Jan 272009
Authors: Elyse Jarvis

Following Gov. Bill Ritter’s Tuesday budget address, which recommended an additional $70 million in cuts to higher education, CSU system stakeholders and state politicians alike said the transfer of financial burden to students will be near impossible to avoid.

CSU administration will learn what amount of the projected shortages will come from the university system directly within about a week, said Rich Schweigert, chief financial officer of the CSU System, in an interview with the Collegian.

“We don’t know exactly what we’re going to do,” Schweigert said. “Our focus is the staff and students of our two campuses, and we’ll look under every stone for reductions before we hit those areas — but this is a large number.”

The cuts come as Colorado is challenged with making up for a $1 billion deficit, with $700 million of the reimbursement to come from the state’s general fund, which includes public and higher education, healthcare and corrections facilities.

Though he said administrative efforts would be concentrated on encouraging the general assembly and Ritter to keep tax dollars and general fund money in public education, Schweigert said the amount of funds lost would mean an increase in student tuition.

“There just isn’t enough in [state] revenue to pay the bills,” he said. “It’s out of (legislators’) control.”

Taylor Smoot, student government president, echoed Schweigert’s sentiments, saying that though higher education is often the first thing many look to cut when finances are tight, Ritter is “trying to do his best within the constraints of what he can and can’t do.”

Smoot said he supported interim CSU President Tony Frank’s selective process of funding strikes — which Frank has said will come from executive spending first and will aim to protect the academic core of the university – but said he believes funds will be taken from areas “across the board,” including faculty and student employees.

“Everyone suffers to save the house,” he said. “Students seem to be the only stream of revenue coming in now.”

State Rep. John Kefalas, who attended Ritter’s address, and Ben Marter, spokesperson for Congresswoman Betsy Markey, said it is the state government’s responsibility to ensure that these cuts will have a minimal impact on students.

“(Markey) has been meeting with higher education leaders from across the state since (November), gathering their concerns and taking them to Congress,” Marter said.

Marter said Markey strongly believes that President Obama’s economic recovery package will bring much needed aid to the state. Markey’s focus, he said, remains on tax cuts, job creation and on lessening the blow to higher education to prevent the losses of staff and faculty.

Kefalas said he intends to be “very vigilant” in examining the budget bill to determine how best to protect institutions and public safety.

The situation is “very serious,” he said. “This is going to put more pressure on the entire CSU community to maintain its quality of education with a lot less resources.”

Kefalas commended Frank for “seeing the writing on the wall” and making necessary cuts to the university’s spending prior to being given final numbers, but political science professor John Straayer said effects on personnel would be inescapable.

“I have all the confidence in the world in (Frank’s) intent to protect the foundation, the basics and the core of this university . There’s no question in my mind. But given the size of (the cuts), if (they) indeed materialize, the pain is probably going to have to extend beyond administrative trimming,” he said.

Ritter’s budget recommendations must now be reviewed by the Joint Budget Committee, who will turn its findings, in the form of the Long Bill, over to the House and Senate for final approval.

From here, Kefalas said, Frank needs to “take a deep breath before he makes any decisions, involving students and faculty in every step of the process.”

Schweigert said within the coming week, presidents from universities across the state will meet with Ritter to discuss what effect the cuts will have on their systems. He said it is possible that Ritter’s projection may have come from the $40 million of new funds recently built in by the governor, making the burden lighter, but CSU will not have that information for a few months.

News Managing Editor Elyse Jarvis can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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