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University leaders fear damage from new proposed budget cuts

(MGN)

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — University of Nebraska officials fear new budget cuts proposed by the governor would make it tough for the system to remain affordable and still meet state economic needs.

Gov. Pete Ricketts wants to cut the university system's state appropriation by 2 percent — a total of $11.4 million — for the remainder of this fiscal year. He also proposed cutting $23.2 million for the 2018-19 budget year.

University officials say the cuts could result in program elimination, fewer teachers and higher tuition.

System President Hank Bounds said Thursday the university would be swallowing one-third of the statewide total once cuts to state agencies and programs are computed, although state support for the university makes up 13 percent of the total state budget.

Bounds says university leaders will be discussing options soon.

President Bounds sent the following letter to lawmakers on January 16:

Dear Colleagues,

I am writing with difficult news.

With the legislative session underway, Governor Ricketts last week announced proposed cuts to the state’s biennial budget, including reductions to the University of Nebraska. Under the Governor’s proposal, our funding for the current year would be reduced $11 million, and next year’s appropriation would be cut $23 million.

The Governor is asking us to shoulder one-third of his proposed cuts – despite the fact that we comprise only 13 percent of the state’s total budget.

These cuts, which come on top of reductions we took last year, would add significantly to a recurring budgetary challenge that we had planned to address with a combination of spending cuts identified by our Budget Response Teams and two years of tuition increases.

“It is clear we can’t wait to plan for additional cuts. We have extremely difficult decisions to make, and a short runway on which to make them.”

I have met with chancellors and chief business and academic officers to begin discussing the best path forward. I need to be candid with you about how an additional cut from the state would impact us.

With our operations lean already after decades of unequal growth in state government in which our funding has not kept pace with other agencies’, and with inevitable cost increases like health insurance and collective bargaining coming in the next budget cycle, we have no choice but to turn to options that could change the face of our University. These include elimination of academic programs, job cuts, restructuring, a retreat from our statewide presence and significant tuition increases, including revisiting the 3.2 percent increase for 2018-19 previously approved by the Board of Regents.

The numbers are not final. The Governor’s budget proposal now moves to the Appropriations Committee and full Legislature for deliberation. The highest priority for the chancellors and me in the months ahead will be doing everything we can to lessen our cuts and the impact on our students, faculty and citizens we serve.

Given the state’s ongoing fiscal challenges, however, the reality is that we will take a cut of some amount. And we cannot expect to capture savings from the Budget Response Teams beyond the $30 million that they have already identified. Some program eliminations and tuition increases are a certainty for us moving forward.

To that end, I have asked campus leadership teams, along with the cabinet at Varner Hall, to initiate processes for making reductions. Academic cuts, of course, require faculty input and we will honor our commitment to shared governance. But it is clear we cannot wait to plan for additional cuts. We have extremely difficult decisions to make, and a short runway on which to make them.

The heartache for me is that we are facing these choices at a time when the work you do has never been more important to the future of our state and its people. Nebraska needs its University, and your vital contributions to our teaching, research and outreach missions, more than ever. And every day I hear from Nebraskans who feel the same.

Those conversations confirm my belief that this University can help lead the way in growing Nebraska out of the current challenges. We are in a remarkable position to join with our partners to continue transforming the lives of students and people here and around the world. As I will remind policymakers, however, we cannot do that unless the state decides that affordable, excellent higher education is a priority for Nebraska.

We will update you frequently on the legislative process and our budget planning. Thank you for all you do.

Sincerely,

Hank

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