The House and Senate will have a number of funding issues related to the University of Wyoming to reconcile when they convene a conference committee to finalize the 2019 supplemental budget.
One of the biggest discrepancies is the $4 million the Senate’s version of the bill would move to fund UW’s Tier 1 engineering initiative.
That change came on the Senate floor last week after push from Sen. Eli Bebout, R-Riverton.
Bebout, a UW engineering graduate himself, began questioning in December a request from UW for $2 million in new funding for the Science Initiative and other programming related to the university’s five-year strategic plan.
Bebout suggested that money would be better spent on programming in the new Engineering Education and Research Building, set to open in this spring.
UW President Laurie Nichols stressed that funding for the Science Initiative was more pertinent to have programming ready when the Science Initiative building opens. She also suggested Bebout’s concerns about the Tier 1 engineering initiative were overblown.
Despite that, Bebout unsuccessfully tried to get his fellow members on the Joint Appropriations Committee to move the $2 million to the engineering program.
He relented, but then brought the idea back on the floor of the Senate.
“I think common sense says to finish what we started,” Bebout said last Tuesday.
Sen. Chris Rothfuss, D-Laramie, urged his fellow senators not to “micro-manage” the university’s programming while acknowledging “both programs are underfunded relative to the mission we laid out.”
“That’s reality. Part of this is the cuts faced by the university a few years ago,” Rothfuss said. “The university has a funding and budget process just like ours. … We shouldn’t get into the business of micromanaging how the university spends the resources it has. Let the university try to manage its program.”
The Senate voted in favor of Bebout’s amendment.
The JAC chairman returned two days later with another amendment, one that would take $2 million from UW’s existing block grant and move it to the engineering program.
“I understand this is micromanaging. I understand all of that,” Bebout said. “I talked this morning to a distinguished University of Wyoming engineering grad and he has the same concerns I have — that maybe along the road we lost our way about having a Tier 1 engineering college. … I support a block grant, but sometimes we need to initiate some direction from the Legislature about things we think are important.”
At the request of Sen. Larry Hicks, R-Baggs, the Senate also amended the budget bill to strip out $2.5 million in additional funding for the College of Agriculture.
Hicks argued that money shouldn’t be appropriated until UW hires a new dean for the college. UW leaders have argued the new funding will help attract a new dean.
The House has made its own changes to the budget bill, including doubling the amount of private donations UW will need to secure in order to get the $1 million that’s appropriated in the budget for athletic programming.
House Speaker Steve Harshman, R-Casper, was able to get an amendment passed that would withhold $1 million in block-grant funding to UW until the university affirms “that the College of Education has instituted a program to train career and technical education teachers.”
Harshman said the eliminated of vocational education training in the College of Education is detrimental to fostering skilled workers across the state.
“I think our university is very responsive to these kind of policy statements,” he said.
The House version of the bill would also require UW to work with community colleges on developing bachelor degree programs at community colleges.
The House and Senate killed numerous budget amendments last week related to the university, including one that would have forced UW to sell Jacoby Golf Course if the university is unsuccessful at drilling a new well there for irrigation.