NAU President John Haeger today thanked Arizona voters and Gov. Jan Brewer who made education a priority by supporting the passage of Proposition 100, which will help buoy state-supported education in a sinking economy. The new temporary 1-cent statewide sales tax will take effect June 1 and is expected to raise $1 billion annually for three years, much of which will help sustain K-12 and higher education throughout Arizona.
“This is very good news for NAU,” he said, explaining that NAU’s portion of the future tax revenues will allow the university to avoid more than $16 million in cuts to its operating budget over the next fiscal year. “I am very grateful to Gov. Brewer for her leadership on this issue and to each member of the Legislature who supported referring the issue to voters,” Haeger said.
Had voters rejected the measure, the university would be facing some difficult choices that would have likely included program cuts, employee furloughs and layoffs, and decreases in student financial aid.
Instead, voters endorsed the tax increase that will in part provide critical assistance to help NAU weather the short-term budget storm while the Arizona economy resets.
“We look forward to assisting in that economic turn-around by sending more highly skilled individuals into the workforce and by continuing to build our research enterprise into tech transfer and small business spin-offs,” he said.
But Haeger also expressed caution that the funds are still a short-term answer to the university’s ongoing budget problems, and that the long-term outlook remains unclear.
“We have to remember that although these funds will certainly ease our budgetary burden this year, this is not a long-term solution,” he said. “We are still facing a much bigger problem and hope the theme of support for education continues as candidates for various offices seek voter endorsement in the upcoming elections.”
Over the last two years the state has reduced its appropriations to NAU by $30 million. Support per university student has also decreased, from $8,800 in FY08 to $6,400 in FY10.
“We could still face additional cuts from the state,” he said, adding that despite careful planning and a conservative approach to spending, NAU faculty and staff continue to be challenged to do more with less.
“We have cut departmental budgets throughout the university, from academics to athletics,” Haeger said. “We are operating with 200 fewer employees and with 2,000 more students. All of our employees have been required to take furloughs, and the Arizona Board of Regents recently directed a 2.75 percent cut to the university’s state salary budget.”
Haeger has said it is unlikely state funding will ever return to previous levels. Rather, some lawmakers would like to see higher education budgets further reduced—a move he said ultimately hurts students in terms of increasing tuition that prices some out of the opportunity to earn an advanced degree.
“We are committed to the students and to the future of this state. We must pursue creative approaches to higher education, regardless of the obstacles we face,” he said. He cited NAU-Yavapai and other successful partnerships with community colleges throughout rural and urban Arizona communities as providing more affordable options. “Such initiatives streamline the transfer process to NAU and create a smoother pathway for degree completion,” he said. Haeger also pointed to NAU’s Tuition Pledge as a way to address the issue of affordability by providing students and their parents the predictability of a guaranteed tuition rate for eight semesters.
“We must continue to find innovative and efficient ways to provide opportunities to those who seek to earn a degree,” Haeger said.