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Legislature Funds UW Projects, Reduces Block Grant

March 7, 2016

University of Wyoming initiatives to upgrade its financial accounting and reporting systems, improve science and engineering programs and facilities, and match private donations for academics and athletics were supported with funding by the Wyoming State Legislature during the 2016 budget session that ended Friday.

At the same time, UW will see a reduction of $5.79 million in its state block grant for the 2017-18 biennium as a result of the Legislature’s budget-cutting actions in response to declining state revenues.

“Considering the financial difficulties the state faces, we feel very fortunate that lawmakers were able to continue funding a number of the university’s top priorities,” UW President Dick McGinity says. “Still, the reductions we must make will be difficult, and the prospect of ongoing state revenue challenges in coming years means UW will have to scrutinize all of its operations for further efficiencies -- and look for additional funding sources, including private contributions.”

For UW’s top priority, the Legislature approved a one-time appropriation of $5 million to upgrade the university’s financial and reporting systems, while directing that $5 million of the UW block grant be dedicated to that project over the biennium. UW has agreed to contribute an additional $10 million to the effort.

“The fiscal systems upgrade is extremely important and, frankly, long overdue,” McGinity says. “The Legislature’s support only gets us part of the way. We will have to commit more internal resources to the project, and that will require some difficult decisions in the weeks and months to come.”

No funding for state or UW employee pay raises was approved by legislators during the budget session.

“We will continue to look for ways to stem the growing gap between UW salaries and those of its competitors,” McGinity says. “But in the current fiscal environment, state funding for compensation increases is unrealistic.”

Lawmakers remain committed to UW’s Science Initiative, aimed at lifting the university’s foundational science programs to “top-quartile” status. In addition to approving $2.3 million in recurring dollars for Science Initiative programs, the Legislature allocated a total of $100 million for construction of a Science Initiative facility. The building will contain studio-style classrooms to facilitate active learning, along with state-of-the-art research centers in scientific imaging and biological research.

Lawmakers also appropriated $3 million to acquire property north of campus for the building and other potential projects in line with UW’s long-range development plan.

To complete financing for construction of the Engineering Education and Research Building (EERB), the Legislature approved $14.5 million. Combined with earlier appropriations, that allows for a total of $105 million for what will be the largest construction project in the university’s history. It’s scheduled to begin in late 2016 or early 2017 north of the existing Engineering Building, creating new spaces for modern instruction and research, including a new shop and student project areas; teaching and computer labs in an active-learning configuration; reconfigurable research labs with associated office and collaborative spaces; meeting/conference rooms; and an expanded drilling simulator facility.

The Legislature also appropriated $1 million to go toward planning for a satellite energy plant on the northwest part of campus, with $300,000 going to plan for additional space needs related to the WWAMI medical education program.

Legislators continue to support funding to match private donations for academics and athletic programs. Included in the budget is $11.5 million to match private gifts for programs to encourage entrepreneurship among UW students -- aimed at economic diversification in the state -- and for research into unconventional oil and gas reservoirs, among others.

Lawmakers approved a total of $8 million for the biennium -- $4 million annually -- to match private contributions to help UW’s Athletics Department respond to changes in NCAA regulations regarding student-athlete scholarships and benefits, in addition to enhancing recruiting, nutrition and other services to student-athletes. That’s a reduction from the $5 million appropriated for that purpose in the current fiscal year.

Here’s a rundown on other appropriations for UW for the coming biennium:

--$2 million to support research in carbon engineering -- converting Wyoming coal into value-added fuel and chemical products.

-- $1 million in recurring funding over the biennium for operations and maintenance, and environmental health and safety, related to new UW buildings.

-- $387,000 to re-establish the master’s degree program in counselor education at UW-Casper.

-- $500,000 for Wyoming Public Media transmitter upgrades.

-- $200,000 for wildlife and livestock disease research.

-- $100,000 for UW’s rodeo program.

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