Dilapidation and frustration: How state legislature gambles on University repairs

Maintaining priorities is a crucial aspect in governing a state as large as Arizona. Limited time and resources necessitate that some things receive more attention than others, and with Arizona mired in the effects of the recession, the choices of where to allocate money are only becoming more difficult. Unfortunately, as seen in our investigative story this week, the campuses of Arizona’s three public universities have become a victim of this penny-pinching.

Arizona’s Constitution requires that “the Legislature shall make such appropriations, to be met by taxation, as shall insure the proper maintenance of all state educational institutions.” There have been successful efforts to keep tuition stagnant for residents and to boost enrollment, but there has been sparse effort to keep our campus’s infrastructure from rotting away.

Deferred maintenance is the practice of delaying requests for repair of property “where deterioration and/or life safety concerns are evident and affect the proper functioning of the facility.” This is described by ASU’s Deferred Maintenance Report, which was created to demonstrate a plan for solving the increasing problem of necessary repairs with a perpetual absence of funds. Although there is estimated to be $242 million worth of deferred maintenance at ASU alone, the funds appropriated to repair them have been a total of zero from 2008 to 2014.

Efforts were made in 2008 to expedite the repairs for infrastructure with the Stimulus Plan for Economic and Educational Development, but have done little to combat a span of seven years without a single dollar appropriated by the Legislature. The mere $3 million granted for fiscal year 2015 will prove meager for universities requesting $107.5 million.

Being one of the state’s public institutions of higher learning, ASU should sit high atop the Arizona Legislature’s list of things to care about. A state investment of $352 million for fiscal year 2015 was used to help fund ASU’s primary costs: instruction and academic support, research and public service, and scholarships and fellowships. However, the total amount of $3 million spread out over years of repairs worth upwards of $70 million will leave the state investing in broken schools.

It is the responsibility of the Legislature to protect the future of our universities, and in deferring the required maintenance Arizona’s universities require, they are digging a hole that may eventually prove insurmountable. The knowledge-based economy we live in requires functional institutions of higher education. A refusal to invest in the capital we need to grow as future members of the workforce cannot be neglected for supposed higher needs. The infrastructure of ASU’s campuses is a crucial part of our positive learning experience. The labs in which we research, the classrooms in which we collaborate, the dorms in which we reside — all must be comfortable for students.

As time goes on, the problem will only be exacerbated by increased deterioration. The costs will pile up, and in gambling on an economic boon, the Legislature is essentially — to draw on the investigative article — playing the lottery with our universities. Things may not pick up soon economically, and if funding isn’t granted, the Legislature may be staring at an underprepared workforce of its own device.