Budget proposal needs changes for final version

After Western was asked to give back about $6 million for this fiscal year, many became pessimistic about Gov. Ernie Fletcher’s forthcoming budget proposal.

But as it turns out, Fletcher’s proposal was not as bad as most thought it would be and it isn’t set in stone.

Since the budget is in the hands of legislators now, this message is targeted mainly at them. Know that while this budget has several flaws, there are several things we hope you will keep in the final version of the budget.

We are glad that Fletcher has allocated $5 million to fund enrollment growth for the state’s universities. Western has grown, sometimes dramatically, every year since 1998. The university desperately needs this money. Our student/teacher ratio has grown from 17 to 1 to 20 to 1, general education classes have filled up too quickly and the faculty have spent more and more time teaching classes and less and less time doing research and public service. Western deserves a big percentage of those funds since it has grown the most.

We also are pleased that Fletcher has proposed providing $27 million to fund renovations to Science and Technology Hall, Thompson Complex, Hardin Planetarium and Snell Hall. This funding is crucial – several of these buildings are falling apart and are becoming unsafe. It has been a concern for several years, and we’re glad Fletcher is willing to respond to that particular concern.

But though we are satisfied that the budget includes these things, there are several more items that we hope you will consider changing.

First, the university need more operating budget funds. The enrollment growth funds will not be enough to cover all the expenses that come with such growth. Western has received very little new money since 1998. Basically, Western has been operating a university with more than 20 percent more students and the same budget. It is crazy to expect Western to meet higher education standards and maintain its quality on so little.

The lack of new funding will hurt the students too. If this version of the budget is passed, Western’s only source of additional revenue would be a tuition hike. Fletcher said that he doesn’t want to increase taxes. But a tuition increase virtually does just that – an increase would be a tax to the students and their parents. It may not be called a tax, per se, but it will still take more money out of many Kentuckians’ pockets.

To help resolve this, we propose that $7.5 million Fletcher allocated to fund the Kentucky Academy of Math and Science should be used to fund our operating expenses. The academy is a great idea, but it’s something that shouldn’t be a priority right now. It doesn’t make much sense to provide a good college education to high school students when current, college-aged students are struggling.

We don’t like that Fletcher has proposed to cut funding for Bucks for Brains. In the last few years, the reason Western was still able to provide some new faculty positions is because donors gave gifts toward professorships that were matched by Bucks for Brains funding. Western used up all $4.6 million of its allocated matching funds last year. If the state matching money from Bucks for Brains isn’t there, it will hurt Western’s ability to snag those needed professorships. Also, Bucks for Brains was created to provide funding for innovative research initiatives. The quality of higher education will suffer if universities can’t continue doing research that will produce new ideas and enhance Kentucky’s economy.

Fletcher said that his budget proposal calls for all Kentuckians “to make reasonable sacrifices for a better future.”

What we’re asking of you legislators is to make sure that a better future doesn’t mean the wrong sacrifices for everyone.

This editorial represents the majority opinion of the Herald’s 9-member board of student editors.