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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    News analysis: Budget 101: How did we get here?

    The University of Arizona is in a state of upheaval. Students and faculty alike are trying to sort through the complicated web that has brought the university to this moment.

    Before you can know where you are going, you have to know where you have been.

    “”Starting this fiscal year we took a $22 million cut, basically five percent,”” UA President Robert Shelton said. “”We had been planning all along for another five percent cut, another 20 million, and we were prepared to do that based on what we had heard in the fall and the transformation process.””

    Part of the reason the burden of balancing the state’s budget falls on the universities is because of restrictions voted on by the general public years ago.

    According to Rep. Michele Reagan, R-Scottsdale, around 10 years ago, on the general ballot, the Arizona public passed several bills that would require a super-majority of the legislature to be able to change budget distribution or raise taxes.

    Reagan said that the Arizona public also froze 60 percent of the budget unless the super-majority of the legislature voted to unfreeze it.

    Because the university falls in the 40 percent of the budget that is not frozen, they have become a target for major budget cuts, she said.

    Reagan said the simple solution would be to unfreeze the other 60 percent, but it is almost impossible to get a 45 person super-majority on any issue, let alone a controversial major budget cut.

    The divide in the legislature stems from ideological differences between the two major political parties. The Republicans are looking to cut back on the state budget strictly from subtracting from both higher and secondary education.

    “”There are legislatures down here that are looking to cut rather than look to some alternative ways of dealing with the deficit because we do have a tremendous deficit this year,”” said Senator Richard Miranda, D-Tolleson. “”They are not willing to look at other revenue sources, mainly they are not looking at any kinds of tax increases whatsoever.

    The Democrats are trying to lessen the blow by creating alternatives such as borrowing money and trying to follow the budget proposal laid out by former Arizona governor and new Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano.

    Napolitano’s original budget plan was to cut $100 million from the three state universities and supplement other cuts with funding from borrowed money and cutting funding for state highways and other funds.

    “”How much revenue there is depends on how much revenue you are willing to create and there are some very creative ways that you can address this short of simply hacking away at everything,”” said UA Political Science Professor and former Tucson mayor Tom Volgy. “”That is where the ideology comes in. The Republicans have made it very clear that they felt that the Democrats have been spending too much. I hope that they don’t use this as an opportunity for them to simply cut back because then I think we will be in a lot of trouble.””

    Volgy said that the differences between the parties would not be as destructive if it were not for the current economic situation the state is facing.

    “”What interferes with all of the ideological differences is the enormous economic difficulties in the state and the ideological differences become sharper as a result,”” Volgy said. “”The Republicans become far more reluctant to continue investing in that infrastructure thinking that somehow life will work itself out. I don’t know how life will work itself out.””

    “”They are not being very creative,”” Shelton said. “”You can look at the House for example, look at the Napolitano budget which might be one end. You can look at what the federal government has done. So I think there are ways to do it and we are seeing more creative people come up with those ideas.””

    In order to understand how the budget is allocated; it is imperative to comprehend the role of Arizona Board of Regents.

    The board of regents is a state funded group whose main goal is to unite higher education in Arizona. The advocates for university and student rights have been trying to ensure adequate funding and a high quality level of education for all Arizonans.

    Lately, the regents have been working with the state universities in order to recommend alternative funding options to the legislature.

    Recently, the presidents of the three state universities united with the board to tell the legislature that the state system could only handle up to $100 million in cuts.

    According to Volgy, drastic cuts to the university are a major concern because they will impact not only the UA but southern Arizona.

    He believes that although the cuts are detrimental to all state universities, the UA plays such significant role in Tucson’s economy, that without it, southern Arizona would decline.

    Phoenix, he said, would be impacted, but not nearly to the extent of Tucson.

    “”We are not likely going to recover from this for a long time. It is not just the university and it is not just the students, faculty and staff, it’s also issues about the impact the university has on southern Arizona, which for us is enormous,”” Volgy said. “”I believe that if they have the interest at heart … they have got to minimize the damage here and not engage in great budget cuts for the university.””

    Another challenge the UA potentially faces are proposed bills aimed at changing the structure of the board of regents and putting the UA in worse shape in comparison to the other state universities.

    One of the proposed bills would completely abolish the board, and in its place, set up three advisory committees, one for each state school. These committees would have members of the legislature on them and would be influential in allocating budget cuts and funds to their designated university.

    The second proposed bill would not totally abolish the board of regents. However, like the first bill, it would still set up the advisory committees and appoint one member from the House and one member from the Senate to each.

    “”(The bills are) a way to divide the board up and make it less effective,”” Shelton said.

    House Bill 2246, or the Equalization Bill, is another concern for the state universities, especially the UA, Shelton said.

    It would distribute financial cuts based solely on the number of students enrolled in the school. According to Shelton, this would be especially harmful to the UA because we would lose more money than the other schools.

    Shelton believes the nickname of the bill is misleading because if it passes, the cuts that effect each school are not equal. He thinks the quality of education and quality of research should be considered as opposed to just the number of undergraduates.

    “”This is coming out of some of the legislature, not the universities. It’s a way to over simplify what the universities do. Because obviously we do more than teach undergraduates.”” Shelton said.

    All of these elements that are up in the air have affected the political climate, which the state of Arizona currently finds itself in as it tries reconcile its $1.6 billion deficit.

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