Public, higher education priorities competing for $242 million surplus

Published: Friday, Sept. 20 2013 3:30 p.m. MDT

A recently-approved budget request by the Utah Board of Regents calls for an additional $130 million in ongoing funding for Utah's colleges and universities.

Jae C. Hong, Associated Press

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SALT LAKE CITY — Higher education officials say they aren't planning on adding funding requests to their approved budget in response to $242 million in surplus education funds that was announced this week.

The Utah Board of Regents approved a budget calling for an additional $130 million in ongoing funding during their September meeting, which took place prior to the governor's announcement of the budget surplus. Pamela Silberman, spokeswoman for the Utah System of Higher Education, said that rather than increase the amount of requested funds, the expectation would be for lawmakers to fully fund the current budget proposal.

"In most years the budget has not been fully funded," she said.

But higher education's funding requests will also compete for funding with those of the state's public grade schools. The State School Board recently approved an $80 million list of one-time funding requests, which includes $10 million for schools struggling under the new school grading program, $20 million to replace old buses and $30 million to move closer to a 1-to-1 student and technology ratio.

Both public and higher education have a base budget that remains relatively unchanged. Each year, the Board of Regents and State School Board present budget requests to lawmakers who then provide supplemental funding based on the revenue available.

Included in the regents' budget request is $30 million for employee compensation and insurance, nearly $80 million in mission-based funding, and $10 million for state initiatives like Dixie State University's transition to university status and the veterinary medicine graduate program at Utah State University.

While the surplus revenue represents a one-time funding opportunity for lawmakers, Silberman said it can still be appropriated to the regents' ongoing budget requests.

"They can always fund something one time and then we can go back and ask again for it," she said. "We would say some money is better than no money."

In addition to the budget request approved by the regents, the Utah System of Higher Education is also looking to move forward with a number of new construction projects that could benefit from the surplus funds. Highest on the construction wish list are new science buildings for Weber State University, Snow College and the University of Utah.

Of the $242 million in surplus education funds, roughly half is expected to be transferred into the state's Rainy Day Fund, with $122 million in one-time money available for appropriation in the upcoming legislative session.

"This surplus is not only encouraging, it's needed," Gov. Gary Herbert said in a statement that accompanied the announcement of the revenue surplus. "We can now augment the critical investment we make in education and economic development."

Email: benwood@deseretnews.com, Twitter: bjaminwood

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