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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Newly appointed team will provide budget solution alternatives to legislature

    Students protest the legislatures proposed budget cuts to higher education outside the Arizona State Capitol Wednesday afternoon.
    Students protest the legislature’s proposed budget cuts to higher education outside the Arizona State Capitol Wednesday afternoon.

    In an attempt to find a more efficient way to balance Arizona’s $1.6 billion budget shortfall, the members of the Arizona Board of Regents and state university presidents announced to a crowd of more than 2,000 students gathered outside the state capital in Phoenix that they have created the Fiscal Alternative Choices Team.

    The team will be lead by Ted Ferris, who was director of the Arizona Joint Legislative Budget Committee for 12 years.

    Regent President Fred Boice said Ferris led the JLBC during an economic downturn in the 1980s, and that he brings critical perspective to the table.

    UA President Robert Shelton said FACT will help engage the UA faculty, along with faculty from Arizona State University and Northern Arizona University, to find alternative methods of constructing the state’s budget.

    The ABOR recently proposed a possible compromise to the $243 million cut proposed by the JLBC, saying the state higher education system could sustain $100 million in cuts for fiscal year 2009.

    While this newest proposal is substantially lower than the original cuts the legislature proposed two weeks ago, Shelton said it would still be a devastating blow.

    The UA would absorb a $40 million share of the $100 million in cuts, and although he has prepared for the cut, Shelton said he could not recommend it for the university’s sake.

    “”That $40 million in cuts means with certainty that more than 400 jobs will be eliminated,”” Shelton said. “”The number of colleges at the university will be reduced from 16 to 13, and up to 50 academic and administrative units will be eliminated or consolidated.””

    He said every unit on campus would sustain another 5 percent cut on top of the 5 percent cut they underwent at the start of the fiscal year.

    Shelton called the possible outcome “”gut-wrenching.””

    Class sizes will grow significantly, the number of courses offered will be reduced, students will be forced to wait longer for academic and financial aid advising – thus making it longer and more expensive for students to complete their studies and graduate from the UA, Shelton said.

    “”The impacts for southern Arizona in particular will be a rise in unemployment, a further slowing of the economy and a more prolonged recession,”” he said.

    Shelton said the legislature has “”singled out universities for the largest cuts in fiscal year 2009 of any state entity.””

    He said states like Oregon, Missouri and Maryland are jump-starting their economies by exempting their universities from budget cuts, but Arizona’s legislature seems to enjoy taking the opposite route.

    FACT would be a working group comprised of university economists, with private sector economists participating in an advisory capacity, said Andrea Smiley, associate executive director for ABOR Public Affairs & External Relations.

    “”We are going to go to work immediately to develop a proposal of fiscal options for the legislature to consider beyond just budget cuts,”” Smiley said.

    Shelton said the creation of FACT is the “”bright side”” of these dismal economic times for higher education.

    Shelton asked UA law professor John Swain, a national expert on tax law, and experts from the Economic and Business Research Center at UA’s Eller College of Management to lead UA efforts to assist the legislature in balancing Arizona’s budget.

    “”I have conveyed to both Swain and the EBRC that this endeavor is to be their highest priority,”” Shelton said. “”It will require their fullest effort and their very best thinking.””

    He said that if the state is to continue on its current pace, then it will have invested more in the education of its prisoners than its students.

    “”Arizona is on track to spend more to house its 40,000 prisoners than to educate its 120,000 university students,”” Shelton said. “”I will put to you ladies and gentlemen, that this is a distinction that we do not want.””

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