State Capitol News
Tue January 27, 2009
State Lawmakers Fire Back at University Presidents Over Budget
By Howard Fischer
Phoenix, AZ – The head of the House Appropriations Committee said Monday that
universities shouldn't worry about having their budgets slashed
by huge amounts. But Arizona Public Radio's Howard Fischer
reports that view may not be universal.
Rep. John Kavanagh said the proposal was nothing more than a list
of options to fix the $1.6 billion budget deficit. It included
$174 million in mid-year cuts to university spending and sweeping
another $65 million out of their special accounts. That resulted
in some very vocal protests from the presidents of the three
universities. Kavanagh said they were being alarmist.
(It is unfortuante that the university presidents and other
people misinformed the public and their students and portrayed a
list of options which was never meant to be a budget as an actual
budget. They upset people unnecessarily and they caused a lot of
turmoil that is disrupting the process.)
But there may be at least some reason for all the alarm. As
recently as Monday, Senate President Bob Burns said it will take
virtually everything in what Kavanagh has referred to as solely
that options list to bring expenses into line with revenues. In
fact, Burns said he doesn't care if these cuts, coming in the
middle of an academic year, actually could force the universities
to cancel classes and even breach contracts with faculty.
(When you get into a crisis situation, sometimes you have to do
things that you really don't want to do, like, you know, cancel
out a contract or something. It may cost you some. But you have
to make the decision whether you're going to cut your losses or
not and back out of that kind of thing. So I think those
decisions have to be made.)
And Burns said that he, like Kavanagh, believes that the comments
of the university presidents predicting doom and gloom are both
unnecessary and overly dramatic. He specifically lashed out at
Arizona State University President Michael Crow who claimed
publicly that the result of the cuts would mean Arizona's future
-- quote -- may more closely resemble a far-off Third World
country than nearby states such as Colorado and Texas.
Burns sent a letter to all three presidents on Monday saying that he is
unwilling to, in his words, protect and expand government
institutions at the expense of Arizona citizens and businesses.
Burns also said the universities were being alarmist in
describing the magnitude of the cuts. He admitted those cuts
would amount to a big chunk of the $1 billion a year in state
aid. But Burns said that's only part of the picture and ignores
other sources of cash, like tuition.
(But if you always just restrict it to the general fund, it looks
like a big hit. But if you look at all of the funds they have to
function with, then the amount we'd reduce the general fund
doesn't look quite so drastic. And so we certainly need to take a
look at that picture as well. We'll see what their overall
University officials may like Kavanagh's version of how the
budget will be balanced. But Kavanagh said while he believes
there won't be wholesale slashing of funds and programs, the
universities will take another budget hit, above and beyond that
$50 million cut from their budgets at the beginning of the fiscal
(We will not allow schools to be closed. But everyone is going to
tighten their belt. Nobody's getting a free ride. This is the
worst crisis we've had in memorable history.)
Burns said he hopes to have a new spending plan for the current
year in place by the end of the week. That may prove to be the
easy part. Estimates put the deficit for the coming fiscal year
in the $3 billion range.
For Arizona Public Radio, this is Howard Fischer.