want our concerns in that area to overshadow our delight at the promise embodied in 21st Century UConn," he said.
"This commitment from the governor comes as virtually every other state in the nation is reducing their contribution to higher education. His efforts place us in the unique and wonderful position of being able to continue our drive to become one of the very best universities in the United States, despite the pressures placed on the state during the current recession," Austin said.
"The governor made it clear that our state's economic well being - the future of Connecticut - is directly tied to an excellent University of Connecticut."
In addition to committing $1 billion for the Storrs and regional campuses, the 21st Century UConn initiative also contains $300 million for the Health Center. It includes $35 million for the Avery Point campus, $25 million for the Hartford campus, $15 million for projects at the School of Law, and funding for additional work at the Stamford, Waterbury, and Torrington campuses.
Rowland said 21st Century UConn will complete the task begun by UConn 2000. "Our commitment to education does not end when the slogan runs its course," he said. "Our commitment to education is permanent."
Praising efforts on the Storrs campus that, since 1995, have increased freshman enrollment by 56 percent, Rowland said "We are reversing the brain drain. We are reinforcing
Connecticut's greatest economic strength: Yankee intellect and ingenuity."
The proposal now must be approved by the state legislature. If it clears that hurdle, a Master Indenture setting the parameters for the financing of the program will be submitted to the state Bond Commission. As with the current UConn 2000 program, the University Board of Trustees will set priorities and project budgets.
Besides specific projects, 21st Century UConn includes a $215 million line item for deferred maintenance and $200 million for equipment, library acquisitions, and telecommunications. That funding will be spread over the life of the program.