Legislative Actions Affect UW

March 4, 2013

The University of Wyoming will receive $70 million for construction projects, and most UW employees will be given a one-time 1 percent bonus, as a result of action by the 2013 Wyoming State Legislature.

The budget bill approved by lawmakers before they adjourned last week also reduces the state block grant for UW operations by 6 percent -- a smaller percentage than many state agencies experienced, and less than the university had been asked to prepare for last year.

“We appreciate the continuing support of the Legislature and the governor for the university, as reflected in the appropriations for construction and employee bonuses, and the fact that the university’s operating budget reduction is less than other parts of state government,” UW President Tom Buchanan says. “We hope the appropriation for employee bonuses, while significantly less than what we requested for continuing salary increases, is a first step toward recognizing that good university employees are necessary in delivering a quality product and deserving of a merit pay increase after four years of no raises.”

In one of the Legislature’s smallest supplemental budgets in years, lawmakers included an additional $65 million to upgrade and expand facilities for UW’s College of Engineering and Applied Science. That amount, combined with $30 million appropriated by the 2012 Legislature and an expected $15 million in private gifts, will provide $110 million for what will be the largest construction project in the university’s history. The money will be held in an account by the state treasurer’s office and will require additional legislative authorization before being released to UW.

The university is working with the Governor’s Energy, Engineering, STEM Integration Task Force to begin planning for programmatic improvements in the College of Engineering and Applied Science. That’s in accordance with lawmakers’ 2012 directive for UW to become a “tier one academic and research institution,” including a major upgrade in facilities. During the recently completed session, legislators established a $3 million endowment as the first step in bolstering energy engineering research.

“The commitment of the Legislature, the governor and our private donors to the engineering project is remarkable,” Buchanan says. “The university is working hard to develop a plan that will allow us to achieve our shared ambitions, which will convey substantial benefits to students, Wyoming employers and UW.”

The Legislature and Gov. Matt Mead also approved an additional $5 million for improvements to UW’s Arena-Auditorium. Combined with $10 million in state matching funds and an expected $10 million in private gifts, there will be $25 million available to upgrade the 31-year-old facility to be competitive with other basketball arenas in the Mountain West Conference.

The one-time bonus for UW employees will come from a $1.8 million appropriation by the Legislature and is part of an overall package of 1 percent bonuses for all state employees. The bonuses will be distributed to UW employees in the October payroll.

In its supplemental budget request, the UW Board of Trustees had sought $5 million for merit-based employee pay raises. The governor recommended just under $2.4 million in recurring dollars for that purpose.

“Employee salaries will remain the university’s No. 1 budget priority,” Buchanan says. “In order to retain our top faculty and staff members, and to recruit high performers, we need to offer nationally competitive salaries. Every year without an increase makes reaching that objective more difficult.”

For all state employees, lawmakers approved a 1 percent increase in retirement contributions starting in the 2014 fiscal year, with employees contributing .25 percent more and employers .75 percent.

Meanwhile, the university will continue with efforts to reduce its operating budget by 6 percent, or $11.68 million annually. Those efforts began last year, when the governor asked UW and state agencies to prepare for reductions of up to 8 percent starting in the 2013-14 fiscal year. His recommendation for the university and community colleges ended up being a 6 percent cut, and the Legislature approved that plan. Many state agencies are facing 8 percent reductions.

The reduction will decrease non-personnel expenses, which include scholarship funds, by 14 percent, and personnel expenses by 3.5 percent, which could result in the elimination of an estimated 100 non-academic positions and 24 faculty positions. So far, UW has eliminated 42 non-academic staff positions through attrition and is holding open 12 vacated faculty positions in order to avoid layoffs in the fiscal year that begins July 1.

“We appreciate the fact that the cuts to higher education are smaller than other parts of state government,” Buchanan says. “But a 6 percent reduction is still substantial, and it can only be accomplished by trimming our budgets for salaries and wages. Each eliminated position represents a loss of UW’s capacity to accomplish its mission.”

In other action related to the university, the Legislature and the governor decided to put before Wyoming voters a proposed constitutional amendment stipulating that up to 20 percent of the members of the UW Board of Trustees may be out-of-state residents. If voters approve the change in the 2014 general election, the size of the board would increase from 12 to 13 in 2015. The university did not request the measure; nor did the current Board of Trustees take a position on it.

The university did speak out against two bills that were defeated in the 2013 session. One would have allowed firearms to be carried openly on campus, and one would have prohibited any public entity except the state from regulating the use of firearms. At UW’s request, the latter bill was amended to make it clear that the provision would not apply to UW, community colleges and K-12 schools.

“We’re grateful that the Legislature recognized the university community’s concerns for safety on campus,” Buchanan says.

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