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Ducey's proposed budget cuts concern state's university system oversight board
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Ducey’s proposed budget cuts concern state’s university system oversight board

PHOENIX – Arizona’s public universities are facing cuts under the proposed budget by Gov. Doug Ducey and that has the university system’s oversight concerned.
Ducey’s inaugural budget proposal would slash $77.7 million from the state’s universities at a time when the system is still dealing with even greater cuts from just a few years ago.

“University support has been eroding along with other services that get support from the state general fund,” said Eileen Klein, president of the Arizona Board of Regents, which oversees the Arizona’s three public universities.

Funding for the universities has dropped significantly over the past several years, forcing schools to raise tuitions and fees in order to make up the difference.
Between 2007 and 2012, the universities saw roughly $400 million in cuts to their budgets and since then have recovered only about $90 million of that money, according to Klein.

Now with the state again facing severe budget deficits and a court order to increase funding for K-12, Klein said the state is looking to pull some of that money out of university funding.

“Now that things are looking bad again, the universities are facing cuts — steep cuts,” she said.

Appropriations from the state’s general fund in 2007 made up more than half of the system’s operating revenue, but by last year only accounted for roughly 25 percent. That percentage is expected to fall again with the proposed cuts.

Klein said balancing the state’s budget should not rest on the shoulders of students and parents, and continually raising tuition makes Arizona’s universities less competitive.

“We can’t continue the cost shift, the students can’t afford it, their families can’t afford it,” she said. “Ultimately, the level of state support needs to rebound so the universities can be effective in the long term.”

Klein said she hopes the cuts do not become part of the final budget, but said that if they do, they should be coupled with regulatory reform.

ABOR has mapped out 20 different areas where it would like reform as part of the budget cuts in an attempt to reduce costly red tape and allow the universities to room to maneuver with the shrinking budget, Klein said.

“Some of the items are basic reporting that is really antiquated (and) doesn’t really match with our other business reports that we’re making, so the reports aren’t really providing useful information,” she said. “There’s just a whole level of bureaucratic reporting that isn’t adding any value, that we’d like to see eliminated.”

With the state now only making up about 25 percent of the university system’s operating revenue, Klein said ABOR should be allowed more liberties with its decision making and that the state should have less of a hand in the system’s function.

She added that ABOR is also seeking trigger points that if Arizona’s financial situation should improve, funds to the university system would be restored.

Klein said she is actively working with the Arizona State Legislature and Gov. Ducey to potentially avoid the cuts all together, or to at least create a more sustainable funding plan for the state’s universities.