High gas prices have little effect on University budget

by Kristin Gustafson

Skyrocketing gas prices left students and legislators scrambling for solutions during the past several months.
But not the University.
Despite struggling with technology, libraries, construction, health care and compensation costs rising faster than the rate of inflation, gasoline prices, which peaked above $1.50 per gallon, have had little impact on University finances.
For those offices renting or leasing a University vehicle, gasoline costs have increased less than $10 per month.
With fuel consuming only 9.2 percent of vehicle expenses — a cost surpassed by depreciation, interest, insurance and maintenance expenses — the University has only seen an added yearly cost of $100,000 because of the price hike.
And the University’s 900 rented vehicles, spread over four University campuses and experimentation stations, reduce any centralized price impact.
“$100,000 is a lot of money,” said Theresa Robinson, auxiliary services associate vice president. “But when you put it in the context of the University budget, it is rather small and spread out.”
And having a year with less snowfall than years past has also helped prices, she said. “Things have a way of evening out.”
Filling a bus fuel tank is a nonissue for the University, as this service is a fixed contracted cost.
The U.S. Senate recently voted down a temporary federal gas tax cut as costs had already decreased nationwide after the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries expanded crude-oil production.
However, tax relief would not have helped the University, which is exempt from the 18.4 percent tax.
And now, with average state gasoline prices dropping 17 cents from March — and some stations advertising unleaded regular gasoline for less than $1.30 per gallon — the ripples should be even less.
“I think as long as it stays under $1.50 or $1.60 per gallon, it doesn’t seem to have an impact,” said Bill Roberts, University Fleet Services director.
When Roberts first joined the University 15 years ago, gasoline prices were as high as they were in February, he said. “Gas is still cheap, relatively speaking.”
While those who own their own cars are seeing a 33 percent rise in gas prices, there has been no noticeable change to parking, transit or other modes of transportation, said University Parking and Transportation Director Bob Baker.
“I think the impact has not been long enough in its duration, and gas prices, over the last month, have been fluctuating a great deal so … we haven’t seen any noticeable impact one way or the other,” he said.

Kristin Gustafson covers University administration and federal government and welcomes comments at [email protected].