State Revenue Update

The first three months of the State’s fiscal year, which began in August, held good news:  revenues bounced upward, a welcome trend after lagging revenues plagued the 2013-2014 fiscal year.

However, the most recently released figures from November mark the first point in the 2014-2015 fiscal year where revenues were less than the budgeted estimate:  $6.1 million less to be precise.  The gap is mostly attributed to a volatile situation surrounding the State’s franchise and excise taxes.

The State Funding Board released a consensus report this month showing that 2015-2016 fiscal year revenues are generally expected to grow at slower rates than in previous years.  They anticipate overall growth for FY 2015-2016 between 2.55 and 2.95 percent, with growth in the general fund ranging from 2.6 to 3 percent.

For contrast, final projections for the current fiscal year have overall total tax revenue growing in the range of 3.45 to 3.8 percent, and the general funding growing between 3.85 to 4.2 percent.

These revenue figures and projections are significant because they will, in large part, require the Governor and legislature to craft a more conservative budget than in years past (assuming the absence of any new revenue).

Several revenue measures have been publicly discussed by key legislators, including an increase to the gas tax and tightening loopholes in the franchise and excise tax structure.

We will keep you updated on the revenue situation as it relates to the State budget and the funding of public higher education.  Much more will be known once the Governor releases his proposed budget, which typically occurs after the State of the State address in late January or early February.

UT President Presents Top 5 Funding Requests to Governor

UT President Joe DiPietro attended Governor Haslam’s budget hearing on Friday to advocate for the University’s top funding requests. The Governor’s budget hearings are an important first step in the State’s budget process, as the Governor weighs testimony from these hearings to develop a spending plan typically presented to the legislature in late January or early February.

The proposed spending plan is taken seriously by the legislature.  Usually, very few major budget amendments are passed. In fact, the legislature did not pass a single substantive amendment modifying the Governor’s spending plan last year.

To put it frankly: Recent history suggests that if you want your major priorities to be funded, they typically need to be included in the Governor’s proposed spending plan. While any budget proposal will ultimately have to win the approval of the state legislature, the Governor’s budget hearings are a critical launch point to the budget process as entities compete for limited resources and other budgetary pressures begin to mount.

State funding for the University is essential.  It represents about 25 percent of UT’s total budget, and despite the decreases in state funding that have occurred since the 2008 recession, UT has continued to increase its performance outcomes, graduating more students and producing more research.

But UT’s current business model, which relies heavily on tuition increases to offset dwindling state funding and fill a growing budget gap, is unsustainable as a long-term plan to continue providing affordable education to students and services to all Tennesseans.

The University is doing its part to address this budget gap through analysis that will result in recommendations to increase the efficiency, effectiveness and entrepreneurship of its campuses and institutes. Read more about the University’s funding and performance metrics here.

What are the major state funding priorities for the University of Tennessee in 2015?

 

budget-01-9.7M-alt-151Full allocation of funds based on campus performance.The state’s funding formula for higher education has recommended UT schools receive $9.7 million in new funding.  President DiPietro is asking the governor to recommend that UT receive full allocation of this amount.

Why: UT has worked hard to make sure its institutions are the top performers in the state in order for the campuses to be awarded funding.  Last year, the University was awarded 34 percent less than the formula recommended.

 

budget-01-7.3M-alt-151$7.3 million in additional funding for UT institutions that provide services to all Tennesseans. The funding would cover the Institute of Agriculture (UTIA), which has a presence in all 95 counties, Institute for Public Service (IPS) and Health Science Center (UTHSC).

Why: These institutions provide services that benefit all Tennesseans. In 2013, UTIA, IPS and UTHSC provided outreach to more than 6 million people. And unlike our campuses, these units do not have tuition mechanisms to increase funding.

 

budget-01-capital-projectsFunding for the West Tennessee 4-H Center ($14.3 million) and Knoxville-Science Laboratory Facility ($83.7 million). The state’s higher education coordinating agency (THEC) has ranked both projects in the top six for funding by the state.

Why: Both projects are critical to moving the University forward. The West Tennessee 4-H Center would provide youth in west Tennessee with a camp experience in addition to serving as a conference center. The science laboratory will provide new facilities to educate students and produce groundbreaking research. The University has already raised matching funds for these projects.

