Current as of March 18, 2010
Dear Campus Community:
Shortly after 8 a.m. this morning, after the first all-night session in a decade, the House of Representatives adopted a $5 billion budget – down from $7 billion just two years ago. The measure now goes to the Senate for its consideration.
The House vote of 64-52 indicates a higher than usual level of unhappiness with the results after two days of debate, and suggests similar expectations in the Senate.
As foreshadowed by the update a couple of weeks ago when the House Ways and Means Committee sent its recommendation to the full house, higher education received a further 20 percent reduction in allocation for state dollars for the fiscal year beginning July 1 in the House spending plan. That reduction will be taken from a base operating budget that reflects all other cuts taken to date since the economic crisis began in Fall 2008. That means that even after the addition of our share of non-recurring federal stimulus dollars next year, Winthrop still will have to operate with $3.3 million less than it did this year. In two years, when federal stimulus dollars expire, the operating base would decline by another $3.4 million unless the state receives or creates new revenues to bridge the gap.
A number of state agencies are taking even deeper cuts than higher education, as the General Assembly hopes to repay a 2008-2009 deficit it is still carrying on its books, while also putting more funds in reserves, without reversing course on tax reductions or tax credits approved since 2006. Efforts to force such a reversal to create additional revenue were rejected during the all-night session. Legislators did approve allocating some unclaimed lottery prize money to libraries across the state, and included in that allocation a potential $1 million for PASCAL, the academic libraries’ partnership that, among other services, supports cost-effective access to a number of on-line data bases to all college students in the state. Because unclaimed lottery prize dollars typically do not become available until the end of the fiscal year for which they were appropriated – if they become available at all -- it remains to be seen if that vote will translate into real fiscal support.
As you likely know from our colleagues in other states, South Carolina is not alone in its fiscal predicament, but the impact is deeper here because this state, compared to Southern neighbors, was underfunding its institutions -- particularly comprehensive institutions like Winthrop -- even before the 2008 recession. These latest reductions, if approved, will take South Carolina’s state support for its institutions to a level lower than it was a quarter of a century ago. Yet the number of students served by institutions is up over 85 percent -- and we are expected to increase the number of students completing degrees as part of our public service.
For Winthrop, the current situation echoes that of Fall 2008, when Winthrop had to pull together, find ways to cope and manage the economic free-fall. We adopted a statement of purpose at that time: To enable the growth and development of Winthrop for the future, while coping with the circumstances of the present. That will continue to be our purpose as the legislative process continues to shape the budget realities for next year.
I will be meeting with the Executive Officers next week for extended discussions regarding the impact that such continuing deep cuts could have on our operations going forward. Our priorities will continue to be supporting the quality of students’ overall academic experience here at Winthrop, investing in a safe and secure campus, and recruiting students of the future.
Because some of you have asked, please know that the recent fire damage to the Owens Hall complex is under state insurance coverage of Winthrop property, so those restoration needs will not be competing with other needs for support from remaining state appropriations this year or next. Progress continues on the recovery front, with Bancroft Hall expected to be open in time for student and faculty’s return to classes on Monday. All those whose working spaces were impacted by the fire are being kept informed by Dean Debra Boyd and Karen Jones of Academic Affairs, who are providing detailed information regarding the relocation and recovery process. While it is far too soon to predict exactly when the remaining spaces will be ready to re-open, we will keep you informed on progress toward that goal. House Rep. Gary Simrill of Rock Hill this week led an initiative to attach a proviso to the appropriations measure that will help expedite that process, and we appreciate that support, especially from one of Winthrop’s own alumni.
As noted above, the state budgeting process now moves to the Senate, which will adopt its own spending plan. It will then be up to the two bodies to work out any differences in a conference committee. That process typically stretches into June. We will continue to be active within that process, encouraging reviews of additional revenue options and recommendations, as well as monitoring underlying economic information.
As we enter the home stretch toward the conclusion of this academic year, please know that the extraordinary work of many individuals on the Winthrop team, especially in recent weeks, continues to inspire us all as a community. Students, faculty and staff all have both contributed and benefitted from this work together, demonstrating what being part of a community truly means. Thank you for all you are continuing to do for Winthrop University.