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President Addresses Funding Issues

Spectrum Volume 17 Issue 16 - January 19, 1995

(Editor's note: Following is a letter to the university community from President Paul Torgersen.)

Dear Colleague:
You have undoubtedly been reading news reports of the governor's budget recommendations. I am writing to let you know how they would affect Virginia Tech, and what our plans are to address the situation.

In spite of an overall revenue increase projected for next year, the budget introduced by the governor on December 19 calls for reductions in state spending of approximately $400 million. Of this amount, approximately $150 million would be applied to a state tax cut, $80 million for increased funding for corrections, $70 million to fund the settlement with federal retirees, and $22 million for economic development activities.

Analysis of the budget recommendations for higher education is still under way. However, it appears that General Fund support for higher education will be reduced by about $47 million, on top of a $14.7-million decrease already in the budget for 1995-96.

Unfortunately, the largest single reduction in higher education is targeted for our Cooperative Extension Service and Agriculture/Forestry Research. The governor recommended reductions in these units of $13.1 million (including salaries and fringe benefits), in addition to a $2.2-million shortfall in the 1995-96 budget. As a reference, the General Fund appropriation for those two agencies would have been $42.5 million. These reductions came as a surprise, since last year the governor restored funding to Extension over and above the General Assembly's action.

Other reductions proposed for our budget include elimination of funding for the Equine Medical Center, elimination of funding for a number of centers and for the newly initiated seafood research program. In addition, all institutions are expected to fund a proposed 2.25 percent salary increase for the faculty and staff from their own budgets. For Virginia Tech, this would amount to about $1.8 million across the university. In all, the budget reductions for Virginia Tech total about $18 million.

How could this happen, given the budget reductions Virginia Tech and higher education have already experienced? There is a strong current of public opinion running in favor of lower taxes and increased spending on measures to lock up criminals. Whether these attitudes are well founded or not, the governor clearly believes that his budget is responsive to the will of the people. The members of the General Assembly will now decide to what extent they agree with the governor, and all members of the General Assembly will face the voters in November. Clearly we are dealing with forces much larger than higher education.

But we are not without resources to make our case to the governor and General Assembly, and I am prepared to do so to the extent of my ability. We will be seeking restoration of funds, as well as resources that we believe are essential to move the university forward in its restructuring process, such as instructional technology.

Already Extension supporters have flooded public hearings on the budget from Martinsville to Alexandria. Our alumni are strong and eager to help us make our case to the General Assembly. We have many friends in the General Assembly who strongly believe that higher education has suffered too many reductions already over the past few years. A newly formed Business-Higher Education Council, composed of CEO's of major corporations in Virginia, is actively working on our behalf.

Over the past year, I have crossed the state many times speaking to civic groups and visiting legislators. I plan to spend most of the next month in Richmond.

I need not tell you that the stakes are high. We must reverse the trend of declining funding for higher education in Virginia, not for our sakes, but for the future of the commonwealth.

While I will do all that I can, along with the deans and members of the administration, Virginia Tech is fundamentally a collective enterprise. What can you do to help? Continue to set an example, in the classroom and in your research and outreach activities, of what a model land-grant university is all about. If the public-students, parents, alumni and friends-are convinced that we are doing the best job possible with the resources made available to us, we have to believe there will be support for Virginia Tech.

If you have specific comments or suggestions, I would welcome hearing from you. I value the advice of the members of the university community. We will update you over the next few weeks through Spectrum.

Sincerely,

Paul E. Torgersen