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Hogan gives testimony on budget proposal

by Richard Veilleux - February 23, 2009


UConn President Michael Hogan, while acknowledging the dire straits facing the state economy, said that the governor’s proposed budget, if not adjusted, would make it nearly impossible for the University’s Storrs-based programs to continue the quest to become one of the nation’s top public universities. He said it would also have serious implications for the future of the UConn Health Center.

He made his remarks during testimony to the legislature’s Appropriations Committee on Feb. 13.

During a discussion that touched on the economy, the governor’s budget proposal, tuition, rescissions, and the University’s contributions to Connecticut, Hogan told the committee that cuts of the magnitude proposed – $34 million short of current services in fiscal year 2010 and another $50 million short in 2011 for Storrs-based programs, with shortfalls of $7 million and $12.5 million, respectively, at the Health Center – would be devastating to the University.

“It takes decades to build a world-class university, but only a year or two to bring it down,” he said.

The budget proposal – and Hogan’s testimony – was only the beginning of a journey that will run until at least June 3, the official closing date for the session.

Hogan told the committee the University has already sliced more than $12 million from its current year’s budget, as a result of a 3 percent rescission mandated by the governor in November.

“The reductions of more than $12 million were extremely difficult to execute, due to their magnitude, timing, the University’s commitment to provide the highest quality academic experience to our students, and our commitment to provide financial aid that goes beyond statutory requirements,” Hogan said. “Nevertheless, due to creativity and the hard work of Provost Peter Nicholls and the leadership of our schools and colleges, we were successful in managing these reductions, without compromising quality, accessibility, or jobs.”

The new reductions, however, would be more difficult to make, Hogan said, explaining that the proposed 5 percent cut was actually larger than that, because it included no additional funding for standard inflationary increases in energy and other costs or for contractual increases.

“The proposed rescission for the University amounts to $21.2 million and $37.7 million in the next two fiscal years,” he said. “Together with our projected increase in operating costs, this creates a deficit in the University budget of 9 percent or $34 million in FY10, and 13 percent or $50 million in FY11. Make no mistake: these are deep cuts.”

Hogan said some of the reduction – about $7 million – will be covered through savings and new revenues identified by his Cost, Operations, and Revenue Enhancement (CORE) Task Force, and tuition increases could cover millions more. However, the governor asked the Board of Trustees to table a planned discussion of tuition and fee increases from its Feb. 10 meeting. They expect to return to the issue during their March meeting.

Hogan said not increasing tuition would be problematic.

“Failing to look to tuition and to increase it at an appropriate level that still protects access would be devastating to the University, its students, and the state over both the short and long run,” he said.

Rather, he added, the trustees should consider a “middle ground,” an increase that would be understandable to parents and students, while also helping the University temper the impact of the budget cuts.

Hogan noted that sacrifices must and will be made, as the state and UConn manage the budget challenges ahead. He said wage freezes are a possible tool for savings, but largely depend on concessions on the part of collective bargaining units. While faculty and staff want to support UConn during these difficult times, he added, they also want to ensure that any savings from concessions would remain with the University and not lead to further reductions in the state appropriation.

Hogan said that, if necessary, “We are also prepared … to consider selling University assets; closing the Graduate School and distributing its services; curtailing weekend dining services; reducing our financial aid set-asides from 17 percent [of tuition revenues] to the state-mandated level of 15 percent; and curtailing operating hours at our libraries, museums, recreational facilities, and performance venues.”

Hogan also expressed grave concerns regarding the governor’s proposed budget for the UConn Health Center. That budget would reduce the Health Center’s appropriation by $19.5 million over the biennium, and would not cover the fringe benefit differential for employees of the John Dempsey Hospital, which amounts to another $27 million during fiscal years 2010 and 2011.

Further, Hogan said, the proposed budget would eliminate reimbursement of routine dental care in the Department of Social Services’ budget [$3 million]. He noted that, as in past years, the Health Center is also forecasting deficits totaling $51 million during the two-year span.

Consequently, he said, “The proposed budget for the UConn Health Center, if passed, puts us on a path for the closure of the John Dempsey Hospital and the serious impairment, if not a terminal blow, to the schools of medicine and dental medicine.”

Such a scenario would, he added, “severely compromise healthcare services to Connecticut citizens, as well as the research enterprise at the Health Center and the vitality of all of UConn.”

Hogan reminded legislators of the support of the Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineering (CASE) for a partnership between the Health Center and one or more of the other hospitals in the region.

“Investment in an educated citizenry in good economic times is desirable,” he said. “Investment in difficult economic times is critical.”

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