State deficit spurs regents to request record-low budget

Brad Unangst

University regents got their first look Friday at the 2004-05 operating budget, the lowest request in 10 years.

Interim President Robert Bruininks said the proposal addresses the institution’s needs while being respectful of the state’s estimated $3 million deficit.

The budget calls for $96 million in new state funding and a 50-50 financial partnership in exchange for the support. In 2001, the University requested $221.5 million from the state.

The plan would raise $46 million from a 4.5 percent tuition increase for each of the next two years and reallocate $50 million of existing funds over two years. Revenue from that will pay for costs associated with funding individual colleges, pay increases for faculty and staff, improved career advising and classroom technologies and construction of new facilities.

“It meets our basic needs, and with some good internal controls – at least for the biennium – we can do well with this budget. If it is cut then we have to go back to the drawing board,” Regent Anthony Baraga said.

Regent Dallas Bohnsack said the proposal addresses many of the initiatives started in the past and also continues to seek support for the University’s new academic and research priorities.

Continued investment in its academic initiatives, which include medical education and research, digital information technologies and agriculture, must be a priority to keep those programs strong, Bruininks added.

While the current plan divides financial support between the University and the students, officials said if the Legislature does not approve the budget, a higher-than-expected tuition increase could be awaiting students. In the past two years, University students have faced double-digit tuition increases, in part because of lower-than-expected state funding.

“I’ve been pretty upset with the way they have neglected the students’ opinions and thoughts and how the government has basically cut all their funding,” University economics senior Kevin McDonald said. “The government has done a bad job supporting the school; it is a primary source of income for the area and they should put more money into it.”

Joanna Scavone, a University freshman, agreed.

“I think they can find a better way of getting the money than making us pay more,” she said.

Regent Baraga said he believes the board would find it difficult to vote for any increase above the proposed 4.5 percent.

Regents are expected to approve the request at their November meeting. It will be presented to the Legislature in early 2003.

Capital budget request

the regents approved the $61 million supplemental budget request, which includes six vetoed projects from last year’s bonding bill.

Believing there is enough support in the state Legislature to receive funding for the projects, officials said waiting until the 2004 session for approval would put the University at a disadvantage in competition for funding against other schools. Normally, the Legislature approves a bonding bill every other year.

Regents Chairwoman Maureen Reed said the budget proposal is clearly in line with the University’s academic and research missions.

Some of the projects include construction of the Translational Research Facility, renovations to Jones Hall and predesign work on the Institute of Technology Teaching and Technology Center.

The supplemental budget is part of the University’s proposed six-year, $775 million capital budget, which outlines the costs of University construction and renovation projects through 2008. The 2004 request will be back in front of the regents in spring of 2003 for approval.

Search for president

the University’s presidential search process remains on schedule, and approximately 120 “strong and diverse” candidates have been identified, Reed said.

On Wednesday, Bruininks confirmed he was nominated as a candidate for the position but said he was not interested.

“I’ve indicated quite clearly that I will not be a candidate during the search process,” Bruininks said Wednesday.

The board is hoping to name the University’s next president by the end of the year.


Staff reporter Kari Petrie contributed to this report.