The compromise House budget “absolutely” doesn’t sound the “death knell” for an ASU campus in Payson threatened by the state Senate budget it replaces, said Payson Mayor Kenny Evans on Monday.
The budget approved on a party-line vote by the House Appropriations Committee last week included $198 million in cuts to the state’s three universities — including ASU’s loss of more than $90 million. That’s still much worse than Gov. Jan Brewer’s original call for $170 million in cuts, but only half the size of the $235 million proposed by the state Senate.
ASU officials said they would give up working on a Payson campus if the Senate budget won the approval of the Senate and the governor. None of those ASU officials returned calls before press time to talk about their reaction to the House cuts, which at this point have the support of both Gov. Jan Brewer and leaders in the Senate.
Evans said the Arizona Board of Regents will meet later this week to discuss the impact of the $198 million in additional cuts. He said that unless the regents do something unexpected like set a limit on enrollment for the whole system, the Payson campus will likely go forward.
“The citizens that are actively supporting this program in Payson have made a significant commitment. We have a couple million at risk already. We’ll be spending a million dollars a month over the next five months and we’re moving ahead with that. So I don’t know what level of commitment the community would ask that would be greater than that in terms of our desire and our willingness to do whatever needs to be done to help the board of regents and Arizona State move forward.”
ASU Board of Regents President Ann Mariucci said, “The additional $28 million in cuts (in the House budget) creates much greater pressure for higher tuition and spending cuts that will have a significant impact on access and operations. With passage of this budget, the university system will have sustained $428 million in state budget cuts since 2008, a 50 percent reduction in per student funding.”
Evans said that he hopes ASU will soon release a marketing study on whether a small, liberal arts, high-tech campus in Payson could attract the 1,000 to 6,000 students planners say they need to make it financially viable.
He said the House budget bill included a requirement that university officials sit down with the Legislature to talk about how to link “performance” measures like graduation rates to state funding.
The Legislature also wants to discuss how to move toward “student-centered” funding, which perhaps means some sort of voucher system. None of those issues themselves should pose a barrier to the Payson campus, Evans said.
Some elements of the budget crisis may rebound in favor of the Payson campus, if ASU can ever retain its footing long enough to sign the deal.
Evans and others have lined up as much as $500 million in grants and financing to build the campus, plus related businesses like an industrial park, dorms, a convention hotel and a $65 million solar generating facility powered by solar cells on the roof and parking lot of a rebuilt Payson Event Center arena.
Payson would create a special district to contract with ASU and the private businesses and then to build the facilities on a 300-acre parcel, with the businesses providing revenue to lower the cost to ASU.
Backers hope that the campus could operate on half of the tuition and state support that goes to ASU’s Tempe campus. ASU’s overall tuition has roughly doubled in the past four years and now stands at about $8,400 annually.
The board of regents later this week will consider another steep increase for next year to make up for the loss of state funding.
Evans said as tuition rises in the rest of the system, the Payson campus could become more and more attractive, since it can provide degrees at half the cost of the other universities in the system.
If the logic of a businessman were applied,” said Evans, “that would certainly be the answer. By 2016 when ASU will have to start making payments, by that time I believe that we’ll be in a position where we won’t need or take any state aid.”
He said the state Legislature has already seemingly abandoned funding formulas that used to provide about $2 in state support for every $1 in tuition.
A Payson campus with costs offset by money from the hotel and industrial park might do much better in that financial world than any of the existing campuses.
Still, he said, a lot will depend on how the board of regents reacts to the proposed House budget later this week.
The House itself is expected this week to adopt the budget approved by the House Appropriations Committee last week.