GOP lawmakers defend cuts to state schools, Suzio says MxCC Meriden campus won’t be impacted

GOP lawmakers defend cuts to state schools, Suzio says MxCC Meriden campus won’t be impacted

Record-Journal


HARTFORD — Republicans say cuts to higher education in their budget are tough but necessary, and they’re urging the governor to back off his veto pledge.

Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, and House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, said Wednesday they are willing to negotiate portions of the $40.7 billion two-year budget the legislature adopted last week, but Gov. Dannel P. Malloy should recognize it’s the only plan to garner support from a majority of lawmakers.

“If we don’t come to an agreement by Oct. 1, I think he’s obligated, morally and for the state of Connecticut, to sign this budget,” said Fasano, whose district includes Wallingford. The state remains under an executive order without a budget in place, and lawmakers and Malloy have raised concerns about the fate of municipal aid after this month.

The executive order calls for deep cuts to education funding, particularly the elimination of grants to 85 towns, but Malloy has said he can’t support the GOP plan.

One reason he cited is cuts to higher education. The University of Connecticut estimates it will lose a combined $309 million over two years when factoring in the university’s health center in Farmington, while the Connecticut State Colleges & Universities system says its reduction would be $90 million.

“I don’t believe that the regent system or the UConn system could face cuts the likes of which are being discussed,” Malloy told reporters Monday.

The Board of Regents for Higher Education is the governing body for CSCU, which includes four state universities and 13 community colleges.

UConn President Susan Herbst and CSCU President Mark Ojakian have been vocal critics since the vote last week, saying the cuts would be devastating to their systems.

Republicans say tough cuts are needed, though, to help close a $3.5 billion deficit over the next two years. They also said they made preserving funding to social services a higher priority.

“I don’t know if it can be overstated how bad Connecticut’s finances are,” said Sen. Len Suzio, R-Meriden.

Suzio said he does expect that Middlesex Community College’s Meriden campus, which has faced the threat of closure multiple times in recent years, “should be isolated” from the budget cuts because of an agreement with the local school district to operate out of Platt High School beginning this year.

“I think the branch in Meriden, under the present circumstances, should be safe simply because there’s no overhead associated with it,” Suzio said, adding there is no financial benefit to closing the campus. Fasano and Klarides said the Republican budget also includes policy changes to help schools, specifically UConn, absorb the cuts. For UConn, Republicans are proposing an end to tuition waivers for employees and a requirement for professors to take on an additional class.

They also said the school has other ways to generate revenue, such as the UConn Foundation and its endowment.

“She has to stop belly-aching about this thing,” Fasano said of Herbst. “It’s a great institution, we love this institution — it is something we should all be proud of, but we just can’t afford it when they have avenues they could go.”

Ojakian and Herbst have been trying to generate pressure from the public for both a veto and, should Malloy block the budget, restoration of funds during negotiations.

Ojakian sent a letter to lawmakers Wednesday saying the cuts would force CSCU to “spend down” its reserves and make staffing cuts. He also said the GOP budget would hurt students who benefit from a proposed $22.1 million cut to the Roberta B. Willis Scholarship Fund.

Herbst, meanwhile, said the cuts would “decimate” UConn, forcing it to close a regional campus and parts of the health center, eliminate some graduate and undergraduate programs, and eliminate “many” of its Division I sports programs, among other changes.

Some Democratic lawmakers from New Haven also lashed out at the cuts Wednesday during a press conference at Gateway Community College.

“It was a shocking display of short-sightedness to cut funding all of the elements of higher education in the state of Connecticut,” Senate President Pro Tempore Martin M. Looney said.

msavino@record-journal.com
203-317-2266
Twitter: @reporter_savino


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