University of Maine System eliminating 165 positions, maybe more under state budget proposal

James Page in Feb. 2012.
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
James Page in Feb. 2012. Buy Photo
By Christopher Cousins, BDN Staff
Posted March 07, 2014, at 3:36 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — The University of Maine System will cut up to 165 full-time positions in the budget year that begins in July and would be forced to cut another 95 positions on top of that under across-the-board cuts under consideration in the Legislature.

University of Maine System Chancellor James Page told the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee Friday that the anticipated 165 positions will be cut across the system’s seven campuses because of a $36 million budget shortfall in fiscal year 2015, despite already having cut 521 positions since 2007. Cuts under consideration by the Legislature would add some $9.3 million to the budget hole, which translates to another 95 positions.

Revenue projections for future years don’t look any better. Page said it’s possible that the system will have to cut a total of about 500 positions between now and 2019.

“There are going to be cuts, painful cuts,” said Page to the Bangor Daily News following his testimony to the budget writing committee. “The whole system has to learn how to live within a more efficient budget.”

The University of Maine System employed 5,414 people in 2007. As of October 2013, it had 4,893 employees.

Page’s announcements Friday came during testimony related to the Legislature’s efforts to close a $90 million revenue shortfall in the state budget that ends in June 2015. Among a lengthy list of proposals under consideration in the Legislature is a 1-percent across the board cut in the current fiscal year and a 3-percent cut next year. The proposal would not affect some areas such as personal services, debt payments, state aid to local schools and certain retirement accounts.

Page said the university system’s budget woes are due to a range of factors, not least of which is a declining population of young people in Maine. Also at play is a decision made two years ago to freeze in-state tuition rates across the system and accept flat funding from the state.

Page suggested to lawmakers that the across-the-board cut proposal hits the universities, the community college system and Maine Maritime Academy harder than other areas of state government because higher education salaries are not exempt from the reductions like salaries in other departments are proposed to be.

“Were we treated in a manner consistent with a state agency, with personal services exempt, our proposed reduction would be more than $6 million less than the one currently being considered by this committee,” said Page.

Other publicly funded higher education institutions are also facing potential cuts.

John Fitzsimmons, president of the Maine Community College System, said the cuts on the table would cost community colleges $94,000 this year and $2.2 million next year, the latter of which represents a 4 percent decrease.

“If these proposed cuts are realized, MCCS will be faced with reducing our program offerings, loss of valued employees and tuition hikes,” said Fitzsimmons, who suggested eliminating some of the annual reports his organization is required to submit to the Legislature as a money-saving measure.

Jim Soucie, chief financial officer at Maine Maritime Academy, said the proposals under consideration would cost his organization almost $390,000, a reduction of about 4.5 percent. He said the state’s support of the organization went from 50 percent of its budget 10 years ago to 22 percent next year.

“We are working hard to develop new sources of revenue to support academy operations however our two main revenue streams come from students and the state,” said Soucie. “Reductions in the state’s support have added to the burden placed on students and their families. Even as we work to develop next year’s budget and cut expenditures as much as we dare, the proposed reduction will undoubtedly result in higher tuition and fees.”

Other organizations also testified against the concept of across-the-board cuts on Friday.

“The problem with an across-the-board notion is that it punishes programs that are running efficiently as well as those that still may be wasteful,” said Rich Livingston, president of AARP of Maine. “That’s no way to run a state.”

The Appropriations Committee will make recommendations on the budget proposals in the coming weeks.

 

http://bangordailynews.com/2014/03/07/education/university-system-eliminating-165-positions-maybe-more-under-state-budget-proposal/ printed on September 21, 2014