USM officials weigh LePage budget cuts

Posted on January 21, 2013 in News
By Nathan Mooney

Governor Paul LePage speaks at a press conference this month.
Alex Greenlee | The Free Press
Governor Paul LePage speaks at a press conference this month.

Governor Paul LePage has formally presented his supplementary budget for the current fiscal year which outlines cuts to be made to specific state agencies and departments. He also presented his budget for the next two fiscal years along with formalized budget amendments for this year on Friday, Jan. 11. The legislature is currently reviewing the cuts for this fiscal year and the biennial budget before it opens for public review.

The new budget held good news for Ryan Low, executive director of governmental and external affairs for the UMS. One of his recent priorities has been to make the case against any cuts to the UMS in LePage’s proposed budget for the next two years.

He recalled that the UMS Board of Trustees requested that state funding remain consistent over the next years in order to keep its commitment to maintaining an in-state undergraduate tuition freeze. Though it still must be approved by the legislature, LePage’s budget for the next two years fulfills that request to hold funding rates flat for the UMS.

“We’re pleased with the governor’s biennial budget proposal,” said Low.

Dick Campbell, chief financial officer for USM, will be helping to decide how the almost $600,000 in budget curtailment will be distributed over the current fiscal year ending June 30. Campbell is waiting for legislative approval of the curtailments to finalize USM’s cuts. However, he outlined a short list of entities from which the funds will be likely to come. Some equipment upgrades, such as computers or snowblowers, will most likely be delayed. Funding for faculty projects, like research or conference travel, will also be curbed if the cuts are finalized in their current form.

The Capital Projects Fund is one part of the budget that might see a large portion of the cuts. The fund is designed to pay for projects that arise throughout the year, after the budget has been created. The fund is used to address projects that “meet the most pressing needs,” according to Campbell, whose office oversees the allocations. Prioritizing those needs generally doesn’t happen until the spring, and a bulk of the upgrades and repairs are done over the summer. Last year’s mild winter led to a surplus of those funds due to lower heating and snow removal expenses, allowing for some extra projects. According to Campbell, the recent addition of the Honors Program classrooms above the computer lab in Luther Bonney was a direct result of that surplus.

But this winter isn’t looking too mild so far, and in conjunction with LePage’s budget curtailment, some facilities projects will most likely be sidelined until next year or later. “We might not be able to use all the money we currently have for those projects,” said Campbell.

Bob Bertram is executive director of Facilities Management, the office responsible for identifying and prioritizing the places on campus that receive capital projects funds. He said that most of the time, the list of proposed maintenance and improvements on campus is much larger than the year’s allotted funding. That’s why Bertram calls it “the scary list.” Facilities management considers the urgency of a repair against available funds in a process that usually begins in the spring.

“We don’t develop that list until the second half of the budget year,” said Bertram, who expects cuts within the facilities management budget to account for about twenty percent of the total cuts. “I’m going to do my best not to take it from personnel,” he said.