The Daily Tar Heel

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Sunday May 28th

UNC-system budget sent back by State Budget Director Art Pope

Leaders from every stage of education in North Carolina — from pre-kindergarten to higher education — appealed to Gov. Pat McCrory on Wednesday for a share of the state’s limited funds.

In a state education cabinet meeting, McCrory heard the budget priorities of the UNC system, the community college system, public K-12 education and early childcare and pre-K.

UNC-system budget

Last month, the UNC-system Board of Governors approved its list of budget priorities to present to the legislature in the short session.

  • The board wants to implement its strategic plan initiatives, including degree attainment and community health care needs.
  • The board asked to repeal the out-of-state tuition increase the legislature enacted and to restore some budget reductions.
  • The board asked for some money for faculty retention, including funding distinguished professorships in the system.

Leaders from each rattled off a list of objectives that they want funded in the short session — including salary increases for public school teachers, community college instructors and system faculty.

McCrory said long-term, he hopes to improve salaries for all educators in the state.

But he stressed that the state’s budget forecast is uncertain, since Medicaid expenses are still unknown and recent icy weather might lead to lower tax collections.

“I’ve got to prioritize what we ask the legislature to do in the short session versus the long session,” McCrory said. “If we ask too much, we might create even more issues down the road.”

The meeting came a few days after State Budget Director Art Pope rejected the UNC-system Board of Governors’ budget proposal, calling it “not realistic” and asking for a rewrite.

“The spiraling cost of higher education, the increased costs to students and their parents, including growing personal debt, as well as the increasing demands on the state budget, cannot continue indefinitely,” Pope wrote in the memo. “The University of North Carolina has a responsibility to its students and to the state to operate and improve the university in the most cost effective and affordable manner as practicable.”

Pope said the board requested an 11.3 percent — $288 million — increase from the state’s general fund.

The board’s priorities include a repeal of the legislature-enacted out-of-state tuition increase and funding for some of the system’s strategic plan investments.

Peter Hans, chairman of the Board of Governors, said in an email that system leaders are preparing a detailed response to Pope’s memo.

UNC-system President Tom Ross didn’t mention the memo in the cabinet meeting, but he defended the system’s budget request to McCrory, calling it reasonable and necessary.

He said the system has already implemented several cost-cutting measures and is more efficient than ever.

“We’re trying to not be unreasonable because if we were to come in and ask for what we really needed to make up for inflation and to try to do what we need for retention and to fight off the competition, it would be a number that would probably be unreasonable to request in any one year,” Ross said.

At a news conference following the meeting, McCrory said it would be a long process to determine the final budget.

“The fact of the matter is I think we’ve got to remind people we’re still under tough budget constraints,” he said. “We’re going to prioritize where we get the best bang out of the limited dollars that we have available.”

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