UGA layoffs looming

ATHENS, Ga. -- The University of Georgia and other state public colleges may have to slash budgets even more than they already have.

And this time, UGA may not be able to avoid layoffs or furloughs.

"We did a lot of things this year to try to soften the blow that are not sustainable," said UGA Senior Vice President for Finance and Administration Tim Burgess.

The legislature cut state allocations to system schools by about $274 million, or 11.9 percent, for the 2010 fiscal year, which begins July 1 - $238 million slashed from this year's budget, plus $36 million more the legislature whacked off next year's budget.

Legislators added some of the money back to compensate for growth in enrollment, maintenance and operation of new buildings, and for expenses such as higher health insurance costs for retirees.

But as far as operating costs for UGA and other colleges, the cuts will be closer to 11.9 percent, Burgess said.

State officials trimmed college budgets by about 10.5 percent this year.

The cuts would have been even deeper without about $92 million in federal stimulus funds pumped into the university system's budget.

The state Board of Regents, which governs the state's public colleges and universities, could offset some of the cuts with a higher student tuition or fees.

On the other hand, if state tax revenues continue to lag, the state could slice even more from college budgets.

Historically, the board decides at its April meeting - scheduled next week - whether to raise students costs, and by how much.

The board also decides how much state money will go to each of the state's 35 public colleges and universities.

"I think we'll have a better picture once we know the full revenue stream," Burgess said.

So far, UGA has avoided layoffs and furloughs. But UGA administrators may not be able to avoid those steps if the state budget reduction for the 2010 fiscal year is more than 10 percent, according to Burgess.

"We cushioned the impact this year," Burgess said.

To compensate for about a $40 million cutback in state money, UGA delayed hiring for vacant positions and put off some expenses such as fixing roof leaks or painting buildings.

"There's only so long you can put things off," he said. "Going from 10.5 to 11 or 12 percent is going to be much harder than it sounds."

State funds account for about 36 percent of UGA's annual $1.4 billion budget. Student tuition and fees, as well as research grants, mostly make up the other 64 percent.

The legislature cut some programs entirely, including UGA's Institute of Higher Education. But the state budget preserves about $7.8 million for a medical school campus in Athens.

Including the latest round of budget reductions, UGA and other state colleges have absorbed cumulative cuts of more than 16 percent over the past seven years, while statewide university system enrollment has increased 13 percent.

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