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UA programs spared in state budget agreement

By Brett Erickson
Arizona Daily Wildcat
April 2, 1999
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PHOENIX - UA administrators expressed relief yesterday after state legislators spared university programs in a tentative budget arrangement Wednesday night.

The Joint Legislative Budget Committee's original proposal recommended eliminating nearly 200 faculty positions from the three state universities and phasing out funding for the UA's James E. Rogers College of Law.

"We started off the session with a big bulls-eye on our back," said Greg Fahey, the University of Arizona's state lobbyist.

While Legislature members must still vote on the two-year, $12 billion budget later this month, funding for faculty positions and the UA law school remained in the tentative agreement between Gov. Jane Hull and state Republican leaders.

If the Legislature approves the budget, the UA will receive $261.9 million from the state's general fund in 2000 and $263.5 million in 2001. In 1999, the university is expected to receive about $257 million.

Although the increase is not as substantial as UA officials hoped, Fahey said the allotment is better than the JLBC's original recommendation - about $255 million for each year.

The tentative budget also includes a 2 percent pay raise for state employees, though all university raises will be given on a merit basis, Fahey said.

In addition, the $4.4 million in state funding allocated to the College of Law appears safe, securing the $115 million donation by media-mogul James E. Rogers, UA law college alum and owner of Sunbelt Communications Co. and KVBC-TV in Las Vegas.

Law school dean Joel Seligman said he was initially worried that the school would lose the gift because the donation's terms were established to ensure the college was not treated "disproportionately" by state lawmakers.

Sen. Randall Gnant, R-Scottsdale, the master-mind behind the original proposal, said he never intended to actually cut law-school budgets.

Instead, the proposed reduction was meant to be an emotional wake-up call to UA officials who were difficult to negotiate with during past legislative sessions, he said.

Gnant said "there is no question" about the success of his idea, adding that this session was the most productive in terms of communicating with UA President Peter Likins and other university officials.

The state budget proposal also contains funding for two UA programs that could provide graduates with a greater opportunity for employment.

During the two-year period, the state will give $1.2 million to the College of Agriculture for its hydroponic greenhouse program.

Merle Jensen, assistant dean of the college, said the money will be used to develop a computer-run greenhouse that controls variables such as humidity, temperature and irrigation.

The greenhouse, which also releases beneficial insects that feed on unwanted pests, will give students hands-on training in an industry that will soon become "the most important agricultural industry in our state," he said.

The other program involves the UA Optical Science Center, which will receive $1 million in 2001.

Richard Powell, vice-president for research and graduate studies, said the department had originally requested a $4 million appropriation, but were content to be one of the two Legislature-supported programs.

Because of the lower allotment, Powell said he would have to reconsider how to spend the money, possibly by expanding the center so more students can participate in the program.