University of Wyoming initiatives to upgrade its financial accounting and reporting systems, improve science and engineering programs and facilities, and match private donations for academics and athletics would receive state funding under Gov. Matt Mead’s budget recommendations for the 2017-18 biennium.
At the same time, the governor has recommended a $5 million reduction in the university’s block grant for the biennium, in response to declining state revenues.
The governor’s proposal, announced Tuesday, now goes to the Legislature for consideration during its 2016 budget session.
“We appreciate the governor’s continuing commitment to key initiatives at the university, even as he calls for UW to tighten its belt along with other state agencies,” UW President Dick McGinity says. “The administration and the Board of Trustees will look closely and carefully at the best ways to handle the reduction, but it’s clear there will be an impact. Still, considering the difficult financial challenges facing the state, the governor’s recommendations must be considered quite fair for the university.”
The governor recommends $2.3 million in recurring funding for UW’s Science Initiative, aimed at lifting the university’s foundational science programs to “top-quartile” status. In addition, his budget request includes $30 million — to be added to $30 million set aside by the 2015 Legislature — to go toward a new facility estimated to cost $100 million that will contain studio-style classrooms to facilitate active learning, along with state-of-the-art research centers in scientific imaging and biological research.
Construction of UW’s Engineering Education and Research Building (EERB), scheduled to begin in late 2016, would be aided by an $8 million appropriation recommended by the governor. Part of UW’s Tier-1 Engineering Initiative, the EERB will provide new spaces for modern instruction and research, including a new shop and student project areas; teaching and computer labs in an active-learning configuration; reconfigurable research labs with associated office and collaborative spaces; meeting/conference rooms; and an expanded drilling simulator facility. At a cost of approximately $100 million, it will be the largest construction project in the university’s history.
In an effort to modernize the way UW tracks and reports financial information, the governor recommends $1 million over the biennium in recurring dollars for personnel to staff a shared business services team of accountants and fiscal specialists. The budget request also seeks $5 million to put toward the anticipated $15 million full rollout costs associated with new systems and processes.
The governor recommends $11.5 million in one-time dollars to match private donations, continuing a highly successful program that has attracted tens of millions of dollars in private gifts to the university in recent years. The money would match private gifts for research into unconventional oil and gas reservoirs, and programs to encourage entrepreneurship among UW students, among others.
An additional $2 million, one-time request would support research in carbon engineering — converting Wyoming coal into value-added fuel and chemical products.
During the past two legislative sessions, lawmakers appropriated a total of $5 million to match private contributions to help UW’s Athletics Department respond to changes in NCAA regulations regarding student-athlete scholarships and benefits, in addition to enhancing recruiting, nutrition and other services to student-athletes. The governor’s 2017-18 request would continue that effort, appropriating $8 million to match private donations for athletics.
The governor also recommends $1 million in recurring funding over the biennium for operations and maintenance, and environmental health and safety, related to new UW buildings. And he requests $500,000 for Wyoming Public Media transmitter upgrades, $200,000 for wildlife and livestock disease research, and $100,000 for UW’s rodeo program.
The governor didn’t recommend any funding for the university’s top budget priority — funding for employee pay raises, and dollars to retain and recruit top faculty and staff members. However, McGinity notes that the governor didn’t recommend compensation increases for any state employees in the coming biennium.
“We will continue to look for ways to stem the growing gap between UW salaries and those of its competitors,” the president says. “But in the current fiscal environment, state funding for compensation increases is unrealistic.”