 

budget-01-maintenance-navyFunding for building safety and maintenance.
The University is requesting $53 million for 11 projects that will improve building safety and upgrade some existing facilities.

Why: These projects will ensure that our campuses are providing safe learning and work environments for our faculty, staff and students.

 

budget-01-salaries-tealSalary increases for UT employees. President DiPietro is requesting, at a minimum, a cost-of-living salary adjustment.

Why: The University has a $150 million market gap in terms of employee pay that it is trying to close over time. As state employees, the University is asking the state to help fund increases for UT employees, as their work is critical to the state’s future.  UT employees did not receive a cost-of-living adjustment in last year’s budget.

5 Things You Should Know About the Governor’s Budget Hearings

1. The Governor’s budget hearings are where the state budget process begins.
The Governor’s budget hearings serve as a launch point for the State’s budgeting process. All state departments, agencies and entities, including the University of Tennessee System, will lay out their funding requests for the state’s next budget year—requests that the Governor will ultimately weigh as he compiles his 2015-2016 budget proposal. That proposal ultimately will be presented to the legislature in late January or early February and can be amended or passed into law in its proposed form.

2. The Governor’s budget proposal is taken seriously by the Legislature.
In Tennessee’s recent history, the legislature typically has not made major modifications to the Governor’s proposed budget. In fact, last year the legislature did not pass a single substantive amendment modifying the Governor’s spending plan. The only amendments made were at the request of the Haslam Administration in light of dwindling state revenues. To put it frankly: Recent history and experience suggests that if you want your major priorities to be funded, they typically need to be included in the Governor’s proposed spending plan.

3. Last year’s revenue woes are likely to result in a conservatively crafted budget.
Tennessee’s last budget year closed with a $300 million revenue hole—a hole that may result in up to a 7 percent cut to state departments, agencies, and entities. In fact, at the Governor’s hearings, it is expected that each entity will detail what impact a 7 percent cut would have on its operation.

There is some good news in the state’s revenue numbers for the current fiscal year. General Fund revenue is roughly $91 million over projected levels at this point. But given last year’s mid-session revenue crisis where the Governor had to significantly alter his spending plan, we’re likely to see a more conservatively crafted budget to insulate against the possibility of revenues taking a turn for the worse.

4. There is mounting pressure from all sides.
The Governor is facing mounting pressure on both sides of the budget equation—there is mounting pressure to further cut state taxes, which will in turn limit the state’s ability to fund existing services; and there also is mounting spending pressures behind various state services whose needs have been building for a number of years. For higher education specifically, these needs include, but are not limited to, adequate state funding for the day-to-day operations of campuses, funding to improve academic quality and services to students, to maintain existing buildings, and to address aging infrastructure and growth through the funding of needed new facilities.

5. Higher education’s budget hearing is on December 5 at 2:30 P.M. CST.
You can tune in live to watch UT President Joe DiPietro lay out the University’s key priorities or check back here for coverage. To tune in live, click here.   

UT President Joe DiPietro Joins Panel on Higher Ed Workforce Preparedness

Reliable funding that enables excellence while holding institutions accountable is the single-greatest challenge facing public higher education, University of Tennessee President Joe DiPietro told a gathering of Nashville business leaders on Wednesday.

“We really started to address this challenge when our board met in June, and I suggested higher education’s current business model is unsustainable,” DiPietro said. “Since I took office in 2011, I’ve gotten in front of our legislature every year, and frequently, to tell them it’s a problem.

“It’s what keeps me up at night, so we’re rolling up our sleeves to seek a long-term solution that doesn’t require 4 to 6 to 8 percent tuition increases. We have to do everything we possibly can to ensure effectiveness, efficiency and entrepreneurial approaches to filling funding gaps, all while maintaining our excellence.”

DiPietro’s comments came during the Nashville Business Journal’s 2014 annual “Nashville Ahead” program. He joined three other higher education leaders for a panel program titled, “A Discussion on Higher Education and Workforce Readiness.”

More than 100 leaders in business, industry and government attended, and when asked what business could do to most help higher education, DiPietro had a two-part answer.

“First, be truth tellers. If we’re not producing the product you need, pick up the phone and let us know. We seek to produce the best-prepared graduates that we can, and we need your input to ensure that,” he said.

