March 22, 2012

6.4 percent cut to higher education passes House, heads to Senate

By Rae Hodge–

FRANKFORT – A sense of resignation permeated the 2012 budget conversation at the Capitol this week. With Thursday’s passage of House Bill 265, a bill guided by Gov. Steve Beshear’s proposed budget, through the House of Representatives, the University of Louisville finds itself at a legislative halfway mark in the path to a 6.4 percent overall funding reduction in 2013.

HB 265, sponsored by House Appropriations and Revenue committee chair Rick Rand, D-Bedford, passed out of committee on Wednesday with the only vocal opposition coming from Rep. Alicia Webb-Edgington, R-Fort Wright, and Rep. Jim Wayne, D-Louisville.

Wayne›s commentary reflected the concerns that have been expressed by much of U of L’s student body and leadership, saying “We have serious systemic problems, and when we vote for a budget like this, it means we’re in denial,” adding, “It shoves the problem off to students,”

Wayne remained in opposition to the bill as it reached and ultimately passed the House floor, insisting that most legislators had not thoroughly examined the bill.

The biennial budget projects the state›s spending-versus-income balance to be $742 million in the red. The state Budget Office says that the cuts to higher education, along with the 8.4 percent across-the-board cuts to state agencies, are attempts to cover that difference.

U of L President James Ramsey, a former state budget director, has warned of potential layoffs, hiring freezes, and cuts to scholarships for students beneath the poverty line should the legislation pass. U of L’s struggle to sell over $55 million in bonds could present further challenges in maintaining several programs, although university officials have remained hopeful that their bond options will be restored later in the legislative process.
U of L’s Vice-President of Finance, Mike Curtain, said in an email interview that the House budget bill and its 6.4 percent cuts, “was expected given the Governor›s budget recommendation. We did not anticipate, however, that the House would remove all of the Agency Capital Projects.”

Zach Ireland, a U of L senior and an intern in the Legislative Research Commission›s Office of Budget Review in the state Capitol, discussed potential solutions to problems presented by the university›s looming cuts. “I think it is important to acknowledge that although the economy is improving, the current budget cuts the university is facing is part of a series of previous budget cuts. The university can cushion these cuts by searching for community partnerships that could result in benefits for both the school and community, similar to that of their current partnership with UPS,” said Ireland.

“In addition, I believe the university should focus much less of their resources on sports programs and focus more on academics and students.” Ireland added that, “Tuition hikes and teacher layoffs should be a last resort.”

HB 265 now moves to the Senate, where it is anticipated to endure further debate before eventually heading to a conference committee composed of House and Senate leadership. The committee is expected to negotiate over Kentucky›s sparse resources until the final compromise is reached, and the bill is sent to the governor for approval.

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