Oklahoma higher education officials anxiously await state budget deal

With the May 25 budget deadline looming, Gov. Mary Fallin urged lawmakers Thursday to come up with a significant cut to Oklahoma's personal income tax. But higher education officials warn such a move could undermine efforts to produce more college graduates.
by Silas Allen Published: May 11, 2012
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University of Oklahoma President David Boren wants state lawmakers to find a balance between cutting taxes and funding critical services.

With the May 25 budget deadline looming, Gov. Mary Fallin urged lawmakers Thursday to come up with a significant cut to Oklahoma's personal income tax.

But Boren warned such a move could undermine efforts to produce more college graduates.

“It's a really defining moment for Oklahoma,” Boren said.

Boren, whose university has absorbed about $100 million in cuts and cost increases over the past three years, said further funding cuts could force the university to cut faculty numbers and eliminate certain courses.

More cuts could also spell larger tuition increases, he said.

The Oklahoma higher education system has seen its budget slashed 9.4 percent over the past four years. In that period, the University of Oklahoma has raised its undergraduate in-state tuition 8.8 percent.

Oklahoma State University has raised its tuition 9.2 percent in the same period.

In particular, Boren said, he's concerned about a Fallin-backed plan to enact a series of multiyear tax cuts that would be tied to revenue growth triggers.

Boren said he isn't fundamentally against tax reductions — noting that, as a U.S. senator, he voted in favor of the Reagan tax cuts — but thinks a multiyear plan is dangerous in an unpredictable economic climate.

Ultimately, Boren said, funding cuts could endanger efforts to ramp up college completion rates.

Fallin has called boosting completion a priority, and Oklahoma higher education officials have set a target of 20,400 new degrees and certificates to be awarded over the next 12 years.

“How can you be educating more with substantially less money?” Boren asked.

Earlier this year, Glen Johnson, chancellor of the Oklahoma System of Higher Education, handed lawmakers a budget proposal that called for a $37 million increase over the current fiscal year.

That budget would allow the system essentially to hold steady, he told lawmakers — it would offset increases in fixed expenses like insurance premiums and utility costs, but wouldn't provide any additional revenue beyond those costs.

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by Silas Allen
General Assignment/Breaking News Reporter
Silas Allen is a news reporter for The Oklahoman. He is a Missouri native and a 2008 graduate of the University of Missouri.
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