Lawmakers reduce UH budget by $7 million, eliminate 100 positions

Published: Apr. 26, 2013 at 9:47 PM HST|Updated: Apr. 27, 2013 at 1:43 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - State lawmakers are lowering the budget axe on University of Hawaii, cutting $7 million in state aid while eliminating 100 vacant, unfunded positions.

UH's flagship Manoa campus will see millions of dollars less in state general fund money starting July 1.

State House and Senate budget conferees this week decided to reduce the amount of tax money going to UH Manoa from $197 million a year to $190 million a year, a $7 million dollar reduction equal to a three-and-a-half percent cut.

Senate Ways and Means Chair David Ige said the reduction has nothing to do with increased scrutiny after the failed Stevie Wonder concert. He said UH can use money from tuition hikes to cover the $7 million loss.

"As you know, the tuition is highest at the Manoa campus, and their 5-percent increase in tuition generates about $10 million in additional income," Ige said.  Tuition has gone up each of the last five years.

UH Manoa Chancellor Tom Apple reacted to the cuts this way: "While I believe higher education is a great investment, I do understand that there's a need to balance various priorities, so we'll try to do the best we can and keep providing a really high-quality educational opportunity."

UH Manoa has already seen annual support from the state's general fund decline by $46 million since 2008, and Apple hopes this latest cut won't affect classroom instruction.

He said the campus will have to "Try to improve efficiencies, as you probably know, we've been working a lot this year on trying to figure out how to best use our resources, our position counts and things like that."

State lawmakers are also eliminating 100 vacant, unfunded jobs at UH campuses statewide, some of which have been unfilled for ten, 15 and even twenty years.

For example, more than 10 community college instructor positions have been vacant since July of 1995, according to a UH position report.

As of the end of February, UH Manoa had numerous librarian positions unfilled, along with professor, instructor and researcher posts.  Other staff jobs such as carpet cleaners, janitors, office assistants and secretaries also remain vacant.

UH has 500 vacant jobs in total, more than half the number of vacant positions at all state departments, even though the university has just 20 percent of the employees, Ige said.

"We are giving them the flexibility to choose which positions get eliminated so I anticipate that it will have no impact at all in the classroom or in the operations of the university," Ige said.

"We'll adapt, we'll be fine," Apple said. "We'll move forward and I understand the impetus for this and I understand why the state is doing it."

Apple said UH officials keep vacant, unfunded positions on the books for years, hoping money will become available again to fill them.

"One's always an optimist and thinks, 'Well, better days are ahead and so let's keep the positions and then some day the money will return,'" Apple said.

Over the last two years, lawmakers have gotten rid of hundreds of unfilled, unfunded jobs at other state departments and Ige said it's time UH reduces its number of vacant positions as well.

"We just thought that if we were taking out unfunded vacancies through every other state agency then maybe we ought to take a look at taking out the unfunded vacancies in the university," Ige said. "We just felt like it was time that we add transparency to the budget and take a look at those unfunded vacancies and take out a chunk of them if they're not needed."

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