State legislators passed a series of budget proposals, including $143 million in cuts to the state university system, early Saturday morning.
The proposals, consisting to six bills, were signed into law by Gov. Jan Brewer after nearly a month of intense public scrutiny and political jousting in the Legislature. Brewer partially attributed the current budget crisis facing the state on a lack of fiscal discipline by the previous administration.
“The seeds of this budget crisis have been sown for many years, and thus the solutions are neither easy nor painless,” Brewer said in a press release Saturday.
The final cut to the university system totaled $143 million, a compromise between the $120 million proposed by the House of Representatives and the $175 million proposed by the Senate. The university system and K-12 education took larger cuts than any other state department.
Rep. Nancy McClain, R-Bullhead City, said the large cuts to education were necessary because of its a significant portion of the state budget.
“[K-12 education and the universities] make up about 60 percent of the budget,” Rep. McClain said. “When you have a $1.6 billion deficit, those two areas are going to have to take a huge hit.”
McClain added that the original budget proposals called for a larger share of the cuts to be toward health care, but federal regulations restricted those cuts. If the original plan had gone through, she said, the federal government would have stopped providing its share of funding for state health-care access.
“Then we really would have been in trouble,” McClain said.
Sen. Meg Burton Cahill, D-Tempe, accused Republicans, who hold the majority in both houses of the Legislature, of making decisions based on ideology rather than what is best for the state in its current situation. She said other ways of bringing in revenue, such as raising fees for boards that regulate physicians, nurses and other professionals, were not even discussed.
“This is just a very shortsighted and ideology-driven budget,” Burton Cahill said. “[That] ideology [is] less government at any cost.”
University officials were not available for comment over the weekend, but President Michael Crow released a statement Saturday condemning the new budget and explaining the magnitude of the cuts.
“[The budget] deals a devastating blow to ASU, UA and NAU, to all our students, to every citizen in this state who wants a child or grandchild to attend college,” Crow’s said in the statement.
Crow outlined the magnitude and potential effects of the cuts, including the elimination of about 1,000 jobs, increased tuition and fees and closing a campus, though the statement did not specify which one.
Crow ended the statement with a plea to legislators to be more lenient with next year’s budget. The stimulus package currently making its way through Congress should allow legislators to make less drastic cuts next fiscal year, he said.
“We don’t have to repeat the devastation of the [2009 fiscal year] budget,” Crow wrote.“With the availability of federal economic stimulus funds ... the [2010 fiscal year] budget does not have to add more severe cuts on top of the ones taken this year.”
Rep. McClain, however, does not have high hopes for the stimulus money coming into the state from the federal government.
“That money comes with strings attached,” McClain said. “A lot of it can’t be used [to fund] current programs. The Fed wants us to use it for new programs, which isn’t going to solve this problem.”
Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said the economic situation is unlikely to improve next year, which will keep state funding to the universities at a minimum.
“The bottom line is, the economy is not going to get better next year,” Kavanagh said. “The universities need to start looking for other sources of revenue.”
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