Governor Paul LePage signed an executive curtailment to the state budget this December that outlined $35.5 million in cuts to be made across state agencies before the end of the fiscal year on June 30.
The cuts were made based on an equitable percentage requirement that is part of the curtailment process in which the University of Maine System will be held responsible for $2,535,228 according to a document available on the governor’s website. USM will be accountable for almost $600,000 of that total due by the end of June. The LePage website states that the UMS will conduct a review to find the savings in a manner that prioritizes a minimal impact on students.
In a letter to faculty and staff, USM president Theo Kalikow acknowledged that there is an opportunity for the legislature to change some of the specific cuts made in LePage’s curtailment but cited the need to plan for the existing budget cut. “We must begin identifying ways in the coming weeks to take $587,000 out of our budget.” The impact of the cuts this year and in coming years will not be definite until the state legislature reviews and possibly adjusts the cuts suggested by Lepage. On Friday, Jan. 11 LePage will officially present the curtailment for public commentary as well as his proposed budgets for the next two fiscal years.
Adrienne Bennett, director of communications for the governor, deferred to LePage’s upcoming budget presentation when asked about whether or not the financial burden for USM might change in this year or the following years based on these cuts.
“That is up to, in part, the legislature,” she said, referring to the opportunity they have to modify the cuts proposed by LePage before they come up for public scrutiny. However, LePage is limited in that any curtailments he orders must be equitable, that is, evenly distributed over the selected organizations. Each state entity affected by the cuts is paying roughly the same percentage of their state funding as any other.
“We’re facing some huge fiscal challenges, state and federal,” said Bennett. She cited a lower matching federal funding for state social programs as a big source of the budget shortfall. State programs used to receive $3 for each dollar they spent.
“Now we only get $1.70”.
As far as this year’s cuts at USM, Low pointed out that the chancellor’s office has asked that all of the campuses find ways to make cuts that “minimize or eliminate any impact on students.” Dick Campbell, chief financial officer for USM, says that no specific cuts have been identified yet. According to Campbell, one way that USM might make the cuts is to postpone maintenance planned for this year until a later date. However, Campbell says that he is waiting to see the final numbers for spring enrollment before making any decisions regarding the cuts for this semester.
“Then we’ll know for sure how far we have to go,” he said.
For Ryan Low, executive director of government relations for the UMS, the subsequent two budgets may reveal future fallout that might affect students. Low was in Augusta recently while the legislature was in early talks about the curtailment before its public presentation next Friday. He also mentioned “the offsetting challenge of maintaining current tuition rates”. When the Board of Trustees committed to their goal of freezing tuition costs over the next two budget years last September, they assumed a “flat state of operation” according to Low. If the cuts made this year are held in place for LePage’s following budget proposals, the ability of the university to adhere to the tuition freeze would be impaired.
“We recognize the fiscal reality,” said Low of the year’s budgetary shortfall, but as far its effect on future UMS budgets, he would love to see it minimized.