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Request by state's three universities for increase in state funding for next school year likely to have hard time at Legislature

By Howard Fischer

Phoenix, AZ – Rep. John Kavanagh who chairs the House Appropriations Committee said the universities do deserve more money, if for no other reason than the number of students has increased. Using the formula of one new staffer for every 22 new full-time equivalent students, that would translate out to about $53 million. But the spending plan approved Thursday by the Board of Regents does not ask for student growth. Instead, much of the proposal includes cash for various one-time projects like new classrooms and technology. Kavanagh said that's not likely to get approval.

(I certainly want to give them whatever increase to additional student count, additional FTSE mandate. But I don't think anybody should be looking for new spending beyond student growth, or prison growth or whatever else growth occurs. We don't have the money to start giving everybody more money beyond what additional students require.)

Kavanagh also scoffed at the request for more than $14 million in new tax dollars largely to add staff for the expanding University of Arizona College of Medicine in Phoenix.

(I'm very disheartened that the Board of Regents puts funding faculty for the med school at the bottom of their spending priorities. And I think if they look throughout their vast campuses, they will find some other programs, academic and non-academic, that are less important and could be cut before they decide not to extend the med school faculty.)

Regents chairman Fred DuVal is defending the funding requests, pointing out that voters last year approved a temporary one-cent hike in sales taxes at least in part to protect education funding. He said that $120 million is less than 5 percent of the close to $3 billion the tax will raise in its three-year life. But Kavanagh said there is a better use for any excess proceeds.

(We have over $3 billion worth of debt payments that we need to pay off as soon as possible. That's become a yearly line item approaching $300 million in interest.)

Kavanagh is not alone in that sentiment. Other members of the Republican-controlled Legislature have said the first priority should be to pay off the borrowing the state had to do in the last few years to balance its budget. For Arizona Public Radio this is Howard Fischer.