State budget brings another year of little new UA funding
Following a legislative session of budget battles in Phoenix, the state budget signed by Gov. Jan Brewer allocated less funding for the UA than requested.
The UA is a public university that relies on state funding to avoid tuition hikes and to fund important projects. Between 2008 and 2014, the UA lost 25 percent of its state funding.
The budget, which was passed and signed in April, prompted disappointed responses from UA students and UA President Ann Weaver Hart.
The three state universities gained about $50 million in new funding in the 2015 budget; the UA only received about $5.5 million in new funds. The Arizona Board of Regents had requested $34.8 million for the UA for several projects, including a proposed veterinary school.
Hart expressed her disappointment with the lack of new funding for the UA in the 2015 budget shortly after it was signed.
“Our ability to be a key economic driver for Arizona — $8.6 billion in 2013 alone — will be affected by the state’s significantly diminished support for the future,” Hart said in a statement.
Hart also expressed gratitude toward Rep. Ethan Orr (R-District 9) and Sen. Steve Pierce (R-District 1) for their efforts to fight for additional UA funding during budget battles in the Arizona Legislature.
The budget was being discussed as early as January, according to Orr.
He said the House of Representatives and the Senate need to start discussing the budget as early as November of the previous session, and citizens need to get involved in the conversation.
“The budget is the biggest thing we do,” he said. “We need to give it due consideration.”
Orr is the only Republican representative from Tucson. He said he faced challenges with the 2015 budget, and had to work hard to protect the interests of Tucson and the UA.
“It is a very partisan environment [in the state Legislature],” he said. “I wish it wasn’t.”
Orr said when he looks at other city and state economies that are succeeding, he sees their success is anchored in higher education. If Arizona wants to continue to grow, Orr said, then the state should put more money into higher education.
“I think you need to fund intelligently,” Orr said. “To me, [education] is an investment, not an expense.”
The Arizona Students’ Association came out in opposition to the House of Representatives’ budget in April, and encouraged students and faculty to call Brewer in protest. Anthony Hessel, ASA vice chair of external affairs, said he saw the lack of funding for the UA as a sign that higher education was not a priority for Arizona’s Legislature.
This summer, the UA will work on its operating budget request to the state for the 2016 fiscal year. The 2015 budget will be finalized at a meeting with the board of regents in June.
Kathy Whisman, assistant vice president of the Budget Office at the UA, said the process for creating a budget request begins a year and a half before the budget is passed.
The requests are a collaboration between the university president, deans of colleges, the provost, the senior vice president of research and others, she said. Throughout the year, a draft of the request is presented to the board of regents, which provides guidance and direction.
The low state funding presents a challenge when creating the UA budget, Whisman said, and it means lowering expectations. She said the UA looks at the interests of the state and state revenue projections in order to create a budget request that is more likely to be met.
After a final meeting with the board of regents, the budget requests are formally submitted to the state on Oct. 1, she said. Then the fight for UA funding will begin again.