UConn slams General Assembly-approved budget

Pushing back against the state budget the General Assembly approved last week, the University of Connecticut is asserting the budget would mean the closure of regional campuses.

But university spokeswoman Stephanie Reitz said it's too early to speculate on specific locations.

Asked if UConn Avery Point is at risk of closing, Reitz said, "I would say unfortunately we can't rule anything out at this point but that we don't have a specific campus in mind."

But to state Sen. Heather Somers, a Groton Republican whose district includes UConn Avery Point, talk of closing campuses is "fear-mongering" and there's "no reason why satellite campuses should not remain open."

According to UConn President Susan Herbst, the budget would cut state funding for the university by $309 million over the next two years. Republicans maintain that Herbst is using the wrong numbers and the cut is closer to $200 million.

Last week, a GOP budget passed the Senate by a 21-15 vote and in the House, 77-73. The Senate has 18 Democrats and 18 Republicans, while the Democrats have a 79-72 majority in the House.

Gov. Dannel Malloy vowed a veto of the budget, partly on the basis of "immense cuts to higher education," but he said he is reviewing the budget and reaching out to Republicans and Democrats for a bipartisan solution.

State Rep. Joe de la Cruz, D-Groton and New London, said in a Facebook post on Monday, "Reductions at that level would mean the closure of regional campuses and multiple academic departments, potentially even the closure of UConn Health. Additionally, students would see an increase in tuition and class sizes, as well as major cuts to financial aid."

Somers, who voted in favor of the budget, noted that it asks professors to teach one additional class, and that it requires UConn and UConn Health to pay fringe benefits for employees earning more than $100,000, rather than the state paying.

"If UConn wants to have these very, very highly paid individuals, then they're going to have to have some skin in the game," Somers said.

While she said she absolutely agrees that UConn "is a tremendous value to the state," she noted that UConn gets money through fundraising and federal grants.

She argued that with not enough money to go around, the state's dollars should be spent on issues that don't have a foundation or the same ability to fundraise, such as the opioid crisis and child care for low- to moderate-income families.

"I'm not sure that UConn should be held harmless in this process," she said, noting that the state is asking everybody to tighten their belts.

In a news conference on Tuesday afternoon, Herbst pushed back on some of the points that Somers made, the same points Senate Republican President Pro Tem Len Fasano has been making.

Herbst argued that pushing more fringe costs onto UConn is effectively a budget cut.

"We pay for people to come here based on what the labor market is," Herbst said. "I can't make their salary lower than the labor market, and as an accredited medical school, we can't take ob-gyn poorly here."

She also noted that the issue with saying that more money can come from fundraising is that "when somebody gives a gift to the university, it must be used for a specific purpose. It cannot be used to make up the operating budget."

Herbst's goal is to get the budget back to the $100 million cut she planned for under Gov. Malloy's proposal.

Otherwise, she said, UConn will have to cut some students' financial aid next semester.

And, she said, there would be "a very ugly list of things we would have to cut," including many majors and graduate programs, Division 1 Athletics programs and international programs.

In that case, she said about students and parents, "This is going to be a much lesser place than they signed up for."

e.moser@theday.com

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