Originally created 08/25/04

UGA braces for budget cut order



ATHENS, Ga. - Top University of Georgia administrators discussed looming cuts to the state's flagship institution, only months after they forecasted an improvement in Georgia's fiscal climate.

UGA stands to lose $16.4 million in state dollars in fiscal 2006, if the most foreboding of Gov. Sonny Perdue's three budget scenarios becomes reality.

Mr. Perdue two weeks ago directed heads of state agencies, such as UGA, to draft three spending plans for the fiscal year that begins July 1 - one with no change to the budget, another with a 5 percent increase and a third with a 3 percent cut.

The state expects a revenue spike of $972 million next year, a 6 percent increase over the current fiscal year. But, state officials contend, rising Medicaid costs and surging college enrollment statewide are outpacing the economy.

"I think you always plan for the worst and hope for the best," UGA Provost Arnett Mace said of the potential cuts. "We met with the deans to alert them that there were, in all probability, going to be some reductions next year."

Mr. Mace said he didn't specify to the university's deans and vice presidents, who attended Monday's meeting, exactly how or where cuts would be made, if they need to be made. It's too early to tell and there are too many unknowns, Mr. Mace said.

The cut might be smaller than 3 percent, he said. And there's always the possibility of a midyear tuition increase, if the University System Board of Regents - which governs the state's 34-campus system - votes for such.

"We will not move forward with anything until we know what the final amount is going to be," Mr. Mace said. "That's at the governor's level and at the University System level."

Nevertheless, the governor's latest proposed cuts have some faculty members, and even some deans, reeling at the thought of trimming already-overextended budgets.

"I'm looking at it now as the annual fall event," said John Soloski, the dean of the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. "It gets a little demoralizing."

This is Mr. Soloski's fourth year as the dean. It's also his fourth year of paring the journalism college's budget.

Budgets at UGA and other state agencies were cut 5 percent in 2004-05, only months after their 2003-04 budgets were amended by a 2.5 percent cut.

In April, nearly 50 UGA staffers - in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and the Public Service and Outreach division - were laid off. As of early July, 17 of those staffers had been rehired for other positions at UGA.

UGA administrators might have been misguided last year in forecasting an upturn in the state economy, added Richard Porterfield, the dean of Warnell School of Forest Resources.

"Honestly, I think that was the way we all tried to look at it," he said. "But it doesn't, with the budgets we've been asked to put together, appear the case."