CSU Update, April 10, 2009
Dear Colleagues and Students:
I want to give you an update on the status of state budget discussions, although I honestly don’t think much has changed since my message last week. I realize that seems like a strange thing to say, given all the headlines about cuts to higher-education funding over the past several days, but we’re ending the week with about as clear a picture as we had going into it. As of this morning, here’s what we know and what we don’t know:
- Yesterday, the Senate asked the Joint Budget Committee of the General Assembly to reconsider its recommended $300 million in base cuts to higher education, and the JBC declined. As you may have read, the Senate last night went ahead and passed the FY10 budget and Long Bill, unfortunately still including the base reductions to higher education. Despite this negative outcome, it is my belief that the day ended with the leadership of both parties and both houses of the Legislature committed to working together for a more acceptable package to balance the state budget.
- Although the Legislature isn’t in session today, discussions are continuing around the prospect of using assets from the reserves of Pinnacol Assurance — a quasi-governmental, state-founded insurance corporation — to backfill these cuts to higher education. On Wednesday, the state’s Office of Legislative Legal Services issued an opinion that the General Assembly has legal authority to change the statutes governing Pinnacol to allow the State of Colorado to access Pinnacol’s excess reserves for this purpose.
- Whether the state elects to follow this path is yet to be determined, and it’s important to note that the Pinnacol reserves, if used, represent a one-time backfill to bridge the shortfall and allow the state some time to determine permanent budget solutions. The good news is we are confident such a solution will be obtained because legislators from both parties and Houses intend to remain engaged in examining a series of strategies for FY10 and subsequent fiscal years to help rebalance the cuts and take some of the pressure off higher education.
- The Governor’s Office is supportive of these efforts, and we believe there is a good probability that base reductions will be lessened over the next year or two while the state uses one-time resources, including federal stimulus funds, as a bridge to a longer-term funding solution for higher education.
CU President Bruce Benson and I have been working together in close coordination with legislators on both sides of the aisle. We believe there is significant legislative and executive branch support for finding reasonable and responsible ways forward, both to weather this immediate financial crisis and establish a stable funding stream for higher education over the long term. There is always a question at times like this about whether to mobilize the University’s supporters — alumni, students, parents, employees, community members — to let the Legislature know the serious impact of significant reductions to higher education. At this point, we believe there is enough bipartisan support for higher education and enough widespread awareness of its funding challenges that we haven’t opted to engage our supporters in this way. However, we will continue to monitor the situation closely and won’t hesitate to call on our supporters for help if we reach a point where it seems needed.
Colorado’s college and university presidents will meet with Governor Ritter early next week on this situation, and I will keep the campus informed about new developments. In the meantime, it seems safe to say that — despite a very active and often confusing week in Denver — we can feel encouraged that our state’s elected officials, leading voices in the statewide business community, and many fellow citizens have spoken out in support of the critical importance of higher education to Colorado. And together, they hope to find a workable solution to the funding challenges we face.
On another note, ASCSU held its annual elections for student body president and vice president this week, and I hope you’ll join me in congratulating President-elect Dan Gearhart and Vice President-elect Tim Hole on their successful campaign. I also want to recognize and thank all the candidates who participated in this year’s election.
To run for ASCSU office represents a tremendous responsibility, and these candidates all deserve credit for their willingness to serve our student body and the University in addition to their obligations as students. Student participation in the operations of our University will be increasingly important in the coming years, and I hope all of these candidates will continue to be active and involved in the leadership of our institution.
That’s it for today. Have a great weekend —
Dr. Tony Frank