Regents vote to submit ‘real bill’ in request for state operating budgets

The Arizona Board of Regents has directed the three state universities to reformat their fiscal year 2011 state operating budget requests to reflect a more accurate picture of their needs based on a per-student funding approach.

The universities had presented state budget requests that represented an increase of $136.4 million over current budgets. Citing past budget cuts and a proposal to look at another 15 percent to 20 percent midyear budget reduction, the regents decided to indicate true budget needs versus submitting budget requests that are reduced in advance.

The regents met Sept. 24 and 25 in the High Country Conference Center on campus.

The new state budget requests from the universities will be $459 million more than current funding and will be submitted by Oct. 1. The requests also will reflect the funding needed to institute system architecture reforms as requested by elected officials to offer lower-cost options for higher education.

Regents President Ernest Calderón said the universities previously have submitted “discounted budgets” to the Legislature.

“We need to give the Legislature the real bill. That’s what we need to run the universities,” he said.

Regent Robert Bulla noted that general fund appropriations to the universities have been cut in half since 2002.

Northern Arizona University’s FY ‘11 budget request will be $106.2 million as opposed to its $24.2 million original proposed request. The original budget included initial funding requests for enrollment growth and to increase accessibility to higher education. The revised request now also will include a request to fund a level of state support per student that will allow NAU to:

  • competitively compensate and hire faculty and staff
  • expand programmatic areas such as the health professions and sustainability
  • implement new partnerships to provide expanded access to higher education

In other action, the regents voted to revise certain board policies to comply with a recent change in Arizona law that prevents public employers, such as the universities, from prohibiting the storage of weapons in locked personal vehicles or in secured storage compartments of personal motorcycles. The law further stipulates that a firearm cannot be visible from outside the vehicle or motorcycle. The new law becomes effective Sept. 30.

Board and university policies have prohibited the possession and storage of weapons on campus. The regents and university presidents expressed their displeasure with the measure but also acknowledged the requirement to comply with state law.

“It seems to me, the way to get out of this is to make it one of the major lobbying efforts that ABOR and the universities undertake during this next (legislative) session,” said NAU President John Haeger. “It totally destroys the environment the campus has tried to maintain.”

A motion passed by the board authorizes the ABOR president to issue a letter to the Legislature expressing its concerns about the measure and for the universities to focus lobbying efforts on changing the law.

NAU also will revise its policies to comply with the law.

In addition, the board approved NAU’s 2011-13 Capital Improvement Plan, which includes a new, privatized residence hall that would provide suite-style and apartment-style housing for about 560 upperclassmen. Funding would be through private financing and would place no capital investment or financial obligation upon the university. The project also includes plans for a parking structure and potential office and retail space.

Regents additionally voted to re-approve NAU’s deferred maintenance and building renewal projects under the SPEED program, that would provide 80 percent of needed funding from future Arizona Lottery deposits. The projects have been delayed as a result of the economic downturn.