Governor’s speech did little to address colleges’ concerns

We had hoped Gov. Steve Beshear would offer a reasonable explanation for the funding cuts UK and other institutions may soon suffer in his State of the Commonwealth Address on Monday. We ended up tremendously disappointed.

In November 2007, Beshear expressed his excitement about UK’s Top 20 Business Plan and said he would push for its full funding.

But last week, Beshear cut state universities’ budgets by 3 percent for the rest of this fiscal year and warned them to prepare for reductions as high as 12 percent for next year, the Kernel reported Jan. 9.

“We can wring more efficiency out of state government and I intend to do just that. It’s common sense, but it will require some painful sacrifices,” Beshear said in his address.

We agree that many governmental agencies can withstand some budget cuts and remain fully functional. However, cutting academic and research programs — consequences that would inevitably follow from double-digit funding cuts — does not “wring out more efficiency” from institutions of higher learning. That’s common sense.

In his address, Beshear calls for “re-engineering Kentucky’s economy from within,” saying that it would bring additional investments in education. That is just empty rhetoric. How could Kentucky modernize its economy by cutting funding for education?

The budget cut UK suffers will set back the progress the university has made toward achieving the Top 20 Business Plan. Becoming a top-20 public research university by 2020 is not merely an internal goal of UK’s — it was mandated by the General Assembly in House Bill 1 of 1997.

The university cannot achieve that state-mandated goal without proper funding from state government. And with significant budget cuts, it will be extremely difficult for UK just to function normally.

To face the current budgetary shortfall, Beshear said there are two options: raise taxes or cut spending. He then ruled out the possibility of raising taxes and promised that it will remain his last resort for as long as he is in office.

But Beshear should leave all policy options on the table before imposing sizable cuts on higher education. If targeted tax increases could help raise revenues for universities without hurting the state economy, they at least deserve the governor’s consideration.