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The state budget bill approved by the Wyoming State Legislature Monday provides funding for University of Wyoming employee pay raises, upgrades in the College of Engineering and Applied Science, facilities improvement and maintenance, and matching dollars for a variety of projects.
The state spending plan for the next biennium now heads to Gov. Matt Mead, who has three days to sign the measure; he also has the ability to exercise his line-item veto authority. The governor had recommended many of the appropriations for UW in his budget proposal to the Legislature last year.
“We appreciate the Legislature’s recognition of the need for employee compensation adjustments, along with continued improvements to and maintenance of our facilities, while providing support for the university to move ahead with major initiatives,” UW President Dick McGinity says. “At the same time, there’s a clear message that lawmakers expect the university itself to find additional resources to address our most pressing needs, and our task now is to do that through pursuit of more private support, research funding and consideration of modest tuition increases.”
The Legislature appropriated a total of $12.5 million in ongoing dollars for UW employee pay raises over the next two years, the first such increase since 2009. That equates to an overall 2.35 increase in the 2014-15 fiscal year and a 2.35 percent boost in the 2015-16 fiscal year. The university has not yet established a policy for distributing the pay raises, but plans call for them to be based largely on merit, taking into consideration employees’ performance reviews and individual salary market comparators. The UW Board of Trustees will act on a salary distribution policy before the start of the new biennium on July 1, 2014.
Partially offsetting the effects of the salary adjustments is the fact that the Legislature did not appropriate money to cover mandatory increases in employees’ share of contributions to the state retirement system. Those contributions will increase .375 percent over the next two years, meaning that the actual average pay increase for UW employees in the state retirement system will be about 2 percent each of the next two years, instead of 2.35 percent.
“While the funding for pay adjustments may stem the slide that university employees have experienced through multiple years without compensation increases, it is only one move toward addressing the serious problem of UW salaries being significantly below the average of our competitors,” McGinity says. “The Legislature’s actions this year are an important incremental step, and we will revisit the issue of state support for salaries on a regular basis.”
McGinity notes that a $22.7 million reduction in state funding to UW for the current biennium has pinched units across the university, including the elimination of 54 faculty and staff positions through attrition.
Another additional ongoing appropriation from the Legislature is $8 million annually for the College of Engineering and Applied Science, to be combined with $9.2 million in internal UW dollars to make programmatic improvements in the college. In addition, the Legislature voted to release $7.9 million previously appropriated for planning and design of a major expansion and renovation of the Engineering Building; $10.5 million in matching funds for UW’s planned Energy Engineering Research Facility, also known as the “high-bay” building; and $5 million in matching funds for an endowed chair in petroleum engineering.
“The effort to lift our engineering programs to ‘Tier 1’ status is a major undertaking, and fortunately, it has strong support from the Legislature and private donors,” McGinity says. “This is one of the most ambitious projects in the university’s history, and we’re excited to move forward in ways that will raise UW’s profile nationally while meeting important state needs.”
The budget approved by the Legislature includes a bevy of other one-time appropriations, including:
-- $5 million to fully fund the second phase of improvements to the Arena-Auditorium.
-- $5 million for campus water infrastructure upgrades.
-- $5 million in matching funds to create an endowment for scholarships and program development in areas of importance to the state economy, based on a plan to be approved by the UW Board of Trustees.
-- $4 million to continue upgrading classrooms in UW’s aging buildings.
-- $2.5 million in matching funds for the new UW Literacy Research Center and Clinic.
-- $500,000 to plan for an expansion and renovation of the Corbett Pool facility, with $2 million set aside in an account in the state treasurer’s office for future construction.
-- $2 million for increased enrollment and tuition increases in the WWAMI (Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho) medical education program.
-- $2 million in matching funds to match contributions to the Cowboy Joe Club (on a $2 private, $1 state funds basis) for the support of student-athletes, including recruiting.
-- $1.5 million, to be matched by $1 million in internal UW dollars, to improve and expand student wireless connections, replace computer network switches and expand the campus technology infrastructure.
-- $1 million to upgrade Wyoming Public Media transmitters around the state.
Other ongoing appropriations in the state budget, meanwhile, include $727,000 annually for new clinical sciences faculty and staff in the medical laboratory technician program at UW-Casper, so that students in Casper can earn bachelor’s degrees in clinical laboratory sciences; and $706,000 to maintain new UW facilities in Casper, Sheridan and Riverton.
The Legislature also initiated studies to substantially upgrade UW’s science programs and facilities, as well as the residence halls.