By Andy Sher
NASHVILLE - Gov. Phil Bredesen said today federal economic stimulus funds will help higher education students and institutions such as the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga "dodge a bullet" this year when it comes to large-scale tuition hikes and program cuts.
Federal money will let the state restore $100 million in funds cut from higher education in the current fiscal year 2009 budget and are is expected to offset planned reductions in fiscal years 2010 and 2011, Gov. Bredesen said.
The governor's comments came in remarks to reporters in advance of his budget presentation to the Tennessee General Assembly at 7 p.m. EDT today.
He said he thinks the University of Tennessee and state Board of Regents systems should hold their tuition hikes to less than the 7-to-9-percent increases that their boards recently proposed.
"I would think they would probably re-think those," he said.
Gov. Bredesen said President Obama has indicated he "is very interested in holding down tuition increases. I think you would be inclined to try and do that to help students through this time."
But the governor cautioned that higher education should not avoid any tuition increases this year or next because the stimulus funds only are temporary, and colleges and universities must avoid having to implement "some big number down the line" all at once.
Tennessee officials are expecting to see some $5 billion in federal stimulus funds. Only limited amounts of the total amount can be used directly to offset the ravages the current recession is having on state revenues, projected to be down $1.1 billion by June 30.
"It allows us to buy some time," Gov. Bredesen said. "We're still going to have to get to a position of being about three-quarters of a billion dollars down in terms of the budget from where we are in this year's budget.
"But instead of trying to get that all done by June 30th of this year, we've got basically a two-year window to get it done," Gov. Bredesen said. "That means we can let some things like attrition work for us and help us. It also means we can be more considerate about some of the cuts."
He said the state only will need to lay off an estimated 80 workers as opposed to the 1,500 to 1,600 originally contemplated.
For complete details, see tomorrow's Chattanooga Times Free Press.