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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

University funding set to stay the same

Michelle+A.+Monroe+%2F+Arizona+Daily+Wildcat+%0A%0AUniversity+of+Arizona+Police+Department+officials+gave+awards+to+UA+employees+and+one+student+who+helped+them+solve+crimes+or+arrest+people.
Michelle A. Monroe
Michelle A. Monroe / Arizona Daily Wildcat University of Arizona Police Department officials gave awards to UA employees and one student who helped them solve crimes or arrest people.

The economy may be looking up, but Arizona’s legislators are looking ahead.

To cover costs that may accumulate in the future, members of the Republican-controlled Legislature proposed a budget last Monday that neither cuts nor increases funding for higher education. If passed, it would mark the first time in a decade that the university’s funding has gone unchanged.

If the budget passes, the UA will receive a little more than $200 million. While this isn’t a decrease in funding, it isn’t an increase either, and some students may see a hike in tuition as a result, according to Jun Peng, an associate professor in the School of Government and Public Policy and an expert in government finance management.

The tuition plan released by UA President Eugene Sander on Friday would increase tuition by less than 3 percent for incoming undergraduate resident students, resident graduate students and all out-of-state students. Sander’s proposal would not increase tuition for continuing undergraduates, though they would pay $750 in additional tuition because of the expiration of a financial aid award.

“If we keep this process going, we’re going to price out middle-class families from sending their kids to school,” said Rep. Raul Grijalva of Congressional District 7. The budget plan is “a disappointment on many levels at a time when we need to be investing in education in general,” he said.

If the state fails to give additional support to universities, costs will rise and students will have to work harder to pay for college, according to Dan Fitzgibbon, a business economics senior and chair of the Arizona Students’ Association. The more time students put into covering those costs, the less time they can spend enriching their university experiences through extracurricular activities and campus involvement. In the worst case, they may acquire debt that follows them beyond their graduation and keeps them from seizing opportunities in the future, Fitzgibbon said.

“Students are economic development engines in this state,” he said. “We need to show our legislators that we’re worth it.”

While the universities’ budgets are remaining the same, Arizona’s budget is running a surplus, according to Peng. Lawmakers have stowed away about $400 million in a “rainy day fund” instead of reinvesting in programs that have been cut during the economic recession, like general funding for the UA, which decreased by nearly 24 percent last year. This reserve would “cushion the landing” if the economic situation in the state and county doesn’t improve, according to Republican Rep. Ted Vogt of state Legislative District 30.

“We’re at a crossroads. We’ve seen some positive signs in the economy, and in the budget we’ve got some positive cash flow,” Vogt said. “But as we look out down the line, especially if you go out two to three years, there’s some significant hurdles that the state has to overcome.”

Arizona will face two major financial challenges down the road, he said. The first is the expiration of the one-cent sales tax in March of 2013, which brings in nearly $1 billion annually. The second obstacle will be the implementation of the new national healthcare plan that requires states to spend more on programs like Medicaid.

“When you look at it, by 2015 we may need to make up about $2 billion in additional revenue that currently we don’t have,” Vogt said. “I would much prefer we take a prudent approach to the future.”

The Legislature’s conservative strategy has received a lot of criticism from Democrats and Gov. Jan Brewer, who claim the budget proposal ignores many of Brewer’s priorities and hurts public education. The plan cuts $28 million from K-12 education funding and rejects the governor’s $100 million school construction initiative.

While this may seem like a big hit to education, Peng said it is more important to examine education funding in a broader context.

“Don’t simply compare education to education itself. You have to compare education to what else is in a budget,” he said.

For instance, “we spend a lot more money on criminal justice than we do on universities,” he said. “So do you want to keep spending all of the money on criminal justice? Or do you want to make some changes so that we spend less money on criminal justice and give more money to education?”

Some believe that Arizona residents are the people who should be answering these types of questions, not lawmakers. If the main priority for Arizonans is education and university funding, they need to show the government that by voting for pro-education initiatives, said Pamela Adams, a professor in the School of Government and Public Policy.

“We have the power, we have the vote,” Adams said. “(Lawmakers) need to listen to what we the people tell them.”

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