UT downsizes in advance of Texas House’s budget debate

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The Texas House will begin debate today on the 2012-13 biennium budget, which includes contentious cuts to education, health care and other human services.

Legislators have been working on the bill since the start of the 82nd session in January. The budget began in the House Appropriations Committee, where state agencies from across Texas testified before members, largely asking to alleviate cuts.

The bill proposes reducing higher education funding by $600 million. UT chief financial officer Kevin Hegarty said UT has prepared the campus for $50 million in cuts. Currently, the state funds about $330 million of the campus’s $2.2 billion annual operating budget.

“We’ve positioned the campus for a 15-percent reduction. That borders on the magnitude of around a $50 million reduction per year in the state’s funding for this campus,” Hegarty said.

Hegarty said he has no doubt the state will reduce UT’s budget, along with other state universities, but his concern is how deep the cuts
will be.

“We hope that $50 million reduction is, in the end, no more than that,” he said. “We would hope for a lower reduction. In our wildest dreams, we would wish for an increase, but that is not realistic.”

Since the last round of cuts, Hegarty said they have tried to maintain “prudent” yet “cautious” reductions. Last year, the University eliminated about 200 administrative positions, some of which were already vacant.

“Seventy cents on the dollar of what we spend is on people. It’s hard to reduce budgets and not affect people,” he said. “We’ve tried to encourage eliminating positions where they are not being filled.”

The House and Senate will vote on their own versions of the budget and then combine to draft the final version. Hegarty said the House version would reduce higher education funding more than the Senate version.

Rep. Helen Giddings, D-DeSoto, a member of the appropriations committee, said she will vote against the bill, but it is still likely to pass.
“I am going to fight as hard as I can so that these devastating cuts are not placed on the backs of the people who can least afford to take them,” Giddings said. “It’s going to throw our state into a deep decline. We can do better in the state of Texas.”

Members expect many amendments to be proposed, including some to support education by Rep. Jose Manuel Lozano, D-Kingsville.
“I have some that relate to the retired teachers, protect teachers and to protect pre-kindergarten,” Lozano said. “I want to protect our students at the university and public schools.”

The House voted on three bills Thursday to alleviate the current biennium’s $4.3 billion shortfall, which included releasing $3.1 billion from the $9.4 billion Rainy Day Fund, which lawmakers can tap into during financial emergencies.

“Budget cuts alone were never going to be sufficient to cover our shortfall,” said Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie. “Combined with budget reductions, using the economic stabilization fund is the conservative, reasonable approach for addressing our shortfall.”

Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, said if his peers aren’t going to make more funds available, they have to own up to the cuts
being made.

“Money does not magically fall, and just because we say it, doesn’t mean it will be so,” Turner said. “You have to use more, $3.2 billion is not enough. Otherwise take ownership of the cuts. Say to the people of Texas, we want smaller government and to spend less.”


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