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Key University of Wyoming initiatives to retain top employees, launch improvements to the College of Engineering and Applied Science, and upgrade technology would receive state funding under Gov. Matt Mead’s budget recommendations for the 2015-16 biennium.
The governor’s proposal, announced Friday, now goes to the Legislature for consideration during its 2014 budget session.
“We appreciate the governor’s support for the university’s efforts to enhance the quality of instruction, research and service we provide to the state,” says Dick McGinity, UW’s interim vice president for academic affairs, who is fulfilling the duties of president. “I look forward to working with legislators to answer their questions and to assure that the university uses state resources wisely as we move forward with changes that will benefit all of Wyoming.”
The university’s top budget priority for the coming biennium is providing merit-based pay increases for UW employees, after four years of no state funding for raises. The governor’s proposal calls for an average increase of 2.5 percent each of the next two years, totaling slightly more than 5 percent including compounding effects, for UW and state employees. UW’s budget request had sought an average 4 percent increase starting in the fiscal year that begins July 1, 2014.
“We are grateful that the governor recognizes the need for action to halt the loss of our top people to other institutions,” says McGinity, who notes that Mead had recommended funding for pay raises during the 2013 legislative session as well. “The governor’s proposal is a good first step toward our ultimate objective of bringing employee salaries to the market average of our comparator institutions.”
An important provision in the governor’s proposal would have the state cover legislatively mandated increases in employee contributions to the state retirement system in the coming biennium. That includes an increase in retirement contributions approved by the 2013 Legislature, as well as increases proposed for consideration in the 2014 session. Without that separate appropriation, UW and state employees would be responsible for the employees’ 1 percent share of increased retirement contributions, cutting into the effects of salary increases.
“The governor’s proposal would serve to stem the erosion of compensation increases by having the state pick up the employees’ share of higher retirement contributions,” McGinity says. “We appreciate his plan to preserve the full impact of employee pay raises while strengthening the state retirement system.”
In response to a request from the Wyoming Governor’s Energy, Engineering, STEM Integration Task Force, Mead proposes an $8 million ongoing increase -- which would be combined with the reallocation of $9.2 million in internal UW dollars -- to make programmatic improvements in the College of Engineering and Applied Science. In addition, the governor recommends the release of $7.9 million previously appropriated for planning and design of a major project to expand and renovate the Engineering Building; $10.5 million for a new Energy Engineering Research Facility, to be matched by private dollars; and $5 million for an endowed professorship in petroleum engineering, also to be matched with private contributions.
“The initiative to lift the university to ‘Tier 1’ status in engineering is one of the most ambitious, exciting projects in the university’s history,” McGinity says. “The governor’s budget proposal, combined with previous appropriations for facility improvements, will launch us down the path to achieving our shared ambition.”
Other one-time expenditures recommended by the governor are $5 million to fully fund the second phase of improvements to UW’s Arena-Auditorium; $6 million for campus water infrastructure upgrades; $4 million to continue upgrading classrooms in UW’s aging buildings; $2.8 million to improve and expand student wireless connections, replace computer network switches and expand the campus technology infrastructure; and $1 million to upgrade Wyoming Public Media transmitters around the state. UW’s brucellosis research project also would see a $200,000 one-time increase.
Mead recommends $727,000 in ongoing funding for new clinical sciences faculty and staff in the medical laboratory technician program at the UW/Casper College Center so that students in Casper can earn bachelor’s degrees in clinical laboratory sciences. That initiative stems from UW’s collaborative efforts with Casper College and the Casper Area Economic Development Alliance, part of the university’s goal of further extending academic programs across the state.
The governor also proposes a $706,000 increase in operating dollars to maintain new UW facilities in Casper, Sheridan and Riverton; and $665,000 for operation and maintenance of the biosafety level 3 laboratory in the Wyoming State Veterinary Lab.