The severe cuts projected for personnel and programs at Western Kentucky University – one of Bowling Green’s largest employers – will have an impact on the community that extends well beyond the stress on those whose positions are eliminated.
University President Timothy Caboni announced a budget plan Feb. 23 that calls for not filling 40 vacant positions and cutting about 100 positions, as well as eliminating some programs, to help make up a $15 million budget shortfall. The Daily News reported that WKU employees began to be informed about job cuts last week.
Caboni said at the time more job cuts are likely: “This is round one,” he said. “The next phase of reductions will come in April once the General Assembly has finalized the state budget.”
WKU has also slowed down hiring in recent months with a committee only approving hiring for positions that meet critical needs.
According to estimates provided by the city of Bowling Green, a cut of 400 WKU jobs could mean a loss of about $240,000 in occupational taxes paid to the city per year. The loss of that many jobs also has a ripple effect on the entire economy.
While the state does have pension and budget issues that need to be addressed, severe cuts to higher education are not the answer. Funding for higher education in Kentucky has already been on the decline for many years, but the proposed cuts in Gov. Matt Bevin’s proposal are exceptionally harsh. A study by the nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities said Kentucky had the 10th highest per-student funding reduction for higher education from 2008 to 2017. Funding has been cut 26 percent during that time – and that number does not take into account Bevin’s proposed cuts.
The Kentucky Center for Economic Policy said Bevin’s proposed cuts would mean that higher education funding would be 39 percent lower in 2020 than it was in 2008 after adjusting for inflation.
It was therefore welcome news that the state House budget released last week would scale back some of the cuts WKU and other state colleges and universities were facing in Bevin’s proposed budget.
The House plan would return $4,619,000 each year of the biennium to WKU that Bevin proposed to eliminate. Additionally, the plan would restore $750,000 for WKU’s statewide weather network, called the Kentucky Mesonet, that Bevin proposed to eliminate.
The House version of the budget is now in the hands of the state Senate.
We hope that legislators in that chamber will retain the provisions that scale back some of the cuts to higher education.
That would be a win for those who could retain their jobs, WKU and the community at large.