BOISE – The University of Idaho has taken $22 million in budget cuts in the past two years, and with more looming, UI President Duane Nellis told lawmakers Monday that higher education is key to Idaho’s recovery from the current economic downturn.
“I’ve been on record as stressing higher education’s impact to the state’s economy,” Nellis told legislative budget writers as he made his pitch for the university’s budget. “Higher education is even more important to Idaho when the state is facing these very significant economic difficulties.”
The tally of $22 million in cuts in two years doesn’t count another $10 million Gov. Butch Otter has recommended removing from a planned dairy research project, or millions more in additional holdbacks lawmakers are considering.
For next year, the governor’s budget proposes reducing funding to Idaho’s four-year colleges and universities by a combined $35.1 million – 14 percent under this year’s budget, which was $32 million below the previous year.
So far, UI has eliminated 35 degree programs and restructured 10 others. It’s also established four new programs in targeted areas, Nellis said. The Moscow-based university has cut 77 positions, deferred maintenance and equipment purchases, and put freezes on travel and hiring.
This past fall, the university took a 6 percent budget hit thanks to the mid-year holdbacks Otter announced in September. Nellis said those cuts, which slashed $6.5 million out of the university’s spending for this year, were accomplished in part by tapping into the UI’s fast-shrinking reserves. But now, as Otter and lawmakers call for more cuts this year, the UI will have to turn to furloughs, he said, with top-paid employees facing as many as six unpaid days off between now and June 30, and lower-paid workers getting shorter furloughs.
So far, colleges and universities in Idaho have used “aggressive revisions to operating budgets … some elimination of positions and strategic use of reserve” to cope with budget cuts, State Board of Education President Paul Agidius told lawmakers. “However, as additional cuts and holdbacks are ordered, mandated cuts and furloughs may become necessary.”
State Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, vice chairwoman of the joint budget committee, noted that many state agencies already have turned to unpaid furloughs for workers to deal with the budget crisis. “Higher education is important; however they still only serve 30 percent of our high school students that graduate in Idaho,” Keough said, “so the challenge is to balance the value of higher education against the needs of the other items in the budget which serve a greater portion of our population.”
She noted, “They also have ability to raise a significant amount of funds elsewhere,” whether it’s from private fundraising, research grants or student fees.
Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, agreed with Keough, saying: “There are going to be a limited percentage that will require a four-year degree, and everyone is going to require post-secondary education.”