Loftin asks finance committee for alternative support
Published: Tuesday, January 29, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, January 29, 2013 01:01
The Texas House of Representatives and Senate convened in Austin on Jan. 8 to start their 140-day session in which lawmakers began to outline their 2014-2015 goals for Texas. On the docket for debate is the issue regarding how to distribute an $8.8 billion surplus and if any of the extra money will be allocated to higher education.
During the last legislative session in 2011, Texas was faced with a $27 billion deficit. As a result, the legislature made $5.4 billion in cuts to public education. Public education encompasses primary and secondary schools such as Texas A&M. Higher education takes up 12 percent of the total state budget, but suffered 41 percent of the total cuts made in 2011. Because of this, Texas A&M’s budget for the 2011 fiscal year was reduced by $14.3 million, according to the Strategic Budget Reallocations executive summary
“The University essentially had two choices to make ends meets: raise tuition and fees or reduce expenditures; Texas A&M did the latter,” said University President R. Bowen Loftin during a Senate testimony Monday. “The University cannot continue to do so and remain nationally competitive, hold and attract top faculty and offer high-impact experience for Texas A&M students if funding is not enhanced.”
The Texas Legislature estimated that for the 2014-2015 fiscal years, the state budget will be around $89 billion. Regarding higher education, the Senate’s budget for higher education is approximately $12 billion for the 2013 fiscal year. In the new preliminary budget, higher education will receive $236 million less than the last fiscal year. The budget for higher education is less this session because of two one-time expenditures, Hurricane Isaac and the Bastrop wildfires. Hurricane Isaac devastated the UT Medical Branch at Galveston, requiring $142 million for repairs, and the rampant 2011 wildfires cost Texans $246 million.
“These budget proposals are designed to open the conversation,” said Gary Shaw, Class of 1978, Chair of the Senate Finance Committee and spokesperson for State Senator Tommy Williams. “Any numbers given are going to change in the coming months.”
President Loftin stood in front of the Texas Senate finance committee Monday to discuss Texas A&M’s budget needs.
“It is still way too early to know how Texas A&M will be affected and we will not know until May,” said Jason Cook, vice president for Marketing & Communications for A&M. “As a result of previous budget reductions in 2011, it led to smaller class sizes and reductions in some of these services on campus, it has had an impact, but the institution overall remains healthy.”
In his testimony, Loftin proposed that the state help fund two key expenditures. Because of the budget reductions last legislative session, $700,000 for every $10 million in research expenditures were funded by the state. Loftin advocated increasing that number to $1 million for every $10 million in research expenditures. In doing so, this would help attract and retain high achieving faculty.
Currently students pay an extra $1,080 to $1,200 in student fees to help pay for two grants, the Hazlewood Act and The Texas Tomorrow fund. The Hazlewood Act gives qualified veterans 150 hours of tuition exemption, including most fee charges at any public university in Texas. The Texas Tomorrow Fund is a prepaid tuition plan that allows families to create a trust early to pay for tuition. These two programs will cost the University $25.6 million in 2014, because more students are eligible for these grants. Loftin would like the state to help fund both of these programs.
“Today, Texas A&M is more efficient,” Loftin said. “Texas A&M is more effective. Texas A&M enhances the vitality of Texas.”
According to Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, college enrollment has increased by more than 544,800 students across the state. Most likely, the surplus will decrease from $8.8 to $4.5 billion in order to pay for Medicare.
Some students continue to react negatively about the proposed budget cuts.
“Further budget cuts will only set back higher education’s progress,” said Paige Melendez, sophomore political science major. “Medicare and other programs should be cut, not higher education. This will eventually hurt Texans’ education.”
“I don’t think more budget cuts are a good thing, especially if there is a surplus,” said David Newman, sophomore political science major. We should be using this money to educate future Texans.”
Representative Dan Branch, R-Dallas, is the chair of the House Higher Education Committee, and said he was concerned about the proposed budget cuts in an interview with the San Antonio Express-News.
“We need to take a serious look at expanding our investment,” Branch said. “We need to keep up with student growth. We also need to make sure that we have the tools and equipment in place for our students.”
The legislative committees for the 83rd session will not be finalized until the end of February. At that time, the committees will meet and make more changes to the state budget. The proposed cuts to higher education and how to allocate the surplus will not be decided until the state budget is finalized in May.