You’ve seen the headlines and the messages from President Floyd and our state officials. We find ourselves in one of the most difficult economic situations in our country’s history; in Washington State, we face an estimated $6 billion hole in the state budget for the next biennium. As an economist, I can tell you that the current economic situation is unlike anything I, or most of us, have experienced during our years in higher education.
Given these unique circumstances, I want to make sure to communicate as clearly and consistently as possible about how we as a college will approach the challenges ahead.
In the short run, we already are working on our part of a $6 million call back of state funds for fiscal 2008-09. CAHNRS’ portion is approximately $300,000: $50,000 from Academic Programs and $250,000 from the Agricultural Research Center. We have developed a plan to accomplish this reduction primarily using one-time money and by slowing hiring for state-funded faculty and staff positions. Another significant portion comes from a college-wide reduction in travel.
There has been significant confusion concerning travel reductions implemented across the university. Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire has asked that as part of the FY09 budget reduction all state agencies cut their travel expenditures by 10 percent compared to last year “regardless of fund source.” The only reasonable means to accomplish this directive is to implement it at the unit level, as that is where travel requests are approved and the essentiality of travel can best be determined. We have provided every chair and director with a maximum travel expenditure target for FY-09 (calculated as 90% of FY-08 total travel expenditures). Chairs and directors have been directed to manage to not exceed this level, while minimizing the impact on the unit’s research, extension, and teaching programs. Some faculty have questioned the rationale for cutting travel that is conducted on grants and other forms of extramural funds. We understand that travel necessary to meet the objectives of a grant must be conducted, as we must comply with the contractual obligations of the contract. Nonetheless, because such a large portion of travel in some units is supported by external funds, some reduction of travel on grant funds must occur for the 10 percent reduction to be achieved.
Obviously, the short run budget concerns pale in comparison to the long-run. The state’s budget deficit now exceeds $5 billion, is projected to go higher, and Washington’s constitution requires a balanced budget. Clearly, budget reductions are likely, but frankly, I am optimistic that we will not see the dire cuts for higher education that have been aired in the media. Also, if budgets are managed effectively and cuts are implemented in a targeted manner, then the percentage reduction observed at the unit level can be reduced significantly below the imposed level to the university.
While specific plans have not been made, I can assure you that several guiding principles will be followed in arriving at any budget decisions:
- Across-the-board cuts will not be employed.
- Budget decisions will be guided by the CAHNRS strategic plan and the A2P2 process and outcomes (we have developed some useful planning documents over the last couple of years; we will use them).
- All administrative units will absorb at least the overall percentage reduction passed to the college (i.e., administration will takes its fair share, or more).
- To the extent possible, areas of excellence and strategic investment priorities will be protected (we have worked too hard and for too long to sacrifice these areas for short-term budget considerations).
Budget Advisory Committee
In preparation for whatever materializes over the next two years, I am creating a college-wide Budget Advisory Committee, composed of faculty, staff and administrators. The magnitude of the issues we face requires we get the best thinkers around the table, regardless of where they work within our CAHNRS organization. This group will serve as a sounding board for the administration as we seek means to reduce operations, increase revenues, and identify areas for increasing efficiencies.
As I said at the beginning of this message, I am committed to keeping communications about these issues as clear and consistent as possible. There no doubt will be continuing media coverage of the state’s economic situation; some of that will be accurate, and some of it will not be. As an organization, we will make wiser decisions more efficiently if we are informed with the facts. T o that end, I will relay relevant factual information as I receive it.