Regents send biennial budget to governor

by Brian Bakst

Although it took an hour of debate and a rousing pep talk by Regent and ex-Gov. Wendell Anderson, the University’s Board of Regents voted unanimously Friday to send the school’s two-year budget request to Gov. Arne Carlson.
If the request is granted, the state’s total investment in the University would be about $580 million in each of the next two years — an increase of nearly 17 percent for the budget period. Last year the University received about $497 million, although $36 million was designated as a one-time-only appropriation.
The budget request, which is aimed at boosting the school’s standing among top research institutions while retaining its current state of access, would also require the University to reallocate and raise new revenue of $115.5 million over a four-year period.
But the University’s request comes after years of steady decline in state support, an arrangement that has led to tuition increases that have outpaced inflation. Since 1990, state funding for the University has decreased by 10 percent.
Under the request, the University hopes the state will foot 47 percent of the cost of running the school over a four-year period. The University would pay 47 percent and the students would contribute six percent.
Meanwhile, administrators hope to hold the increase of the total amount of tuition collected by the University to 2.5 percent. This does not mean, however, that each student’s tuition would rise at that rate. Rather, the total amount the University receives from all tuition-paying students would be capped at 2.5 percent.
Key components of the request include: emphasis on computers and other technology; retention and compensation of faculty; and efficiency with smaller staffs.
Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Marvin Marshak doesn’t think the request is unreasonable. “The question we are posing to the people of the state is, ‘What relevant importance is the University to their lives?'”
Marshak added that the vitality of the state depends on the livelihood of the University. While all regents supported the basis of the request, some wanted the budget to be more clearly defined in terms of priorities.
Regent Jean Keffeler questioned the reasonableness of the request in terms of how much the state is likely to provide. “I’m concerned that we have yet to really put forth what our priorities for access and excellence are,” she said.
Keffeler recommended the board send the budget to the governor, but added that more work needs to be done.
Anderson, who has served in the Legislature and as governor, said prioritizing the budget would only give the state an excuse to provide less money. “It almost seems as if we are beginning to negotiate within our own group,” he said. “We need to be unified and enthusiastic; we have a magnificent story to tell.”
Better-prepared students and higher graduation rates among athletes emphasize the strides the University has made in the last 10 years, Anderson said. “When legislators are sitting at conference committee at 1 o’clock in the morning, they do not sit around and talk about programmatic reinvestments,” he said. “They talk about how many millions of dollars go to health care and how many to higher education.”
The Legislature will get its first chance to decide whether the University’s request is reasonable when Gov. Carlson forwards his budget request to the lawmaking body in January. Budget allocations are to be made by April.