UH-Hilo faces budget cuts

  • RAPOZA

The University of Hawaii at Hilo will face cuts to its general fund during the next two fiscal years if the biennium budget approved by the state Legislature gets the green light from Gov. David Ige.

The state budget, currently before Ige for consideration, calls for UH-Hilo’s operating budget to be reduced by $2.28 million in each year of the coming biennium.

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The school’s cuts, however, are less than initially anticipated last year.

Ige in December proposed a $5.7 million cut to UH-Hilo’s funding as part of a proposed $78 million systemwide reduction.

“No one likes to see a reduction in the budget, but it was anticipated,” said interim Vice Chancellor of Administrative Affairs Kalei Rapoza. “So, we’ve been in this budget planning stage knowing there would be some of reductions since last summer.

“With improvement of the economy over the last 12 months, it’s provided some optimism, but we’re cautious about that,” he continued.

Budget reduction strategies that were discussed were not implemented, which signals confidence in state revenues, Rapoza said.

“However, that does not mean we are out of the woods and can simply return to 2019 operations,” he said. “We still need to examine ourselves and find efficiencies in what we do.”

Rapoza said there will be some changes to university programs, but could not say what those programs are.

“The looming budget reductions have generated discussion with academic and nonacademic programs on reducing cost, becoming more efficient and being more forward thinking and responsive to student and community needs,” he said. “Personnel reductions are still a possibility, but I think that can be managed through attrition and strategic hiring.”

Budget work will continue through the summer, but discussions with faculty will ramp up once the school year starts in August, including talks about any pending changes to programs, he said.

Rapoza said UH-Hilo has been operating under “tight budgetary restrictions” for more than a year, with freezes on spending and hiring, among other efforts.

“Personnel is our biggest expense,” he said. “As people have resigned or retired over the last year, the university hasn’t immediately filled those positions.”

The budget also cuts $4 million for UH athletics, $400,000 of which was earmarked for UH-Hilo.

The immediacy of that impact, however, will depend on the level at which competition and travel open up during the coming school year, Rapoza said.

According to Rapoza, UH-Hilo also will receive $10 million for capital improvement projects in fiscal year 2022 and $7 million in fiscal year 2023.

A total of $8.7 million of the $10 million allocated in 2021-22 will be federal funds received as part of the American Rescue Plan relief package.

With those CIP funds, UH-Hilo will initiate a number of “renew, improve and modernize” projects, some of which will utilize the allocated money for design, with construction funds coming in the next biennium, Rapoza explained.

The Legislature reduced the UH system’s general fund budget by $47.9 million in fiscal year 2021-22 and another $42.3 million in fiscal year 2022-23.

That’s nearly 10% of UH’s general fund allocation of approximately $500 million annually, said Kalbert Young, UH vice president for budget and finance and chief financial officer, in an update posted earlier this month to the UH website.

“At the start of 2021, all state departments were anticipating that funding was going to be a challenge,” he wrote. “Some of that sentiment eased during the legislative session with the emergence of significant federal stimulus to the state. However, the end product of the budget passed by the Legislature does not reflect a balance or thoughtful approach to the overall UH budget.”

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The budget passed by the Legislature disproportionately reduces funding to the university, Young said, with the flagship Manoa campus facing the largest general fund reduction and the largest percentage reduction of any campus in the system.

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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