The 108th Tennessee General Assembly reconvenes for its second legislative session on January 14, 2014. Lower than expected state revenue collections—a factor that will certainly weigh heavily on lawmakers as they consider a state budget—precede the upcoming session. Year-to-date revenue collections are $171.1 million below budgeted estimates.
This session also leads up to the 2014 election cycle—where voters will head to the ballot box for all House districts and half of the Senate districts—almost guaranteeing a session that is shorter-than-usual as candidates gear up for a primary election that occurs on August 7. Capitol Hill chatter indicates that lawmakers hope to adjourn in early April.
Some items the University of Tennessee will be advocating for include:
Full funding of any state-mandated salary increases for UT Employees.
The state currently provides only 55 percent of the needed funds for state-mandated salary increases at UTC, UTK, and UTM (UT’s formula units). Other state agencies receive 100 percent of the needed funding to provide for such increases, whereas UT campuses have had to utilize tuition dollars to cover 45 percent of the increases in the past.
Full funding of the Complete College Tennessee (CCTA) outcomes formula.
The University of Tennessee fully supports the outcomes-based funding approach for higher education and encourages the state to continue funding the formula at 100 percent.
Enhancement Funding for “Non-Formula” Units.
UT “Non-Formula” Units are significant contributors to Tennessee’s economy and help improve the quality of life for Tennesseans. These units, not included in the CCTA funding formula, include the Institute for Public Service, the Institute of Agriculture, and the UT Health Science Center. The University of Tennessee supports the Tennessee Higher Education Commission’s (THEC) funding increase recommendation for these units of 3.6 percent.
Funding to improve retention and graduation rates.
Better retaining and graduating students is critical in meeting the Governor’s “Drive to 55” Initiative. Each UT campus has proposed initiatives to increase student retention, and $2.25 million in state funding has been requested to make improvements in academic advising—a key to improving student retention.
Capital Projects & Maintenance Funding.
There are a number of UT capital projects in the pipeline, but UT’s top 2014 priorities include a UT Knoxville Science Laboratory Facility and a UT Chattanooga Academic Classroom Building Renovation. The University of Tennessee supports the $45 million THEC funding recommendation for capital maintenance. Capital maintenance monies are utilized for projects such as HVAC improvements, roofing repairs, steam line upgrades, etc.
Last year, a commitment was made by the state to appropriate $5 million annually for 4 years to leverage grant monies and institutional commitments to fund the Tennessee Supercomputing Center. This four-year funding commitment continues to be a priority for the University of Tennessee, as the Center will help facilitate the state’s goals of creating and attracting high-tech jobs, making industries in the state more competitive, and having real impact on our state education systems from K-12 to graduate education.
As our advocates know, many policy issues that impact the University arise as the legislative session unfolds, and much more will be known, particularly on matters of budget, once the Governor delivers his State of the State Address.
The UT Government Relations and Advocacy team will keep advocates informed on the most pressing issues via this website and our weekly, in-session emailed report, The Weekly Watch. To access live updates, follow @UTAdvocator on Twitter.