Yesterday morning, top officials from North Carolina's public university, community college system and independent colleges presented their short-session budget requests to the legislature's Joint Appropriations Subcommittee on Education.
UNC System President Erskine Bowles started the day by making a sizable request for $342.5 million in additional funding for fiscal year 2009. Virtually all of the request is for recurring funds to support nine priority areas. The single biggest request is $153.8 million for academic salary increases. Additionally, the UNC System is requesting up to $722 million in funding for capital projects.
Next, Scott Ralls, the new president of the North Carolina Community College System put forth a proposal for $146 million in additional funding for fiscal year 2009. Most of that money would support three needs: salary adjustments for one if the nation's lowest paid faculties, enrollment growth and additional funding to operate high cost training programs in the health sciences. Funding also is requested to reinvigorate the system's technical education programs, many of which have been weakened or eliminated due to funding pressures.
The higher education budget requests, especially the UNC proposal, spotlight the fiscal challenges awaiting legislators in Raleigh. While prudent budgeting means that North Carolina should avoid the budget shortfalls plaguing other states, money will be tight. If revenue collections come in on target and nothing unexpected happens, legislators will have about $300 million in carried-forward money with which to work. The full UNC request alone would consume more than that, and UNC is just one of many agencies with needs. Issues ranging from funding school enrollment growth, reforming mental health care, overhauling the probation and parole system and providing pay raises to state employees also will require attention and dollars that look to be scarce.
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