State Rep. Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, said Thursday morning that despite suggestions by UConn President Radenka Maric that UConn sports teams may pull out of the XL Center in response to the Governor’s budget, the teams would continue to play in Hartford.
“We all, me included, make mistakes sometimes,” said Ritter.
Ritter said he had spoken to UConn’s athletic director on Wednesday, and that he had confirmed that UConn would be playing at the XL center, which Ritter said the legislature planned to renovate.
But Ritter also said that Democrats were not happy about the level of funding for UConn and UConn Health included in the Governor’s budget, and that he believed the flagship university needed more financial support.
“Is UConn going to play in Hartford? You betcha. And do we agree with the president, though, that we’ve got to help them in this budget? You betcha,” said Ritter.
The Governor’s budget, announced yesterday, sets aside a total of $886.8 million over two years for the University of Connecticut and UConn Health.
But Maric said in a statement that the proposals “fall far short of what is necessary to adequately fund the university, carry out our critical public health mission most effectively, and fully cover the sizable costs the state seeks to pass along to us.”
Maric said that Lamont’s budget would leave the university with a shortfall of $356.7 million over the next two years, and that the funds would not cover the salaries negotiated between the state and the university employees. She said that if the university tried to make up for the difference with a hike in tuition, it would mean a 19-percent, or $3,000, increase per student.
On Wednesday, Maric told a university journalism class that if she has to make cuts because of budget shortfalls, she would be willing to pull out of the deal with the Hartford-based XL Center, according to reporting in the Daily Campus. She said that the university spent about $4 million playing at the XL Center and at Pratt and Whitney Stadium in 2021-22.
UConn Director of Communications Stephanie Reitz told CT Examiner that Maric had been “providing
providing an example of the kinds of negative consequences that a serious budget shortfall for UConn could cause and the potential ripple effects, in this case, for businesses in downtown Hartford.”
Reitz said that Maric’s statement underlined the importance of academics above all else at UConn, and, if forced, would target its budget reductions to other areas.
“If that is the case, all non-academic expenses will be on the table, including the financial model associated with holding our games at the XL Center,” said Reitz.
State Rep. Vincent Candelora, R- North Branford, said in a press conference on Thursday that he believed UConn needed to recognize the support it has gotten from the Capitol.
“Harford had invested a lot in UConn, they should be giving back and investing in Hartford,” said Candelora.
Candelora said that the Governor’s budget isn’t a cut to UConn, but a reflection of the fact that the federal COVID funding was running out.
“This is the difficult conversations we knew were coming when the federal money expired,” said Candelora.
In a press briefing on Wednesday, Jeffrey Beckham, Secretary of the Office of Policy and Management, said that the budget for UConn is higher than it has been every other year except last year, when temporary federal COVID funds gave the university a significant bump in funding.
He said the current budget would also take on the cost of the pensions and retirement healthcare in the state’s general fund, which he said would help UConn become competitive for research grants.
But Beckham said that although the Governor’s budget would give UConn additional federal COVID relief funds this year, the university needed to reduce its level of expenses back down to pre-pandemic levels.
“The [COVID] funding was one time federal funding for emergencies to keep the doors open — to pay their expenses, despite the fact that they didn’t have revenue because kids weren’t there,” said Beckham. “They should have been used for one time expenses … they should not have built that into their base. They should not have used that for ongoing programs. So we are attempting to get them to a more sustainable place,” said Beckham.
The Connecticut State Colleges and Universities System has also called out Lamont’s budget, saying that the $922.9 million for the colleges and universities was not enough, and would underfund the system by about $453 million over the next two years.
“The Governor’s proposed budget does not rise to the level we need to create the nimble, efficient, fluid and effective 21st-century system of public higher education that Connecticut truly deserves,” CSCU president Terrence Chang said in a statement Wednesday.
Beckham said that the colleges and universities had seen a 30 percent enrollment drop over the last decade.
“It’s a real challenge for them, in terms of having capacity that they need to acknowledge the market that they’re in … has changed, and they need to make some adjustments there and get to a more sustainable level of state support,” said Beckham.