JACKSONVILLE -- April 19, 2001 --
(Reprinted from The Birmingham News - April 19, 2001)
University leaders Wednesday rejected Gov. Don Siegelman's plans to borrow about $100 million by selling bonds to help colleges cope with unequal budget cuts caused by proration this year.
"Fair treatment is exactly what we want. We will not accept second-class citizenship," said Jack Hawkins, Chancellor of the Troy State University System.
"To accept the bond issue is to accept the precedent of second-class citizenship and to pass that yoke unto our successors," said Hawkins, who also chairs the Alabama Council of College and University Presidents.
Siegelman blasted university presidents for rejecting the bond issue.
"It is just plain unconscionable to walk away from an agreement that would prevent professors from losing their jobs and prevent tuition increases," he said in a written statement.
Siegelman said that under an opinion from Attorney General Bill Pryor about a 1995 law, he has no choice but to impose greater cuts on universities and two-year colleges than on public schools for kindergarten through 12th grade.
Using Pryor's opinion as Siegelman plans, proration cuts caused by lower-than-expected tax collections likely will chop this year's expected state spending by about 3.7 percent for K-12 public schools and by about 11.1 percent for universities and two-year colleges.
Siegelman said the bond issue idea was his bid to treat higher education and K-12 public schools equally.
"I agree that higher education and K-12 should be treated equally, but I did not create the 1995 law, which dictates otherwise," he said. "It is very troubling that some university presidents are playing with the lives of their students. If their refusal of the latest proposal stands, it will amount to bigger cuts, and bigger cuts hurt kids."
Hawkins said universities would try to block Siegelman in court if he tries to impose greater proration on higher education.
"We will follow all judicial remedies," said Hawkins.
Gordon Stone, Executive Director of the Higher Education Partnership, urged Siegelman to wait on setting proration levels until the state Supreme Court reviews a Montgomery County case on the issue. Such a review could take months.
Siegelman on Feb. 2 ordered cuts of $266 million in this year's expected state education spending. If imposed across-the-board, spending for all levels of education would be cut by 6.2 percent.
Tom Meredith, Chancellor of the University of Alabama System, endorsed equal cuts. He said Siegelman's offer of a $100 million bond issue mainly for higher education couldn't make higher proration cuts on universities acceptable.
"It sets higher education as a second-class citizenship. We cannot abide that. We will not abide that," Meredith said.
Hawkins also attacked the bond issue plan as bad public policy, saying it made no sense for Alabama to borrow money to get through one year's budget troubles and then spend 20 years repaying the debt.
"It's the equivalent of borrowing money to buy groceries," he said.
Lt. Gov. Steve Windom agreed. "You don't mortgage your house to pay your light bill," he said.
Windom urged lawmakers to rewrite this year's education budget to impose across-the-board cuts of 6.2 percent on all segments of education. But that spending plan, filed by Sen. Jabo Waggoner, R-Vestavia Hills, is stalled in a Senate committee.
Windom said many senators don't want to take the heat for voting for such an across-the-board budget when it would have little chance, in their view, of passing the House of Representatives.
Historically, universities have had more political pull in the Senate but the Alabama Education Association teachers' lobby has had more pull in the House.
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