State takes a hit but avoids worst of budget cuts
By Jackson Olsen
March 17, 2009 | The 45-day political circus that
is Utah's annual legislative session ended in the midst
of Spring Break, and when the dust settled on Capitol
Hill, proponents of higher education had something to
State lawmakers finalized the budget for fiscal year
2010, and in doing so were forced to make substantial
budget cuts to state-funded colleges and universities.
The cuts ran to the tune of 18 percent, which for USU
means close to $30 million and 600 jobs, according to
Michael Kennedy, special assistant to President Stan
Albrecht for state and federal relations.
So what's to cheer about?
Fortunately for the entire higher education community,
the heavy cuts were accompanied by 9 percent backfill
that reduced the cuts to half their original payload.
The 9 percent was made possible thanks to the federal
economic stimulus bill recently signed by President
Barack Obama, Kennedy said. The stimulus provided the
state with over $80 million in education funding. The
money was divided and distributed among higher and public
"We were very fortunate to end up as well as we did,"
Kennedy said. "The federal dollars came through just
in time allowing the legislature to reduce the blow
that we were all about to take."
William A. Sederburg, the Higher Education commissioner
appointed by Governor Jon M. Huntsman, felt much the
"We feel good about it," he said, "considering where
we thought it would end up."
According to Kennedy, USU still stands to lose a lot
of ground in the coming years, even with the backfill.
Certain courses will be offered only once a year rather
than every semester. Class sizes will swell due to steady
enrollment without the ability to hire more faculty.
Mandotory furloughs, much like the one experienced this
year during Spring Break that affected all faculty,
staff and administrators, can be expected, Kennedy said.
"Everyone's going to be making sacrifices," Kennedy
said. "The furlough we just took is a great example
of smart sacrifices. It accounted for over 60 percent
of our entire cut for this fiscal year."
The USU Student Lobbyists, the group responsible for
the organization of both the rallies in the HUB and
on Capitol Hill, have been lobbying at the State Capitol
since early January. While pleased with the outcome
of this year's budget cuts, they were disappointed that
the state's rainy day funds didn't get put to use.
"Using that rainy day money could have completely
eliminated the higher education budget crisis with millions
of dollars left to spare for other programs or projects,"
said Chris Neil, senior in international relations and
three-year member of the USU Student Lobbyists.
Neil said that thousands of letters from students
were written to members of both the House and Senate
asking the state lawmakers to tap into the reserve funds.
According to Neil, most lawmakers politely declined.
"I guess it isn't raining hard enough for them," Neil
The state's rainy day funds currently amount to more
than $530 million.