Even as universities prepared contingency plans to deal with a budget cut of as much as 5 percent, the Florida Board of Governors approved a plan Thursday asking for as much as $118 million in new funding to be divvied up among its 12 institutions based on performance, reports Brandon Larrabee of the News Service of Florida.
According to the board, the proposed funding would go to state universities based on unspecified measures of their progress. And in a key caveat, members of the board and Chancellor Frank Brogan both made it clear that they took the Legislature at its word that a one-time, $300 million reduction meant to cause a drawdown of university reserves wouldn’t be repeated in the coming fiscal year, which begins July 1.
“Once those reserve dollars are gone, they are gone,” Brogan said.
Indeed, the reserves were a key topic of discussion during a board meeting focused on the budget for the current spending year and the next. System officials said they expected the amount of funding in university reserves to fall by half — even as some schools were forced to find the cuts elsewhere because their reserves were already close to 5 percent of their budgets, a requirement of state law.
And board members and university presidents looked for ways to make a repeat of the cut less likely, whether by breaking out committed funds that are technically still in universities’ reserves or by increasing the level of reserves that the schools are required to set aside.
“In this budget climate of year-after-year cuts, that’s a very dangerous number, in my opinion,” said Florida State University President Eric Barron.
There appeared to be at least a threat of more cutting. Schools unveiled proposals to slice an additional 5 percent from their budgets, in keeping with instructions from the Legislature. The plans submitted to the board included many of the usual predictions of deep cuts to payrolls and the cancellation of programs.
The University of Central Florida, for example, said it would be forced to drop about four programs, slicing 88 jobs. Florida Atlantic University said it would cut 75 positions in response to a 5 percent cut.
Many of the colleges seemed to hope that the plans for reductions were truly a budget exercise and not reality.
“It will be difficult to shield students, staff and faculty from the negative impact of a 5% reduction due to the compounding effect of previous budget reductions,” wrote Florida International University in its filing.
Lawmakers received an economic forecast Wednesday that said the state could cover most of its anticipated expenses and still have about $71.3 million left over. But several members of the Legislative Budget Commission, which heard the figures, said they were hesitant to put too much stock in the numbers with potential economic problems and possible growth in Medicaid looming.