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The Daily Wildcat

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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Danger: cliff ahead

Gov. Jan Brewer released her proposed budget for fiscal year 2011 last week, and all signs point to Arizona being even further in the red than a year ago.  

“”In a few short years, this recession has pillaged what took decades to build, and years will pass before we fully undo its devastating effects,”” Brewer said in a message to the Legislature on Saturday.

In her proposal, Brewer calls for “”dramatic changes in the way state government fulfills its mission.”” This includes maintaining state university funding at fiscal year 2006 levels, or 75 percent of what it was in 2008, closing the Department of Juvenile Corrections, eliminating state appropriations for all-day kindergarten services and reducing state employee pay by 5 percent.

Even with her proposed cuts, Brewer said the state will still have to borrow or defer $1.5 billion to address this year’s state budget shortfall in 2011, which is projected to be $3.2 billion, more than twice the funding gap of this past fiscal year.  

One reason Brewer cited for the dire budget situation in 2011 is the expiration of funds Arizona has been receiving as part of the federal stimulus act passed in 2008.

Arizona has been awarded more than $4.8 billion in stimulus funds, $2.289 billion of which has already been received. Arizona has spent just under $2 billion in stimulus funds, according to Governor Brewer’s Office of Economic Recovery.

University officials have been expecting such cuts to state education funds for several months.

In his State of The University address delivered Nov. 5, 2010, UA President Robert Shelton said the state mandating higher enrollment figures while simultaneously cutting funding was asking the UA to do “”much, much more”” while being funded “”much, much less.””

“”The sad thing, though, with some of these legislators, is that they have no idea how much they risk our state’s future — and the quality of life for people who live here — when they try to lay waste to the single greatest engine of economic mobility that has ever been created,”” Shelton said in his address. “”Because that’s what public higher education in this country is.””

His sentiments are echoed in the official budget proposal, which states: “”No function of State government has a greater impact on Arizona’s long-term future than public education. Amid the unprecedented chaos of the current budget situation, the Executive recommendation preserves, to the maximum practicable extent, the State’s commitment to education excellence.””

In Brewer’s proposal, the state would reduce per-student expenditures to $7,100 in 2011, which is $781 less than 2006 and $2,380 less than than its highest level in 2008. These cuts are necessary, according to the proposal, because of an influx of new students in the state university system. Approximately 15,000 more students are currently enrolled in Arizona universities than were in 2006.

More students and less state funding makes it imperative that universities secure alternative funding sources. According to the proposal: “”The ongoing reduction in State support signals a major change in the funding system for higher education. As Arizona’s university system continues to grow with limited State support, the system will need to find innovative methods to offer access to affordable higher education.””

According to statistics from the Arizona Board of Regents, the state’s university system has had its general fund appropriation reduced by $220 million, or 20 percent. This has necessitated surges in tuition for students, as UA students saw their tuition raised an average of 24 percent from 2008 to 2009.  

The UA requested a total just north of $636 million in funding from the state for 2011, a $146 million increase from the 2010 budget. If Brewer’s proposed budget is accepted, however, the UA’s 2011 budget will stay the same as it was in 2010 at around $490 million.  

Despite immediate budget challenges, Brewer expressed optimism that Arizona would rebound and recover from the crisis.

“”Once this debris is cleared away, we will be left with a solid foundation for future prosperity,”” she said. “”Seasoned by the hard work we have performed in the last year, we are better prepared than before — and arguably better prepared than any preceding generation of Arizona’s leaders — to guide our state through this fiscal valley and commit to an Arizona revival equal to the promise of her second century.””

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