Another way (out of the many possible ways) to look at the impact of budget cuts

You’ll note that one of the top stories I chose today was one that said the House budget envisions cuts that would mean the elimination of 1,000 state jobs.

That’s one way to look at it. Describing anything as big and complex as the state budget in a way that is comprehensible demands a certain blind-men-and-the-elephant approach: You stake out a perspective and describe in those terms.

Here’s another way to look at it: You’ll recall that, last spring, I wrote about just how deeply public higher education in South Carolina had already been cut. A sample from that piece, which was inspired by what I’d heard at a budget hearing over at the State House:

  • 17 percent – the amount of the University of South Carolina’s funding that now comes from state appropriations. Our state’s major research universities now get less than a fifth of their funding from state appropriations. In recent years, those in the know have stopped calling them “state institutions” and started calling them “state-assisted.” We’ve now reached the point at which even that seems like an overstatement.
  • 1st – South Carolina’s ranking in percentage of higher education funding cut last year. South Carolina, before the December and March reductions, had cut 17.7 percent from higher education budgets. (After those cuts, it has slashed higher ed budgets 24 percent.) The second worst state was Alabama, at 10.5 percent.
  • 38th – Our state’s ranking for higher ed funding before the past year’s nation-leading cuts.
  • 1995 – The last year that state appropriations, as a dollar amount, equaled the current level, before adjusting for inflation.
  • 1973 – The year that matches the current level of funding, once you adjust for inflation. (Think for a moment what North Carolina and Georgia have done in higher education since 1973, pulling light years ahead of South Carolina.)
  • $29 million – The value of one grant (from the National Institutes of Health) brought in by a single one of the 13 endowed chair holders at the Medical University of South Carolina.
  • 25 – New technology companies started by USC faculty in the years since the endowed chairs program started, which places the university 19th among public institutions in the nation in number of start-ups.
  • 50,000 – S.C. jobs provided directly or indirectly by USC.
  • 11 percent – South Carolina unemployment rate in February.
  • 43rd – South Carolina’s national ranking for percentage of adult population with college educations.

Since then, of course, higher ed has received some stimulus money that our governor did everything but lie down in the road to prevent coming to our state. But that has generally gone to one-time needs — deferred maintenance and such, or one time programs. The institution I’m most familiar with, USC, was very particular about not devoting that temporary boost to recurring needs. So basically, the things that were hurting before the stimulus are still hurting.

Since I wrote those bullets above, there have been further cuts to recurring funding, bringing that nation-leading 24 percent above to 32 percent.

Now I hear USC is bracing for another 21 percent in cuts, which would bring the cuts since July 2008 to 46 percent.

Remember that before any of the cuts came, higher ed was already seriously underfunded in this state, which is one of the reasons why our economy lagged behind those of North Carolina and Georgia even in good times. Our governor doesn’t believe public colleges and universities should concern themselves with economic development, but people who actually know something about economic development understand that the connection is inevitable, no matter what administrators and governors choose to concern themselves with. Any state where higher ed is neglected can look for little economic growth today.

We started out behind the rest of the country, and then had cut our investment in higher ed more than any other state had when we had cut 24 percent. At 46 percent, how much farther behind will we fall? Those figures, unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately for our short-term happiness) are not available yet.

Now, whether we’re talking about higher ed, or corrections, or K-12 education, or mental health, or environmental protection or whatever, it’s understandable that a certain amount of belt-tightening will occur in hard times. No one has to tell me, after a year of unemployment, about the necessity of changing one’s expectations and adjusting spending.

But as we go into our, what, third or fourth year in a row of cuts upon cuts, it would be really nifty if someone in state government would assure us that there is truly a rhyme and reason, a strategy, behind our actions, one arising from a vision that extends beyond the current crisis. I’d like to hear how we’re going to rethink taxing and spending to make sure we fund essential services in a way that positions our state to be ready to take advantage of the economic recovery when it comes, instead of lying prostrate in the ruins — which, unfortunately, seems to be the general outlook at this point.

24 thoughts on “Another way (out of the many possible ways) to look at the impact of budget cuts

  1. David

    Disgusting. I wish North Carolina or Georgia would annex the northwest corner of this state and take with it my beloved Clemson University.

  2. Kathryn Fenner

    and then the Legislature gets mad that so many out-of-state students, who pay a lot more money, are admitted and little Ravenel Moultrie didn’t get in….

  3. Steve Gordy

    A lot of experience shows that two of the strongest positive correlates for vigorous economic growth are vibrant institutions of higher education and fast-growing cities (think Austin, Raleigh, Denver). Sadly, the powers that be don’t think SC needs either.

  4. Doug Ross

    Could you possibly have found a source for your “facts” who wasn’t the head of the universities looking to get more tax dollars? They aren’t what you would call unbiased sources.

