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2015 March 16 - 11:34 pm

Vermont Colleges Feeling Budget Crunch

Education Leaders Seek 3 Percent Funding Increase

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — Top officials at the University of Vermont and Vermont State Colleges asked lawmakers for a 3 percent boost in funding, with the state colleges’ chief proposing two new taxes to pay for the increase.

They may end up disappointed. Gov. Peter Shumlin has proposed no increase during the next fiscal year over the current-year budget of about $88.5 million for UVM, the colleges and the Vermont Student Assistance Corp., which provides student financial aid.

Thomas Sullivan, president of the University of Vermont, talked up the nearly 13,000-student school’s impact on the educational structure and economy of Vermont. But he noted that, as it has for decades, the Burlington campus ranks near the bottom nationally in winning financial support from its state Legislature.

“There’s a very good story here,”’ Sullivan said of UVM’s impact.

With scholarships and financial aid programs, 46 percent of in-state undergraduates at the school attend tuition-free, he said. Sixty-seven percent of in-state students graduate in four years, versus 34 percent at similar schools nationwide.

Among the economic impacts are 36 Vermont startup companies in the past three years that have been formed to market products and services derived from UVM research, Sullivan said.

The school’s current state appropriation is about $42 million. “We have on average a return on investment of $1 billion in direct and indirect (impact) in the Vermont economy,” he said.

Sullivan added that construction projects planned to start this summer — a new technology and science center, dormitory and expansion at the University of Vermont Medical Center — will be one of the biggest generators of jobs in state history.

The Vermont State Colleges has a less positive story to tell, said Jeb Spaulding, a former state treasurer and then top aide to Shumlin who signed on as the college system’s chancellor last month.

While about 85 percent dependent on tuition, the system including Castleton, Johnson and Lyndon state colleges, the multicampus Community College of Vermont and Vermont Technical College in Randolph Center is seeing tuition revenues falling off due to enrollment declines tied to a falling number of high school graduates in Vermont.

In response to questions from Democratic Rep. Mary Hooper, a member of the Appropriations Committee, Spaulding said the schools may need in the coming years to look for administrative savings, and offered combining the administrations of Johnson and Lyndon, both in northern Vermont, as a possible example.

Spaulding also suggested that lawmakers consider two new taxes to pay for the increase in higher education funding. Applying Vermont’s 6 percent sales tax to candy, which is currently exempt, and taxing electronic cigarettes would raise sufficient funds, he said.

Spaulding told of paying the 9 percent state meals tax on a container of chili at a Montpelier convenience store. “But somebody comes out with a Snickers bar and there’s no tax on that.’’ His tax ideas were greeted coolly by a spokesman for his former boss.

“Vermont is already facing an over $100 million budget gap,” Shumlin spokesman Scott Coriell wrote in an email. “The governor does not feel it is wise to add spending and tax proposals that would make the budget even more difficult.”

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