Montana regents eye budget cuts up to 5 percent
The Board of Regents will evaluate budget cuts of up to 5 percent for the state's colleges and universities at a meeting this week. The regents have decided to join other state agencies that are drafting the proposed budget cuts following a request from Gov. Brian Schweitzer — even though the university system has the authority to establish its own spending priorities. "The regents want to be responsible leaders in the state and contribute as much as possible," Commissioner of Higher Education Sheila Stearns said of the effort to draft proposed cuts. "This gives us a framework to see what, if it were up to five percent, how it might be divided throughout the university system." Schweitzer told agencies this month that planning for cuts in state government is needed to deal with a downward spiral in state revenue. The governor has not said how much, or where, money will be cut. The governor's office said proposed cuts from agencies under Schweitzer's control will be available Friday. The Legi s lat ive Fi scal Division has estimated that the state will have just $17 million in the bank when the current two-year budget period ends in June 2011 — a prediction that has dropped by millions of dollars with each new analysis. The regents act autonomously from the governor once he appoints them to the post and will be setting up their own plan. Their proposal identifies $7.5 million in potential cuts from the system's budget and will be the focus of the Thursday conference call by the regents. The Montana university system said such cuts will inevitably affect students, either through increased class sizes, diminished services and possibly higher tuition. A university system memo to regents said the cuts, combined with inadequate funding from the Legislature last year and the expected expiration of federal stimulus money, "cannot be managed without a loss of jobs and the resultant loss of student access to instruction and support services."