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Shelton: UA part of the budget solution, not the problem



University of Arizona President Robert N. Shelton said Friday that if initial budget solutions proposed by the Joint Legislative Budget Committee are implemented, UA will face “massive” layoffs, huge hikes in tuition, closures of departments “or even colleges,” and the possible loss of critical programs.

“Cuts of this magnitude would literally dismantle the university system,” Shelton said at a news conference held to discuss the committee’s recommendation that $243 million be cut from the state’s three universities before June 30 and an additional $388 million in fiscal year 2010, which begins July 1.

The hit to UA this year under the JLBC plan would be $103 million, Shelton said.

Gov. Janet Napolitano also proposed budget solutions on Friday. In her package, the university system would take a $50 million cut in the next five months and then another $50 million come July 1.

Shelton said the damage from the cuts would extend past the university, because the university’s reach extends beyond its walls through technology spinoffs such as Ventana Medical Systems Inc. and UA’s Cooperative Extension programs, which have offices in all 15 Arizona counties.

In addition, the universities are a state agency that actually generates income for the state, Shelton said, pointing to the $530 million in grants brought in by UA this year.

“The universities are a solution to the budget problems that this state has, not part of the problem,” Shelton said, adding that the JLBC proposal is “draconian” and would destroy higher education in Arizona “for decades to come.”

Another concern of Shelton’s is House Concurrent Resolution 2002, sponsored by Rep. Warde Nichols, R-Gilbert.

That resolution would eliminate the current structure of the Arizona Board of Regents, which oversees the state’s three public universities, and replace it with three new boards, one for each university.

Those boards would have five members each, three appointed by the governor and one each appointed by Senate and House leadership, according to Paul Allvin, UA associate vice president for university communications.

Currently, all regents are appointed by the governor.

Shelton said the House resolution would amount to “micromanaging” the universities.

In addition, some legislators have proposed taking the whole of tuition funds universities generate and sweeping them into the state general fund and then attaching instructions as to exactly how those funds could be spent by the universities.

Universities remit about 50 percent of their tuition revenues to the state. The state returns those funds to the universities as part of their state allocation and each university controls how that money is spent.

UA, Arizona State University and Northern Arizona University all set aside at least 17 percent of those revenues for student financial aid, and the remainder goes to operating needs.

“It leaves us with very little way to generate legitimate funds to run this university,” Shelton said. “We would be entirely dependent on the politics of the state. . . . For the Legislature to want to politicize the operation of the universities is a very bad idea.”

Shelton said “there is enormous concern” by all groups at the university about the JLBC proposal.

“The mood of the university is one of being stunned, one of being appalled, that this kind of set of cuts would even be contemplated,” he said.

Shelton and other university leaders are planning to make their case against drastic funding cuts to the universities by speaking with legislative leadership over the next few weeks.

But if the worst-case scenario came to pass, “we will eliminate programs, perhaps even colleges, in order to sustain excellence in certain areas,” Shelton said.

He would not name what colleges or programs he would ax or which he would save.

The JLBC budget depends on millions in spending cuts from all state agencies, “sweeping” savings accounts those agencies hold for emergencies and reducing the amount of money set aside for salary increases for state employees. The JLBC does not count on borrowing any money.

Gov. Janet Napolitano’s proposed budget solution includes about half the amount of spending cuts, raiding the rainy day reserve, and leveraging funding from the federal tobacco settlement and the state lottery.

Shelton said he thinks universities will know what the budget decision is for the remainder of this fiscal year by the end of February.


On the Web

University of Arizona President Robert N. Shelton’s video


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