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Message to University Community | Budget Update | Feb. 8, 2011

   
To the University of Idaho Statewide Community:

I am very concerned that some see an across-the-board budget cut for most state agencies as the best way to balance the FY 2012 budget.

The budget shortfall number currently being used is 5.3 percent, roughly four times what the governor recommended in his executive budget last month. If such a reduction was approved by the legislature, it would mean multiple reductions for the University of Idaho: to our general education budget; the Agricultural and Research and Extension Service (ARES); the Washington, Wyoming, Montana, Alaska and Idaho Medical Education Program (WWAMI); and the Idaho Geological Survey.

As you know, Governor Otter’s original budget proposal called for a 1.3 percent budget cut for our University’s general education budget and a flat budget for ARES. Last week, the state’s Legislative Services Office released its view that Idaho’s revenue would not be as high as that identified in the governor’s proposal.

The governor, speaker and pro tem have co-signed a letter indicating that they are in agreement on a revised revenue figure that is substantially lower than the governor’s original estimate. However, still to be settled is the debate as to how to handle this cut.

At the same time, we must be clear about what this means for higher education. If the University of Idaho were faced with a 5.3 percent cut, that would be the third year of substantial funding reductions – representing an overall decrease of more than 25 percent of our state base budget. If such a cut was to be approved, it would come at a time when the University has had consecutive record enrollments; this means more students are seeking a better future, but there could be less funding to help them.

Such reductions could do untold damage to our already stressed higher education system. A third straight year of deep cuts would come as a blow to the University of Idaho, which statewide has already eliminated more than the equivalent of 200 full-time positions, as well as cutting academic programs. It also comes on the heels of more than $22 million in cuts over the last two years.

I continue to be hopeful that the legislature will take to heart the thinking behind the governor’s original recommendation, even if revenue projections have changed.

I’m also hopeful that there are those in the legislature looking at more positive revenue projections and unaccounted for revenue streams.

Further, I am encouraged at the strong positive support I have been hearing across the state for higher education.

A vibrant higher education system is essential for the state’s economic health and for our citizens’ quality of life. It’s also critical to Idaho’s economic health. A cut to the University of Idaho’s already diminished funding would significantly reduce our ability to pump nearly $1 billion into Idaho’s economy each year. This translates to a $9 return on every dollar the state invests in us. Such disinvestment in higher education will cause further loss for our state. I will continue to do my best to make this case to our elected officials.

My leadership team and I will continue to work tirelessly to help the legislature understand the vital importance of investing in higher education. Further, I encourage everyone to do the same by sharing with their legislators the importance of higher education to Idaho’s future.

I appreciate your support and resolve; we have remarkable stories to tell about the many ways our work serves as an engine for Idaho’s economy.

Sincerely,

M. Duane Nellis
President