Local News

UNC system's budget request smallest in 20 years

Posted November 13, 2008 5:13 p.m. EST
Updated November 14, 2008 8:56 a.m. EST

— The University of North Carolina Board of Governors plans to ask state lawmakers for the smallest increase in funding in 20 years as campuses try to cut costs in the sluggish economy.

The board is expected to approve a $3 billion budget Friday that would require an extra $168 million in state funding, a 5.8 percent increase over the current budget. The second year of the two-year budget calls for an even smaller increase of 4.3 percent.

Last year, the board sought a 12 percent increase in state funding.

"It's a very reasonable, focused and prioritized request, a very lean request," said Rob Nelson, vice president of finance for the UNC system. "We'll do what we always do – we'll manage through this – but it's always a tough time."

All but about $50 million of the funding request will go toward salaries, student financial aid and public safety initiatives, officials said. The safety programs have been a priority for the UNC system since the April 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech.

The board's Finance Committee trimmed campus requests for other items from almost $200 million to the $50 million level.

"I think you never fail to take advantage of a crisis," UNC President Erskine Bowles said. "We are in a crisis, so this is a time for us to eliminate some of those things that are less valuable to our students and continue to invest in those that are more valuable."

Chancellors at the various campuses have already cut the current year's budgets by 4 percent, and officials have told them to work toward a 5 percent cut next year.

"It's very hard once you get behind the curve as the year goes on to catch up, so we are trying to stay ahead of the curve," Bowles said.

The decisions on where to make cuts is left to each campus.

North Carolina State University and North Carolina Central University have left open some vacant positions, eliminated some travel and postponed buying some equipment. UNC-Chapel Hill officials have asked each department to look for ways to trim its budget.

"The reality is that our education historically has been well supported in North Carolina. So, while it is challenging, it is doable," N.C. Central Chancellor Charlie Nelms said.