“Second, we have to commit to high standards for education in Tennessee. To say to Tennesseans, ‘We need to have standards’ is nothing new. Having and adhering to standards is critical to the important completion agenda behind Gov. Haslam’s ‘Drive to 55’ effort. It’s critical that students arrive at college well-prepared, and that’s what standards make happen. I encourage your support for high public education standards at all levels in Tennessee.”

UT campuses already actively partner with business to meet needs throughout Tennessee and beyond, according to DiPietro.

“Our campuses have consciously worked with employers to respond to the needs of the market,” he said. “Industry told us we need more engineers in Tennessee, so our UT Knoxville campus, for example, partnered with Eastman to grow STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education while also enhancing it, and the result is we’re producing more engineers whose education has them very well-prepared.

“The needs of the population and of healthcare providers we partner with to serve the population called for expanding our efforts to train doctors, nurses, dentists and pharmacists. As a result of that, our UT Health Science Center is working with Saint Thomas Health here in Nashville to greatly expand our presence in Middle Tennessee. At the same time, in West Tennessee, UT Martin is expanding capacity in rural communities like Parsons to produce more nurses.

“In Chattanooga, we have numerous ventures with Volkswagen that serve both that manufacturer and students at our UT Chattanooga campus very well, and Volkswagen is just one of many business partners UT Chattanooga is working with.”

DiPietro was joined by Western Governors University Tennessee Chancellor Kimberly Estep, Middle Tennessee State University President Sidney McPhee and Volunteer State Community College President Jerry Faulkner to discuss current trends in higher education to prepare students to be better-prepared employees.

DiPietro routinely meets with business, industry and economic development leaders through formal and informal events. Alumni and industry councils also help campus leaders keep in touch with the business world.

“The University of Tennessee leads our state in helping students complete their degrees, and we are becoming more entrepreneurial in the ways we partner and work with business and industry to provide a well-trained workforce that ultimately benefits all of Tennessee,” DiPietro said after the program.

UT Board of Trustees Kicks Off Discussion on Multi-Year Initiative

Benchmarking, economic forecasts and hypothetical strategies to overcome declining state appropriations and make the University of Tennessee more effective, efficient and entrepreneurial was the subject of the UT Board of Trustees’ Wednesday workshop.

UT President Joe DiPietro had set the stage for Wednesday’s discussion about funding at the trustees’ annual meeting in June. The board’s workshop covered the issue more in depth and allowed trustees to ask questions. The purpose of the discussion was not to devise strategy but gain a better understanding of the issue in order to plan a multi-year initiative.

Projections are that the University could face a gap in state funding of more than $150 million over the next decade–assuming the University could limit tuition increases to 3 percent annually, inflation did not exceed 3 percent annually, and state funding did not increase. To cover such a gap, tuition would need to be compounded to 55 percent or 4.5 percent each year.

DiPietro has said that continuing to increase tuition to cover declining state appropriations is a business model that is struggling, and it is not sustainable to continue to pass along additional costs to students and their families. The University has three options: take no action, get smaller or start on a bold initiative to fix the problem, he said.

“We own this problem. We have to fix it,” DiPietro told trustees. “Change is normally painful for everybody. We will seek broad input. We will make tough decisions.”

Dr. Bill Fox, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at UT Knoxville, provided the trustees a forecast of state revenues, and each chancellor presented initial thoughts on ways to streamline operations and increase revenues.

The trustees looked at data comparisons with other university systems and heard the president talk about ways other university systems and universities have addressed similar funding issues. UT has been using cost-saving measures since the 2008-09 recession and identifying lean processes. Ideas pitched included increasing enrollment of out-of-state students to raise revenue, reviewing academic portfolios, and analyzing better uses of campuses’ space.

“The current funding model of the University of Tennessee is perilously close to broken. Given the fiscal constraints on the state budget, which includes a structural budget deficit, it is unlikely that significant increases in state appropriation to the University of Tennessee will be forthcoming unless the sense of priority for funding higher education becomes widespread and improves. Thus, it is incumbent upon the University to be become more entrepreneurial, efficient and effective, by enhancing existing revenue streams, reducing expenditures, and reallocating existing resources to better achieve system/campus goals and objectives,” according to a UT benchmarking analysis submitted to the trustees.

The board next meets Oct. 2-3, when the discussion will continue. A more set strategy is expected to be revealed at the winter meeting Feb. 25-26 in Memphis.