Abbott: Itâ�?�?s clearly
not an easy time By David Lias
Plain Talk President James Abbott has been forced to make some tough financial decisions as he steers The University of South Dakota through the current times of economic uncertainty. "I don't think it's any surprise to anyone that we are now in the midst of the worst economic times since the Great Depression," he told a forum of university faculty members on March 17. "And as a result of the poor national economy, our state revenue is down and anytime our state revenue is affected, USD is affected as well." To put things in context, Abbott told the forum that the combined USD and USD School of Medicine budget is about $161 million. And earlier this year, Gov. Rounds asked the Board of Regents to revert $2 million to the state before June 30. USD's share of that $2 million is $599,000. "That means that it depletes our cash on hand, and it pushes capital expenditures or whatever else we were going to do with that money into other years," Abbott said. "The fact is it's real money, and it's gone." Other blows to the university include action by the state Legislature that has cut USD's base budget by $813,000. "I think we have to be prepared for next year and the year after," Abbott said. "We (South Dakota) had going into this legislative session a structural deficit of $71 million. We went out of the legislative session with a structural deficit for fiscal year 2010 with a structural deficit of $88 million." Noting that the South Dakota Constitution requires that the state operates with a balanced budget, Abbott added, "I don't think things are going to get easier unless times get significantly better and the sales tax revenue and the bank revenue comes flowing back." He identified several areas that need financial attention: • Introduction of an interdisciplinary health sciences major, which has an estimated cost of $140,000. • Investing an additional $300,000 annually in admissions and marketing. • Approximately $65,000 to reinstate funding for the alumni association. "That was an area we reduced a couple years ago. We need to put it back in the budget." • Adding 7.3 full time equivalent faculty members to the university staff in fiscal year 2010. USD also must deal with a $710,000 structural deficit, Abbott said. "We have been covering items that have been budgeted every year with one-time dollars," he said. New custodial staff also must be hired to take care of new buildings that have recently been constructed on campus. An additional employee is also needed in the accouting department. This will cost approximately $340,000. "You add them all up, and you wind up with about a $2.9 million shortfall," Abbott said. "I have asked each vice president to review their prelimary FY10 budgets, and to identify cuts they believe might be reasonable." He said he has requested the vice presidents to at least ask for a minimum of at least 3 percent in each area. "I'm hopeful that we can have this process completed in at least 30 days, and of course we're always hopeful that we can do what we need to do with the least damage possible."