In the last couple of weeks, a parade of public university presidents have departed from their usual measured language to describe in more graphic terms what Gov. Matt Bevin’s proposed budget cuts will mean to their institutions.
“We can’t protect any part of our campus in the face of these draconian cuts,” University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto told the House Postsecondary Education Budget Subcommittee. Kentucky Community and Technical College System President Jay Box said the cuts “would be devastating.” Western Kentucky University President Gary Ransdell called the budget proposal “a bombshell,” and Morehead State Unversity’s Wayne Adrews termed it “shocking.”
They are not crying wolf.
While Bevin casts himself as the benificient father willing to make hard decisions to bring the family budget into reality, he is actually just playing the role of a deadbeat dad who’d let his home depreciate and his kids suffer because he’s too proud to take on a job that doesn’t quite suit his fancy.
Now in his third month as governor, Bevin has set up a false budgetary choice: Slash budgets or condemn the public retirement systems to default. It’s not tough love, it’s just a way of maintaining ideological purity at a cost to both the present and the future.
Here are a few things to consider as public colleges, universities and community colleges face 13.5 percent in cuts after $178 million that’s been slashed from state funding since 2009.
State revenues are up; they are expected to exceed projections this year by about $219 million. That is by no means enough to fill the $35 billion public pension hole but it is a reminder that we are not in the freefall that faced the state at the onset of the Great Recession.
Since state funding began plummeting, public universities have raised tuition on average 38 percent. In effect, the lack of state support has been translated into a tax on the students and their families.
A keystone of Bevin’s plan is to divert millions to fund new programs to improve workforce readiness. But, the Council on PostSecondary Education released numbers this week that indicate the Kentucky Community and Technical College System beat him there: The number of workforce certificates awarded grew by 159 percent from 2003 to 2013.
KCTCS President Box says Bevin’s proposed cuts would mean an 8-percent tuition hike, a move that would likely put those programs out of reach for many.
Finally, Kentucky is leaving a lot of money on the table. As candidate Matt Bevin recognized, Kentucky gives away more in tax breaks — called tax expenditures by state budget officials — each year than it collects in taxes.
“We have got to get rid of what are called tax expenditures ... They cost the taxpayers $10 billion a year,” Bevin said in April, and many of them came about, “because somebody has a better lobbyist.”
Now, as governor, Bevin is trying to slash funding for higher education rather than raise revenue by taking on the lobbyist-fueled tax breaks he decried as a candidate.
We don’t question Bevin’s sincerity when he says he wants to solve the pension crisis, repair Kentucky’s lagging credit ratings and establish a firm economic footing for the future. But more and deeper cuts to education will not get us there. In effect, the students are subsidizing those who enjoy tax breaks.
This isn’t like putting off a vacation, patching together the old car or turning down the thermostat to get the family through a few lean months or years. We’ve already done that.
This is more like selling the house off piece by piece without worrying about where to live when it’s gone.