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Plan gives regents more money

BY EMILY BUSSE | JANUARY 28, 2010 7:30 AM

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Gov. Chet Culver plans to return almost $31 million to regent institutions this fiscal year if his newly proposed budget plan is passed.

In a budget report released Wednesday by Culver and Lt. Gov. Patty Judge, the $5.32 billion plan would use savings and reserve funds to allocate money to key areas including education, health care, and public safety.

Regent Robert Downer said his feelings about the $65 million for higher education are “very positive,” but he noted that the current economy will continue to put a strain on the budget.

“Obviously, it is not everything we would like,” he said. “At the same time, we all have to be cognizant of the economic distress state government is in, along with a lot of individuals.”

In the area of higher education, the plan would provide $6 million for community colleges and $31 million for state Board of Regents’ institutions in fiscal 2010 and fiscal 2011, an allocation aimed at leveraging more than $125 million in federal funds for higher education.

The budget will also invest $62.7 million in college financial-aid programs.

Culver said his plan doesn’t require increases in income or sales taxes, instead using funds saved elsewhere including with myriad budget-saving measures suggested in an efficiency review by Public Works LLC last summer. Officials project $341 million in savings in the first year of the proposed plan.

Culver’s 10 percent across-the-board cut to the state’s budget in October 2009 left regent institutions with a $60 million budget gap. The universities have since been engaged in cutting costs to make up the gap; Wednesday’s proposal could “restore” some of that, Downer said.

“I do believe that higher education is one of the areas [Culver] wanted to provide as much assistance for as he possibly could,” Downer said. “I don’t know exactly how that’s going to fit in with the cuts we’ve already sustained.”

UI President Sally Mason called the proposal a “step in the right direction” in a statement released Wednesday.

“His proposed budget, if approved by lawmakers, would enable us to maintain the high quality of education we offer students, continue conducting important research, and enhance our efforts to help drive the state’s economic recovery,” Mason said.

Regent President David Miles thanked Culver in a statement on Wednesday, noting the regents are “very pleased” with the restored cuts.

UI Provost Wallace Loh said he couldn’t comment Wednesday evening because he hadn’t looked at the proposal yet.

In addition to higher education, Culver’s proposal would fund job-training programs, provide more funding for Departments of Corrections and Public Safety, and allocate $100 million of state reserves to K-12 education. The budget would provide a surplus of $382 million.

Downer said Culver’s prioritizing of such areas will be more effective than a general allocation of money.

“There are a lot of needs … that involve basic human needs that have to be covered, but he’s certainly not ignoring the fact that the regent universities are a large part of the key to the future of the state,” he said.


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