Texas Lege requests drastically reduced plans for upcoming biennium
While Texas lawmakers haven’t officially asked UTPA to slash more money from future budget plans, they have asked the University to come up with blueprints for operating on a tighter budget down the road.
Like all state institutions, UTPA must submit three budget proposals for fiscal years 2014 and 2015 to the Texas Legislature, with the most bare bones of those lopping off $14.8 million, or 10 percent of the 2013 budget.
The other two proposals requested from Universities across the state are budgets with no increases to 2013’s, and another reduced by five percent.
The budget draft for 2013, which is still pending approval by the regents, currently stands at about $249 million, a reduction of $4,375,571 or about two percent from 2012.
University President Robert Nelsen said that the $4 million reduction was largely due to UTPA’s GEAR UP grant renewal being denied in January. The UTPA Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) has been aimed to increase college readiness for Valley students, starting in seventh grade, but UTPA was not given renewal funds from the U.S. Department of Education after the program did not meet the measurement threshold by one point.
Although the 2013 budget is still pending a green light from the regents, it has already had consequences on the University, with a round of staff layoffs and two rounds of the Voluntary Separation Incentive Program earlier this year. The program offered certain senior faculty an early retirement so the University could evaluate their positions and replace them more cheaply if need be.
As far as plans for the reduced budget plans the Legislature is requesting, Nelsen said that the 2013 budget must be green-lighted before the administration can start on the proposals for 2014 and 2015.
“We are waiting to here from the Legislative Budget Board what our target reductions will be before we implement a plan of action,” he said.
The request is not completely out of the blue. In 2011, the Texas legislature cut $15.2 billion from the 2012-2013 budget, including $844 million from public and higher education. Speculation has already begun as to whether the next biennium budget will be as tight.
“We are aware that there is an $11 billion structural deficit in the state budget, in other words the structure of the revenue and expenses seem to be such that a deficit is likely,” Nelsen said.
During the 2013 budget presentations recently, each division head was asked to provide a slide detailing how their area would deal with a 10 percent cut, given to the President’s Cabinet, which includes the vice presidents for divisions as well as other positions. Nelsen said that the Cabinet decided to shift the priorities of the University from 2012’s instruction and safety to 2013’s personnel and morale.
“It was important to recognize faculty and staff who have taken on additional duties with fewer resources in light of the recent budget cuts,” said Lisa Prieto, the president’s chief of staff. “Instruction and safety will not be affected negatively with these priorities”
Keeping with that, the President’s Cabinet this week approved funding a raise for select employees based on performance. The money would use 3 percent of UTPA’s reserve funds, which Nelsen said are in good shape with 4.8 months of expenditures put back. The reserve funds come are monies squirreled away from various accounts the University has.