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Borrowing another $1.5 Billion for UConn… OMG, Wait, What?

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by Jon Pelto from Wait, What?

According to a breaking story from the Hartford Courant, “Science, technology, engineering and math programs at the University of Connecticut could get a $1.5 billion boost over the next decade, with the intention of creating a pipeline of talent that will yield substantial returns for the state workforce and economy.”

Governor Malloy has scheduled a press conference for later today to explain his initiative, but Kathy Megan of the Courant writes that the so-called Next Generation Connecticut program would:

“Increase faculty in science, technology and engineering by 258 at the three campuses, in addition to 290 new faculty the university is in the process of hiring.

Outdated classrooms, laboratories, research space and infrastructure on the Storrs campus would be renovated and new housing would be designed for the students.

The Stamford campus would expand its digital design program, creating a school of fine arts and digital design and media, while also expanding business programs in financial management, international business, global risk management, sports management and other areas. There would be some money for student housing.

In Hartford, the program would help cover the relocation of the Greater Hartford branch from West Hartford to downtown Hartford — a move that is expected to take place within a year — including the construction of laboratories. It also would fuel a collaboration with community colleges and be used to attract “high poverty, but high-potential students,” a source said, and will be used to enhance internship opportunities for undergraduates and those in graduate professional programs.”

Well at least there is the money for the mysterious move of UConn’s West Hartford branch to downtown….

So the proposal is $1.5 billion?

One would have to assume that this initiative will be funded through additional borrowing (bonding money) since the state is facing a $1.2 billion plus deficit next year and it will be hard pressed to maintain existing services, let alone add major new programs, in the years to come.

As a result of UConn 2000 and 21st Century UConn, the state of Connecticut has already committed to borrowing $2.3 billion – meaning it will cost taxpayers well over $4 billion just to pay back the funds that have already been borrowed.

And, of course, as noted in yesterday’s Wait, What? post, Connecticut is already the most debt laden state in the nation.

But another $1.5 billion in borrowing?

[As an aside, don’t get me wrong. I may be known as one of UConn’s harshest critics but I’m also one of its strongest supporters. I represented UConn and Mansfield in the Connecticut General Assembly for ten years. I wrote the Higher Education Autonomy and Flexibility bill that gave Connecticut’s public colleges and universities the autonomy they now have. I designed and coordinated the UConn 2000 advocacy campaign that led to the state’s investment of $1 billion in 1995. I supported 21st Century UConn that extended that program by $1.3 billion in 2005. And I co-chaired the Governor’s Commission on UConn 2000 that investigated the massive construction, management and financial problems associated with that spending. It was an investigation that discovered that at one point UConn had more than 5,000 students living in dorms that didn’t meet fire code. In fact, the investigation discovered UConn wasted tens of millions of dollars during the first decade of the UConn 2000/21st Century UConn program. Thankfully, all the Commission’s recommendations were adopted by the Legislature, much of it over UConn’s opposition, and the program got back on track.]

But another $1.5 billion in borrowing?

Considering the massive amount of state debt and the unfunded pension liabilities and the lack of sufficient funds for post-retirement health benefits, and the money needed to put Connecticut on GAAP accounting, Connecticut will have a difficult, if not impossible, time paying its existing bills.

Is it possible that the Governor is suggesting more debt be added?

Then again, maybe Malloy has identified a creative way to finance this initiative.

Check back later for more details.

Until then, here is the link to the Courant story: http://www.courant.com/community/mansfield/hc-uconn-engineering-school-0131-20130130,0,4906946.story

Categories: General

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