Tuition Dollars Helping to Bail-out State Budget

May 19, 2010

In the closing hours of the 2010 legislative session,
Democratic leaders of the General Assembly (who hold
super-majorities in both the House and Senate) and Gov.
Rell agreed on a budget plan that seeks to eliminate
the state’s projected $700 million deficit for
the upcoming fiscal year that begins on July 1st.

Unlike the bipartisan budget mitigation plan that passed
only weeks earlier, which closed the books on the current
fiscal year, this bill was negotiated almost entirely
behind closed doors. There was virtually no public input,
and most troubling was the fact that members of the
legislature were not given ample time to read and understand
what exactly was in the bill.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because it is nothing
new. Too much legislation is being brokered out of the
public’s eye. It seems as if every major bill
is put on the desks of legislators at the last minute
making it much more difficult for anyone to know what
is in them.

Supporters of the latest budget bill (SB
494, An Act Making Adjustments to State Expenditures

for the Fiscal Year Ending June 30, 2011) praise the
measure in that it does not increase taxes, which is
fine and something we all want to avoid. But the problem
is it relies heavily on revenue, such as federal stimulus
money, rainy day funding and bonding, all of which will
not exist next year – a year the state is already
projecting a budget deficit of over $3 billion. But
the good news is that taxes don’t have to be raised…this
year that is.

Instead of making structural changes to a budget that
is in desperate need of structural changes, legislative
leaders and the Governor took the easy way out by kicking
the so-called “can” down the road for the
next legislature and Governor to deal with. Being an
election year I guess we shouldn’t be too surprised.

But the bigger problem I have with this budget isn’t
what was known about the bill; it’s what wasn’t
known. While sitting at my desk in the Senate chamber
during the debate I tried to read as much of the bill
as I could to understand exactly what this budget would
do. That is when I came to line 1039.

Lines 1039 through 1041 transfer $10 million from Connecticut
State University’s (CSU) operating reserve account
to the General Fund. Not being sure what this actually
meant, I got up and asked the chair of the Appropriations
Committee if the money generated from the reserve account
included tuition fees. The one word answer to that question
was “YES.”

According to the non-partisan Office of Fiscal Analysis
(OFA), both CSU and UConn have reserve accounts that
enable our public universities to pay for various things
like new equipment and dorm room furniture. In other
words, things that tuition fees should go to. My concern
is that if $10 million is being taken from CSU, the
reserve account could be depleted making such an account
non-existent. After all, there couldn’t be too
much in the account since the state’s university
system (which oversees four schools) decided to increase
tuition 6.3% beginning with the 2010 fall semester.
At least that was my thinking.

As it turns out I couldn’t have been more wrong.
OFA indicated to me that CSU has approximately $70 million
in reserve while UConn has closer to $100 million!

I don’t know what I find more outrageous, the
fact that CSU has such a large reserve fund and is raising
tuition at a time when many families in Connecticut
are struggling. Or, that tuition money is being used
to help balance the state’s budget. Either way
you look at it, it is bad public policy and not fair
to anyone who attends our public universities.

It’s no wonder they didn’t want anyone
to know exactly what was in the bill.