Citizen Staff Writer
Desperately needed dormitories for the University of Arizona won’t be built with state funds – yet legislators are delaying the project’s construction nonetheless.
This unreasonable response to a definitive need may be only a preview of what the Legislature has in store for higher education in 2009.
Of more immediate concern for UA and Tucson is the lawmakers’ inaction on the dormitories will exacerbate the student housing shortage here.
That shortage very well may lead to reduced enrollments, higher housing costs for students and increased student spillover into neighborhoods, creating more student-resident conflicts.
Most aggravating about this situation is the fact that the dormitory projects are funded by the students’ rent payments – not by the state budget.
And money for the construction already is being collected: UA dorm rates were increased by 9 percent in March – with 5 percent of that increase earmarked to pay for the three Sixth Street dormitories.
But the dorm construction cannot commence without a review by the legislative Joint Committee on Capital Review.
And that panel canceled the meeting it was to have had Friday to review a $1 billion economic stimulus package for the state’s three universities.
The cancellation portends the near-certain abandonment of the package, which was intended to not only improve our universities, but also revive Arizona’s construction industry and create jobs.
We understand there may be some hesitation on spending packages, given the state’s current $1.2 billion-plus deficit and our dire economy.
But the full Legislature already approved the economic stimulus package back in June, so the committee’s 11th-hour interference is inappropriate at best.
Even worse is its outrageous blocking of the UA dormitory construction.
Every month of delay in dorm construction results in a 1 percent cost increase that will be passed on to students through higher dorm rents, UA President Robert N. Shelton has warned.
“The UA is not something the Legislature should be screwing around with,” says state Sen. Jonathan Paton, R-Tucson.
The dormitory project “is a capital funding project, but we’ve already got the money for it,” Paton adds.
Rep. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, seems intent on thwarting higher education progress, blocking dorms and the stimulus package, including the $470 million expansion of UA’s medical school in downtown Phoenix.
Paton and other legislators from southern Arizona must do all they can to protect the UA from such legislative tomfoolery.
Every delay in dorm construction means higher rents for students, who already are
hard-pressed for money.