University of Wyoming leadership is watching several proposed state bills with anticipation as the State Legislature prepares for the 2018 budget session, beginning Feb. 12.
The No. 1 concern is block grant funding — totaling roughly $380 million for fiscal years 2019-2020 — but a number of other bills directly or indirectly impacting the university, its funding or its students are also on the institution’s radar.
Trustee Kermit Brown updated the Board of Trustees on the status of current bills relevant to the university during the board’s meeting Jan. 18.
“The Joint Appropriations Committee has also approved the (university) budget, including all the governor’s recommendations, in its entirety,” Brown said. “That budget was passed unanimously by the Joint Appropriations Committee, which includes six senators who are pretty influential in that body.”
UW’s budget was cut by roughly $42 million during fiscal years 2017-2018 — a reduction that required structural reorganizations, which entailed position eliminations, separation incentives and staff layoffs and resulted in 370 fewer jobs across campus.
For many at UW, the appropriations committee’s support for the university’s proposed budget is a positive sign.
“Committee bills have a much higher probability of success,” Brown said.
UW has also requested the release of Science Initiative facility funds, $1 million for carbon engineering, $100,000 for the UW Rodeo Team and an extension of a budget footnote concerning a possible state loan for the purchase or repair of the university’s research aircraft. All four exception requests received support from Gov. Matt Mead and the appropriations committee.
This support is no guarantee of an end to cuts, however, and another proposal being discussed could impact state funding to UW as well, Brown said.
“The (appropriations committee) has discussed but not yet acted on a proposal of across-the-board reductions for everybody, including UW, of a half a percent,” he said. “We’ll have to see where that goes. That would translate into approximately a $1.9 million cut for the biennium.”
Other budget session bills, unrelated to the university’s funding, could affect the UW community too, Brown said.
“In the State Parks department budget, the (committee) cut the Wyoming Conservation Corp funding in half to $50,000,” he said. “That does impact some of our students, but again, that’s not done.”
Senate File 29 aims at updating the state educational program to include computer science and computational thinking courses. House Bill 31 would extend the Hathaway Scholarship application deadline from two to four years following high school graduation.
Both could also impact the university, Brown added.
Another proposed bill to watch, he added, is one altering the terms of a state tuition waiver for veterans and their families.
“It would eliminate payment of UW fees, reduce the cap on the number of semesters from 10 to eight (and) limit aid to the equivalent of undergraduate tuition, so that it couldn’t be used for graduate and professional degrees, like law or pharmacy,” Brown said.
During the budget session, proposed bills must receive significant support from a majority of legislators to even be introduced, Brown said, meaning there was no guarantee any of the bills discussed would even be voted on.
“All of these have to survive the two-thirds vote for introduction, and they just go down like soldiers being mowed down in the field,” he said. “So, we’ll see where that goes.”
Brown added a bill aimed at changing the title of the lead trustee from “president” to “chair” already looked doomed to fail.