PHOENIX - The presidents of the state's three universities came to the Capitol on Tuesday hoping to salvage at least some of the funds they told the governor and lawmakers they need.
Requests from the three universities for the coming fiscal year totaled $202.8 million. That included an additional nearly $82 million in base-level funding for operations, with the balance a one-time request for building construction and repair.
Gov. Jan Brewer pared that to $59 million in her budget proposal. And the initial reaction from key Republican lawmakers is to provide precisely zero in new funds.
John Haeger, president of Northern Arizona University, said the big difference between the request and Brewer's recommendation is no surprise.
"What we ask for is always a function of 'tell us what you actually need' and you work your way to a figure which is possible for the state to fund as well, as we hope, the Legislature," he said. And at this point, Haeger and the other two presidents indicated, they would be tickled pink if lawmakers were to actually approve Brewer's plan.
But legislative budget staffers contend there won't be as much money available as the governor proposes.
The good news, at least for NAU and Arizona State University, is that lawmakers like one element of what Brewer wants: equalizing per-student funding among the three universities.
In fact, lawmakers previously approved the first equalization payments to NAU and ASU last year. Brewer wants another $12 million for ASU and $3.3 million for NAU.
Additional funding for the Phoenix campus of the University of Arizona College of Medicine aside, that leaves in Brewer's request only $15.3 million for performance funding and $20 million for furniture, computers and lab equipment, to be divided among the schools. And if those items fall off the bottom of the legislative plan, that leaves the UA with no new funds.
Ann Weaver Hart, newly installed last year as UA's president, said she already is preparing arguments on why her school should not be left out.
"Fundamentally, the University of Arizona is one of the great American public research universities," she told Capitol Media Services following testimony to a legislative panel and a closed-door meeting with the governor. "It is an asset to the state and multiple sources of funding are going to be required to maintain that position."
But Hart said all three universities are going to have to make the case that the performance funding plan they are seeking has merit.
At one time the state funded universities on a per-student basis: Each new full-time student qualified a school for money for one additional staffer.
ASU President Michael Crow said while enrollment continues to increase, the schools are not seeking money on that basis. Instead, the performance plan approved by the state Board of Regents links new dollars to meeting standards for everything from securing additional research grants to how many students graduate.
Brewer's plan calls for dividing $23 million among the schools: $12.6 million for ASU, $5.7 million to UA and $4.8 million for NAU.
But there's really less there than meets the eye. Her plan provides just $15.3 million in new funds, with the other $7.7 million carved out of the schools' existing budgets to be redistributed.
Crow said the universities are learning to live with less state support.
"When I took office the university was funded almost 50 percent with state revenues," he said. "Now it's less than 15 percent." He said the model, at least for ASU, is one of "modest but focused investment based on performance."
Hart echoed the theme, saying the universities have fewer state dollars per student now than in the past and continue to look for alternatives. But she said lawmakers need to recognize the link between investing in higher education and their goal of economic growth.
"The new American economy is going to be based far more significantly on knowledge industries that require a higher proportion of the population to possess higher-order knowledge," Hart said.
The need to find alternatives to state funding has increased pressure on the universities to get more money from students. Haeger said the schools are working to keep tuition "under control," and pointed out they also have created lower-cost alternatives. Those include starting education at a community college, or attending satellite campuses such as ASU's at Lake Havasu City and NAU's in Prescott, where tuition is less.
One area of the schools' budget requests ignored by the governor and, so far, by the Legislature, is a plea for more money to make needed repairs. Hart said that cannot continue forever.
"Just as you would not leave your roof to leak and blow off before you make some effort to repair it, we as the stewards of this state resource will come constantly to remind that great investments in the past require reinvestment in order to protect the value of that investment," she said.