UPDATES FROM COLUMBIA - AND NEXT STEPS
Current as of January 13, 2009
Welcome back to campus and the beginning of a new semester. It’s always an optimistic time when our community re-assembles for a new semester, and Spring 2009 can be a good time to reflect on how our purpose remains firm, even as our circumstances may change from time to time.
Activities in governmental circles have been uncharacteristically busy over the winter break. In Columbia, a new session of the General Assembly convenes this week, and budget inquiries and reviews have been continuing non-stop from the State House.
In advance of his State of the State address on this coming Wednesday night, Governor Sanford last Friday released his budget recommendations for the General Assembly’s consideration. Where higher education is concerned, the governor has suggested $118 million in additional cuts to higher education and cultural resource budgets statewide next year, with $3.7 million targeted to cuts for Winthrop. His proposals range from travel reductions, to two “state furlough days” for next year, to operational reductions, to centralized administration of comprehensive universities like Winthrop being moved to Columbia. (Research universities – Clemson, USC and MUSC -- would be allowed to keep their own administrative and support services, while all 16 technical colleges would be run from three administrative centers in Greenville, Columbia and Charleston. USC-Lancaster would be among three two-year campuses closed by the governor.)
Historically, the General Assembly has given little or no credence to such ideas from the governor, and there continue to be tensions between the two branches of government, even within party ranks. The revenue picture for the state continues to be somber, however, so nothing can be taken for granted. University presidents are remaining in touch and consulting about ways to protect our students and respective campus communities in these circumstances.
Keep in mind this spring will be different in that state officials will be looking at creating a budget for the fiscal year ahead, as well as continuing to modify the current year’s spending plan when necessary.
Legislators will get their next look at the current year’s revenue picture later this week, when the state’s Board of Economic Advisers will issue its revenue estimates for the remainder of this fiscal year. That report could be followed as early as February by reductions in the current year’s budget, either by the General Assembly or the Budget and Control Board. During past recessionary times, budget cuts have been ordered sequentially as late as May, meaning institutions and agencies have a matter of mere weeks before the fiscal year ends on June 30 to make the last spending reductions. Winthrop will continue to gather and share information through usual processes, emphasizing timeframes when key decisions are likely to be forthcoming from Columbia, so that we all be as informed as possible during these difficult times.
Winthrop’s approach to these matters continues to be a firm commitment to protecting our prerogatives for the future against the short-term demands of the present. Each and every one of us – including our student body – is sharing in the sacrifices required by current circumstances.
We will continue to emphasize that point in talking with legislative leaders in the weeks ahead, as they begin budget hearings that will be addressing simultaneously the budget situation for the remainder of this year as well as the fiscal year that will begin on July 1.
While none of us envisioned as 2008 began that the nation’s economic situation would be as it is as 2009 dawned, we are demonstrating successfully to our students that adaptation to change is a capacity we all must develop in ourselves, while continuing to make progress on our long-term goals as well. Many thanks for all you are doing to help set that example.