Caboni discusses budget cuts with Herald editorial board

President Timothy Caboni listens to SGA Chief of Staff James Line during SGA’s first meeting on Jan. 17, 2017 in the SGA offices in DSU. Caboni is the 10th president of WKU.

Members of the College Heights Herald editorial board met with President Timothy Caboni on Thursday to discuss the upcoming semester and any new changes WKU may soon encounter. Below are three takeaways from their meeting.
The budget
Gov. Matt Bevin proposed a two-year budget during his State of the Commonwealth address that would cut all state agencies by 6.25 percent. Caboni said the cuts would result in a $4.6 million loss for WKU. He said these cuts, coupled with the complete loss of funding for the Kentucky Mesonet, a network of climate-monitoring systems, would be “significant.”
“It’s doubly so because it’s on top of a $15 million shortfall we’re already grappling with because of enrollment shifts within our student population,” Caboni said.
Bevin said the cuts will help fix Kentucky’s underfunded pension system.
Caboni said Bevin has made it clear the pension system will play a significant role in budget discussions. Caboni said on top of the $4.6 million cut and the loss of Kentucky Mesonet, WKU also has a $9 million pension bill that will come on July 1, 2018.
Caboni said WKU has a budget council focusing on ways to save money. He said he expects to hear the council’s recommendations sometime in February.
“Those will be difficult recommendations,” he said. “You don’t get to $15 million by doing things incrementally, and you also don’t get there without talking about reduction of staff.”
Caboni said WKU will be forced to make difficult decisions in the coming months to compensate for the immediate $15 million deficit.
“They have significant implications for some programs, but more importantly, will affect directly individuals and their families, and so we’re going to do this with great care and as careful as we possibly can,” Caboni said.
Caboni said he plans to work with state legislators and Bevin next week to discuss the cuts.
“We will have a presence in Frankfort for the entirety of the session as we advocate for higher education, generally, and WKU, specifically,” he said.
Kentucky Mesonet
Caboni said he plans to talk to lawmakers about the elimination of the Kentucky Mesonet, which has an annual budget of $750,000.
“We’re going to talk to policymakers about why it was created in the first place, what it does for the economy and for agriculture in the state and what the return is on that annual investment,” Caboni said.
The Kentucky Mesonet is housed on WKU’s campus and operates a system of instruments and monitoring sites to watch the surrounding weather and climate, according to its webpage. The Mesonet works with local communities to provide data that can be used to improve agriculture production, assist emergency response efforts, improve local forecasts and support businesses.
The Herald reported in 2016 that the Kentucky Mesonet would receive $750,000 for the 2016-2018 state budget.
The Kentucky Mesonet is not the only program to be cut. Bevin’s budget proposal includes the elimination of 70 programs throughout the state.
“Certainly we’re going to advocate on behalf of Mesonet; we’re going to have those conversations and talk about the value it brings to the state,” he said. “I hate to lose anything.”
The spring semester
Caboni ended the meeting by talking about his excitement for the semester. He said he is looking forward to the continuing basketball season and he hopes to see students actively cheering in the student section.
“I think that’s going to be exciting, our men’s team and our women’s team, to watch during the course of the year,” Caboni said.
He said he is also looking forward to the WKU Forensics teams spring competitions and WKU’s spring play.
Caboni said May’s Commencement may also undergo some changes, but he didn’t name anything specific. He said one tradition will definitely not be removed from the commencement ceremony.
“Every student will still get to shake the president’s hand,” he said.