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Calling cuts difficult, Ducey says he wants to work with universities, regents

Sophia Kunthara ~ Cronkite News~ 3/18/2015

NORTH VALLEY – Days after Arizona Board of Regents Chairman Mark Killian threatened to sue over funding cuts, Gov. Doug Ducey said March 16 he is proud of the budget and wants to work with regents and university officials.
The budget Ducey signed last week includes $99 million in cuts to Arizona’s three public universities, a 13 percent reduction in state funding. Other cuts include ending state funding to Maricopa and Pima county community colleges.
Speaking at the Special Devices Inc. groundbreaking here March 16, Ducey said he is proud of the budget and is looking forward to Arizona’s future. Afterward, he said the university cuts were hard to make.
“The budget was a very difficult situation, and I want to acknowledge that there were some tough decisions that needed to be made,” Ducey said. “We talked about protecting public safety, protecting the Department of Child Safety, protecting K-12 education.”
In an interview with 12 News, Killian said that the cuts violate the Arizona Constitution’s provision calling for university education to be as nearly free as possible. He said the board will discuss the cuts before making any decision on legal action.
Killian didn’t respond by press time to an interview request left with a Board of Regents spokeswoman.
Ducey said despite the funding cuts he wants to work with the Board of Regents and university leaders. The board, which includes the governor, is scheduled to meet this week in Flagstaff.
“Nobody’s a bigger fan of our university education here. I’m a product of it. I definitely value it,” he said. “So I’m hoping that we can come together now that the budget’s behind us and talk about what’s next for Arizona.”
Arizona State University President Michael M. Crow has been outspoken in his opposition to the cuts, calling them a “setback for Arizonans” in a statement issued March 7.
“This budget cut is being implemented without input from the state’s higher education leaders, and it reverses the progress made in recent years to move our colleges and universities to a performance-based funding model,” Crow’s statement said.
ASU funding will be cut by about $54 million.
Northern Arizona University President Rita Cheng addressed the $17 million budget cut to the university in a letter to the campus on March 11.
“In the short term, there is no avoiding the reality of a reduction of this magnitude,” the letter read. “Quite simply, our university will feel the impact of these cuts. Each of us will feel it. There is no way to cushion everyone from this blow. That being the case, all aspects of our operation are up for consideration.”
Cheng said in the letter that NAU has withdrawn its plans to build a facility for engineering capstone design projects despite a “glaring need” for it.
Although many have spoken out against the cuts, some groups have voiced their support. Thomas Grier, a spokesman for Prosper, an organization dedicated to Arizona and prosperity, said the group supports that the budget is balanced and doesn’t involve tax increases.
“I think Governor Ducey kept his promise when it came to education, particularly in the K-12 context. More money is actually going to classrooms,” Grier said. “The higher education context, changes need to occur. And one thing we can say about our public universities is they’re innovative … they will think outside the box and come up with innovative solutions to their problems.”

Cuts by university:
• NAU: $17 million
• ASU: $54 million
• UA: $28 million