Bounds trims IHL request by $217.7M

JACKSON – The 12-member state College Board, based on a recommendation by new Higher Education Commissioner Hank Bounds, is likely to scale back its budget request by nearly $218 million.
Bounds said it would send the wrong message to legislators to request the large increase during the tough economic times.
“I think it is important as a system we recognize the difficulties the state faces,” Bounds said Wednesday, sitting in on his first College Board meeting as the higher education commissioner.
In June, the 12-member Board of Trustees of state Institutions of Higher Learning voted to ask the Legislature for a budget of $1.06 billion in state funds – an increase of $264.1 million, or 33.5 percent. The 2009 appropriation was $788.7 million.
On Wednesday, a committee of the board approved Bound’s modified request of $844.6 million. It is likely to gain approval of the full board today.
Even though the budget for the current fiscal year, which started on July 1, was approved by the Legislature only during the final hours of June, state agencies, such as the institutions of higher learning, are having to plan for the next fiscal year.
Legislative leaders will begin work in September on developing a budget recommendation for the full Legislature to consider during the 2010 session.
Bounds’ revised request, if approved by the College Board today, will be submitted to legislative leaders during their September budget hearing.
Bounds told College Board members he agreed with their goal of moving the state’s eight universities to the average spending per student of peer institutions in the South. He said that should be the ultimate goal of the College Board.
Higher education officials have said for years that because of funding disparities, Mississippi universities have lost their best faculty members to better-paying jobs in other states.
College Board member Aubrey Patterson of Tupelo said he supported Bounds’ recommendation, but added “we still need to project that five-year path” toward spending parity with universities in the Southeast.
Bounds said he agrees but believes that the universities will have a better chance to meet that goal through legislative appropriations if they take steps during the tough economy “to be seen as doing everything possible to cut costs and to be as efficient as possible.”
He also warned that he is making plans for an anticipated 5 percent cut in the funds appropriated for the current year because revenue collections are coming in at a lower rate than projected.
For the month of July, revenue collections were $26.2 million, or 11.3 percent, below projections.
“I think it is prudent for all of us to plan for a 5 percent cut,” Bounds said, adding he hopes it is not larger.
Before becoming commissioner of higher education late last month, Bounds served as state superintendent of education where he was often engaged in struggles in the Legislature to obtain more education funding.
Bounds’ old bosses – members of the state Board of Education – recently announced they would request an additional $173 million, or a 6.7 percent increase, from the Legislature.
Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or bobby.harrison@djournal.com.

Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal