Cuts endanger UT jobs, programs

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The latest round of 3-percent budget cuts to state agencies could mean a reduction of about $9 million in UT’s state funding. But University officials could not say a day after the cuts were announced which jobs or programs might be vulnerable.

The University received $300 million in state funding for the 2010-2011 biennium.

Leaders of the Texas House and Senate announced further budget cuts after setting the state’s spending limit for the next legislative session at a meeting of the Legislative Budget Board on Monday. About 14 percent of the University’s overall budget comes from state funding, compared to 47 percent in 1985.

Kevin Hegarty, UT’s chief financial officer, said the University does not yet have a plan to deal with the new budget cut, but there will likely be more jobs lost.

“[Our response] will be as methodical and thoughtful as it possibly can, the worst thing we can do is just react,” he said.

UT cut $14.6 million from its budget earlier this year — mostly from administrative and non-academic areas — after legislative leaders asked most state agencies to cut 5 percent of their budgets. By comparison, the School of Architecture’s budget is $8 million. Months later, they asked for cuts of 10 percent to state agencies’ 2012-13 budgets.

Texas universities’ only option to avoid dropping jobs and programs is to raise tuition — a choice higher education leaders will be reluctant to make because of political constraints and relationships with state leaders, said Eva DeLuna Castro, a budget analyst with the progressive think tank Center for Public Policy Priorities.

Castro said the cuts in state funding for higher education will also mean less state financial aid and that thousands of entering, eligible students will not obtain the TEXAS Grant and several other grants. The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board in September proposed cuts that would drop grants for 24,000 first-time recipients of the TEXAS Grant program.

During a September Legislative Budget Board meeting, officers asked UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa and several UT System presidents if they would prefer to cut their funding for special items, such as the McDonald Observatory or formula funding, which makes up most of UT’s state funding.

Most of the presidents responded that their special items are crucial to the growth of their institutions.

UT budget director Mary Knight said the University’s special items include large research units that benefit Texas, such as the Bureau of Economic Geology, which provides research on energy and environmental issues in the state.

“I don’t know that it’s an either or question, [UT needs] both,” Knight said.

UT is still going through the process of planning for the possible 10 percent cut, and if the new budget cuts affect UT during this fiscal year, the budget planning process would be rushed, Knight said.