Halfway through legislative session, budget decisions loom

President Benson updates Staff Council on CU efforts at Capitol

University of Colorado President Bruce D. Benson updated members of the CU Staff Council (UCSC) on a variety of issues facing the university during the council’s regular meeting March 17 at 1800 Grant St. in Denver.

Benson gave an overview of the university’s efforts at the legislative level to counteract expected funding reductions from the state this year and in the future. Those efforts include supporting or monitoring potential bills or ballot issues that would effectively increase money going into the state’s coffers to be earmarked for education.

The state’s 2017 budget shortfall means funding to CU could be reduced by as much as $5 million. Now at the halfway point in this year’s session, legislators will turn their attention to the budget and an approximately $300 million deficit to determine what cuts must be made and to which programs, Benson told he group.

Colorado funding for education is one of the lowest in the nation (ranked at No. 48). Some of that is due to the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR), which limits government spending and caps state revenues. TABOR also requires Colorado to issue refunds to taxpayers when revenues are above calculated limits, even when the state is facing a huge budget deficit.

Efforts are underway to either overturn or revamp TABOR to avoid the situation the state is in now. In addition, Gov. John Hickenlooper and others are proposing that the hospital provider fee program, which helps provide health care to state residents, be converted into an enterprise fee, which would be exempt from TABOR. Those funds could then be used to ease cuts to some state programs, including education.   

Benson said the university has other efforts in the works to help it be more flexible and efficient in the face of decreased state funding.

“We want to take care of our students and we want the university be efficient, but we’re up against some of the worst state funding in the nation,” he said.

Those efforts include a bill addressing tuition and bond rating that would allow CU and other institutions to pledge up to 100 percent of their tuition revenue to finance bonds, in effect lowering interest rates and garnering better bond ratings. CU also is interested in another bill that would change the threshold (from $2 million to $10 million or more) for capital projects that must be approved by a state development committee.

In addition, Benson:

  • Said the university continues to work on culture and diversity issues by developing a strong team of leaders and encouraging everyone to work together, not only within the university system but by supporting the community.
  • Praised the campuses for their efforts to improve programs and infrastructure. He discussed the continuing evolution of CU Denver and celebrated the hiring of Chancellor Dorothy Horrell. Benson also praised CU-Boulder Athletic Director Rick George and his efforts to raise funds for the Champions Center athletic facility, which Benson said is considered the best in the country by pro scouts. He said the CU Anschutz campus will work closely with other community entities to improve mental health care. “We want to take the lead on this,” Benson said. “It is a huge priority for me.” He also called UCCS Chancellor Pam Shockley-Zalabak’s efforts to bring a National Cybersecurity Intelligence Center to Colorado Springs important not only for the university but also the community.
  • Noted that discussions on the university’s tuition benefit are in the final phase, but reiterated that individual campus budgets are a determining factor in how those benefits can be applied.

In other business, UCSC discussed potential short-term parental and maternity leave benefits. Currently, the university does not have a specific maternity leave benefit other than the federally mandated Family and Medical Leave Act’s specified 12 weeks. Parental leave – mostly used to attend children’s school functions or for volunteer projects – is inconsistent across campuses. System Council has compared CU’s policies with those at other universities, including Colorado State University, and will provide results to UCSC for discussion.

Council members also discussed a state law that went into effect last year that bans “use-it-or-lose-it” vacation pay policies. Council Chair Denise Thomas said she will talk with Kathy Nesbitt, vice president of employee and information services, about the law and its effect on CU’s vacation policy.

Council members also continued to develop a workplace climate survey, which council hopes will illuminate employee issues that can then be turned into council action items. The survey will focus on professional development, university benefits and work satisfaction.

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