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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Legislators chip away at stimulus

    PHOENIX – Legislators are wary about a proposed construction plan for the state’s three universities after a Senate hearing at the State Capitol yesterday addressed the plan’s merits and shortfalls.

    The plan, which has been dubbed an “”economic stimulus”” package by the state universities and business supporters, would require the state Legislature to approve more than $1.4 billion in financing for building maintenance and construction at the schools.

    At the UA, $327 million would pay for a new environmental and natural sciences building, an engineering building and renovations to both Centennial Hall and the Social and Behavioral Sciences building, according to plan documents.

    The plan will allow the state to invest in its future and also increase Arizona’s higher education capacity, said Gov. Janet Napolitano.

    “”It’s not just protecting the status quo, but it’s keeping us on a track to keep building and recognize that we are still in the process of building what in fact is a very young state,”” she said.

    But some legislators, including Sen. Bob Burns, R-Peoria, and chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, emphasized that the state is in serious financial stress with a looming 2009 budget deficit of almost $2 billion and a strapped Rainy Day fund.

    “”I think you’ve come to the wrong bank,”” he said, mentioning how the state raided some dedicated funds to solve the 2008 budget problem.

    And the recovery will be coming at a slower rate than in past years, Burns said.

    “”The will of the Legislature may not be strong enough to reduce the spending to get us down to the point where we can balance a budget that can be balanced going into 2010,”” he said.

    Arizona’s economy is dependent on construction, and this plan would jumpstart that sector by providing more jobs and an educated workforce, said Regent Fred DuVal.

    Other building infrastructure investments made in the past few years have already provided a return, DuVal said, mentioning ASU’s $60 million Biodesign Institute award and the $50 million National Science Foundation grant to the UA’s BIO5 Institute.

    “”We know the state doesn’t have an extra nickel this year,”” he said, adding that the state would not have to start paying for the project until at least 2010.

    Even though funding is always an issue, one of the main issues with the plan right now is there isn’t enough information to make a decision, said Sen. Tom O’Halleran, R-Sedona, and chairman of the Senate Higher Education Committee.

    The deferred process continues to put Arizona further and further behind in a deficit of infrastructure in this state, O’Halleran said.

    “”We need to vet these things out,”” he said.

    The state has many different financial priorities to focus on, including road construction, K-12 schools, water and sewer construction, and basic university infrastructure, O’Halleran said.

    By paying cash for capital investments versus bonding, deficiencies have accrued over time that are overwhelming the state, O’Halleran said.

    “”We are a growing state that has a tremendous burden on it,”” he said.

    Arizona’s higher education facilities, public and private, are half of what they need to be, said ASU President Michael Crow.

    “”If you think about the movement in the state from our present 6 million people to 10 million people, are we prepared?”” he said.

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