University System of Georgia seeks $49 million budget increase

 

ATLANTA — The Uni­ver­sity System of Georgia is asking Gov. Nathan Deal for a $49 million budget increase next year, according to a resolution the Board of Regents unanimously approved Wednesday.

The boost represents a 2.6 percent increase to the system’s $1.9 billion share of taxpayer money.

Deal’s Office of Planning and Budget instructed all agencies to make do with the current year’s funding except health and medical agencies that are funded through formulas that account for participation growth.

The University System saw its student enrollment shrink, which would subtract $20 million from the funding formula. At the same time, adding buildings to the system in the past year qualifies it for $20 million more in maintenance funding.

“We are getting to where enrollment growth no longer drives the formula,” said John Brown, the system’s vice chancellor for fiscal affairs.

Georgia’s enrollment decline mirrors a national trend and is expected to continue into the foreseeable future because of demographics. Georgia also changed its policy and no longer admits students who would need remedial help in three subjects, which Brown said accounts for half of the state’s decline.

He predicted that future budgets would be increased by the system’s switch to funding universities on the basis of the number of students they graduate rather than how many they enroll.

While the enrollment decline and the building increase offset each other, the funding formula is mainly boosted by rising health care costs. The federal health reform law represents $21 million. Another $24 million in increased costs for various retirees and employee health expenses is also a factor.

Separate from the added money from the formula, the system is requesting $3 million to help hospitals create courses for new physicians pursuing their residencies.

Brown said the system isn’t specifically requesting money for faculty and staff raises, but creative administrators might figure out a way to fund them.

“To carve out a salary increase, it’s going to be tight,” he told the regents.

Each 1 percent salary increase for all state workers costs taxpayers $130 million, with $80 million of that needed for kindergarten-through-high school teachers.

After the regents’ meeting, Chancellor Hank Huckaby, a one-time state budget director, said the system was careful to pare down its request.

“Our budget request continues to be conservative and reflects our highest priorities – teaching students and meeting key state needs,” he said.

“We are committed to our stewardship and accountability for taxpayer dollars and in ensuring more Georgians have access to and can complete college.”

The regents also approved the system’s request for the state to borrow money from bond investors for $235 million in construction and major repairs.

Among the projects is $5 million to equip a cancer-research building under construction at Georgia Regents University and another $4.6 million to replace the ventilation system at Reese Library.

The University of Georgia would see construction of a $45 million science building and $5 million to renovate and expand Baldwin Hall. The University of North Georgia would get $2.5 million for its Oconee Campus annex.

 

Georgia Regents University cancer-research building gets boost
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