Barnes Budget Boosts Faculty Pay but $70 Million Cut from College Coffers
Basinger, Brian, Gross, Doug, The Florida Times Union
Byline: Brian Basinger and Doug Gross, Times-Union staff writers
ATLANTA -- Gov. Roy Barnes officially proposed a higher education budget yesterday that bumps up pay for faculty and staff while slashing nearly $70 million from the coffers of the state's 34 colleges and universities.
Barnes rolled out his 2003 budget recommendation, which called for 5 percent spending cuts in agencies and departments throughout state government because of slumping state revenues caused by the ongoing recession.
"We need to tighten our belts, but protect the services our citizens depend on,'' said Barnes, who only last week recommended reducing the 2002 university budgets by 2.5 percent to cope with the ongoing recession.
The Medical College of Georgia in Augusta escaped Barnes' budget with only a 2 percent reduction in funding.
The cuts will most likely stall plans to purchase new equipment and supplies, while at the same time keeping an ongoing hiring freeze in place.
Despite the budget slashing, the governor's proposal calls for 3.5 percent pay increases for University System of Georgia faculty and staff.
Sen. Doug Haines, D-Athens, said securing those pay raises has been his top priority for the past few months.
"This is a clear indication that Georgia values education and our educators,'' Haines said. "In spite of our economic times and Gov. Barnes' call to cut spending, . . . we recognized that we needed to protect the most valuable asset that our universities have to offer -- their people.''
Barnes also recommended Georgia lawmakers pony up another $27.5 million to bail out the university system from the costly 1998 conversion to semesters, a move that the Regents originally said would be "revenue neutral."
The conversion made the Regents ask for more state money because students signed up for fewer hours of credit than under the quarter system. State money for higher education is based in part on the number of credit hours for which students enroll.
"It's unfortunate that it now comes at a time when funds are short,'' said Rep. Louise McBee, D-Athens, a former University of Georgia administrator. "It has been an irritant; [the Regents] thought it was not going to cost anything, yet people who have experienced it [in other states] say it always does.''
If approved, the proposal would bring the semester bailout total to more than $57 million for the current legislative term.
University System Chancellor Tom Meredith said students have begun taking more classes and that the extra state money won't be required for much longer.
"I assured the legislative committees that this was not a forever item,'' Meredith said. …