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UA budget hit looking likely to reach $58M in fiscal ’09

Citizen Staff Writer



Arizona lawmakers are expected to approve a plan to erase the state’s budget deficit that includes $142 million in cuts to the state’s universities, days after university leaders asked for no more than a $100 million reduction.

Arizona is $1.6 billion in the red.

Sen. Jonathan Paton, R-Tucson, said the plan would be voted on no later than Friday and that the Republican majority had enough votes to pass it.

University of Arizona President Robert N. Shelton said the Republican leaders’ proposed reduction would likely result in about a $58 million cut to UA before the 2009 fiscal year ends June 30.

Those cuts would result in the elimination of more than 400 jobs, the consolidation of up to 50 academic and administrative units, fewer course offerings and the possibility of increasing next year’s tuition more than the 10 percent approved in December.

Paton said he tried to protect higher education in budget negotiations, including removing a proposal to sweep $68 million in unspent university system funds into the general fund.

“Keeping the fund sweeps off makes the plan a little bit more palatable for the universities,” Paton said. “I’ve met with the university lobbyists and President Shelton and they aren’t thrilled, but they are relieved some of their fears did not come to pass.”

In original budget-balancing proposals, the universities would have been cut $175 million and lost the $68 million for a total $243 million reduction over the five months remaining in this fiscal year.

Paton said budget negotiations also resulted in leaving the division of the university system cut to the Arizona Board of Regents.

“The original plan called for the UA to be cut roughly 30 percent over ’09 and ’10 and ASU was about 16 percent,” the senator said. “I insisted we leave the dividing to the regents and not just pick on one university.”

Also under the plan, lawmakers would approve the universities moving forward with about $70 million in construction projects.

Late last fall, Rep. Russell Pearce, then chairman of the Joint Committee on Capital Review, refused to review nearly $168 million in university construction projects that were part of a $1 billion economic stimulus package approved by the Legislature last year.

By law, every state capital project exceeding $250,000 is reviewed by the joint committee. The committee does not have the authority to approve or halt projects but holding up the reviews effectively stalled the projects, which will be financed through bond sales paid back with Arizona Lottery proceeds.

Paton said he made sure that UA could move forward with plans to build two residence halls on the southern edge of campus. Construction of residence halls is paid for with student rental fees.

“The $70 million is going forward and the UA dorms, too,” Paton said. “I said I’m not voting for anything unless you add the dormitories because that doesn’t cost the state anything and (Pearce) said . . . he will.”

Arizona Regent Fred DuVal called the $142 million cut “destabilizing.”

“Our biggest problem is this lack of time,” DuVal said. “You’ve only got five months on the (fiscal year) calendar. To absorb that kind of cut immediately, there’s not a lot of options. A factory you can shut down tomorrow. It is sad but it can be done. You can’t shut down a school. Kids have paid tuition. They’re expecting their classes, their degrees.”

Proposed cut less severe but still painful to UA, officials say

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