Malloy, UConn president warn proposed budget could shutter Avery Point campus

Groton — With an uncertain timeline for the veto he promised on the General Assembly-approved state budget, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy visited the University of Connecticut Avery Point campus on Monday to decry the cuts to UConn in the budget.

He was joined by state and local officials, along with UConn President Susan Herbst, who has listed the closure of regional campuses as a possible effect of the budget cut.

"In all likelihood, this campus is a campus that could be on the chopping block, and I don't say that lightly," Malloy said.

Herbst added later, "This campus is certainly in danger, without question."

At issue is what UConn says is a $308.8 million cut in funding for UCconn across two years. This figure is disputed, with Senate Republicans saying the cut is closer to $200 million.

"UConn is overstating reductions by using the fiscal year 2017 original budget as the base, rather than what they actually received in 2017," said Nicole Rall, spokeswoman for the Senate Republicans, in an email.

She added, "UConn's numbers for fringe benefits appear to not factor in the reductions they realized throughout the fiscal year, nor do they recognize the alternate retirement program, unemployment compensation, and FICA which this budget does not move to their line item."

UConn spokeswoman Stephanie Reitz said the GOP budget includes revenue generators that UConn can't legally enact.

At Avery Point on Monday, Herbst acknowledged that "UConn is absolutely part of the shared sacrifice" and said the system has cut about $140 million over the last few years.

"Big shorts-term cuts like this affect us for a very long time," she said, adding, "A university doesn't just snap back from enormous cuts. It plummets in the rankings."

Herbst pleaded with legislators not to "kill our awesome pipeline" to industry and health care.

One of the benefits of Avery Point is that faculty bring in federal research dollars, which impacts the local economy, Herbst told The Day. She is not yet saying which regional campuses would close, or how many.

She and Malloy both pointed to the importance of Avery Point to large local employers like Electric Boat and Pfizer.

Also speaking out against the budget on Monday were Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague; Rep. Chris Soto, D-New London; Sen. Mae Flexer, D-Danielson; and Groton City Mayor Keith Hedrick.

UConn senior Liz White spoke of how the regional campuses allow for a sense of community and closeness that may not be found at the main Storrs campus.

Stan Kesilewski, also a senior, talked about how he chose Avery Point over the main campus to play baseball and because it was affordable. After he stopped playing baseball, he became a tutor, learned trade skills while working for the facilities department, and helped start the Avery Point Performance Troupe.

"Avery Point has been my everything for the last four years," he said. "There's nothing I've dedicated more time to."

Malloy took a shot at Sen. Heather Somers, R-Groton, whose district covers Avery Point and who voted for the budget. The governor described the General Assembly budget as anti-intellectual, anti-labor, anti-teacher and anti-job-training.

He concluded by saying, "Don't worry; I'm not going to sign." Malloy spokesman Chris Collibee said the governor's office hasn't yet received the budget from the Legislative Commissioners' Office, and the timeline for a veto would be set sometime after that.

Somers was not present at the news conference, but she said in statement released shortly after, "When solving a budget deficit totaling billions upon billions of dollars, when core social services are in jeopardy of being slashed, all areas of government have to scale back and live within the state's means."

She added that Malloy and Herbst "continue to use scare tactics and overstate the cuts to UConn," and that the GOP budget does not propose closing Avery Point.

"If UConn decides to cut funding for Avery Point instead of tightening its belt and reducing administrative expenses that is President Herbst's choice," she said.

Senate Republican President Pro Tem Len Fasano said that if UConn's "fist (sic) decision when faced with these reductions is to target students and facilities like Avery Point, President Herbst should resign."

e.moser@theday.com

READER COMMENTS

Loading comments...
Hide Comments