Abbott: Future funding cuts unacceptable

In an hour-long talk that touched on everything from the accomplishments of students and faculty to building improvement projects and enrollment, President James Abbott discussed both the strengths and the challenges facing the University of South Dakota in the coming year during his annual State of the University address.

One of those challenges continues to be higher education funding in the state, he told a capacity crowd of university faculty and staff in Farber Hall Wednesday afternoon.

Abbott noted that he hopes spending cutbacks won't again be necessary later this year when it's time to work on USD's next fiscal year budget.

"I think we have been great stewards of our resources," Abbott said. "We've had two budget reductions in the last two years," adding that it is difficult to predict how strong or weak South Dakota's future budget will be. "There is still a question of how much the governor accepts in federal funds and what can be replaced."

State general funds totaling $30 million constitute 25 percent of USD's budget, and an additional $17 million makes up 31 percent of the Sanford School of Medicine budget.

There is a possibility that the $47 million USD received from the state's general fund could be cut by 10 percent, Abbott said. "If that were necessary, as the governor has sometimes alluded to, we'd be talking about a $4.7 million cut. That just is absolutely not doable in my view.

"In fact, in my view, we ought to push strongly for at worst a flat budget this year, and I will personally support a 2 percent raise, even a 1 percent raise … a 2 percent raise will cost about $1.4 million," he said.

USD staff has had to live the last two years with no raises in pay, Abbott said.

"We shouldn't have to go a third (year with no raises). I think we have to hold fast on that, and I think we need to let the students know very clearly, which I don't like – that if we get cut again, we have to let the Legislature know that we don't have any choice but to place the burden back on the students. We're not going to cut essential programs and classes to fund a deficit," he said. "We simply can't do that and maintain the type of quality that we now have."

It is time for South Dakota lawmakers to find other areas in the state budget to cut, Abbott said.

"In my view, we've had cuts for two years in a row. We have done our part. I think it's somebody else's time to step up to the plate if we have to have the kind of cuts that have been talked about," he said.

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