    Why do you keep trying to blame Sanford for the higher ed funding issues? He has NOTHING to do with the funding.

    All the money required to fund higher education to the level you would like is available today. All it will take is for Mr. Harrell and Leatherman to make it happen. Why are you SO afraid to mention their names whenever it comes to fixing issues with taxes and funding? Sanford couldn’t give another dime to the schools even if he wanted to.

    In fact, maybe if USC hadn’t shot its wad on Innovista or spent so much money on assistant football coaches and women’s basketball coaches, there might be more money available to do something radical like keep tuition costs down or educate students.

    You should also disclose any professional relationship with the schools if you want to be taken seriously.

  5. Brad Warthen

    1. I didn’t cite a source. I suppose you’re referring to the earlier piece I linked to, which cited testimony from the three research university presidents, and the head of the CHE. Not only do I consider them the most credible, knowledgeable sources for the figures in that piece, but so do the lawmakers they were testifying to. I wrote that back in March 2009, and no one has challenged the numbers yet.
    2. I don’t know why it bothers you so much when I hold the governor accountable for the outrageous stands he takes. I suppose I could have just not mentioned him when I got into the subject of universities as engines of economic development, but it seemed to me that it would be highly relevant to my readers to know at that point that the highest elected official in our state, the man with the bulliest pulpit, does not believe colleges should concern themselves with economic development. It’s also important to let people know, in case they’ve forgotten, that he stood alone against the legislative leadership on the issue of the stimulus funds.
    3. Bobby Harrell and Hugh Leatherman believe strongly in public higher education and its mission as a driver of economic development. Bobby Harrell has almost singlehandedly preserved funding for endowed chairs, year after year, in the face of constant assaults on the money from the governor. Leatherman was pretty much the point man against Sanford on the stimulus money. Has either one of them broken with the rest of the GOP caucus to advocate for spending on higher ed on the level of NC or Georgia? No. But the worst that can be said about them with regard to higher ed is that they haven’t done enough. They have not been hostile to its interests or its mission. Someone else has. Guess who?
    4. USC gets about 15 percent of its funding from state taxes. That’s why tuition is high. And they still call it a state institution. Laughable.
    5. I have no professional relationship with the schools. You’re thinking of some contract work I did for USC last year. That contract ended on June 30. That was eight months ago.

    So I think you can confidently take me seriously. I know what I’m talking about.

  6. j

    Brad, Thanks for your efforts to educate the masses. Sometimes it’s like throwing your pearls before the swine.

  7. Doug Ross

    Here’s what Bobby Harrell is up to in terms of education:

    “Less than a month after a key legislative subcommittee voted unanimously to scrap funding for South Carolina’s inefficient, ineffective Education Oversight Committee, S.C. Speaker of the House Bobby Harrell has successfully pressured budget writers to reinsert funding for the agency into the state spending plan.

    By a non-recorded 13-9 tally, the House Ways and Means Committee voted last Thursday to restore nearly $2 million for the administrative costs of the EOC.”

    $2 million for a useless bureacracy. That’s probably Sanford’s fault, too.

    And you give Harrell a complete pass on Innovista despite its failures (overspending, mismanagement, wrong technology choice).

    How much more money do you think the legislature would have spent on higher ed HAD Sanford said he was for it? I’d put the over/under at $1.00 and bet the under.

  8. Doug Ross

    “By a non-recorded 13-9 tally”

    Under what circumstances should an elected official EVER be allowed to cast a non-recorded vote?

    The SC legislature is the problem, folks.

  9. Brad Warthen

    Doug, this is going to come as a terrible shock to you, but I consider the Innovista to be a wonderful idea. Was, is, and will be a wonderful idea. If there are problems with it, you fix them. The problem is not with the idea itself.
    And Doug, where did you get the idea that the EOC — which was created to guide the accountability process in public education — is a “useless bureaucracy?” Oh. I see where you got that idea…

  10. Doug Ross

    Uh, Brad, the legislative subcommittee voted unanimously to kill the EOC. What has the EOC done to justify itself? They created PACT, I assume, which was abandoned as soon as the schools couldn’t cherry pick a good number out of the muck any more (and conveniently coincided with Jim Rex’s election so he wouldn’t have any bad news during his multi-year run for governor).

    Bobby Harrell pulled strings (including the inexcusable non-recorded vote) to bring it back.

    Which of those facts do you disagree with?

    Hey, I know Will Folks exposing the true behind-the-scenes activities of the legislature doesn’t sync with your sense of decorum but he does more to shine the light on government in a week than The State does in a year.

  11. Doug Ross

    and your support of Innovista and EOC is just another example of your love of process and ideas over actions and results.

  12. Doug Ross

    From The State’s salary database, a query showing the state employees being paid more than $200K per year returns 138 names. 95% of those names are associated with USC, Clemson, or MUSC. So SOME people are doing just fine in higher ed.

  13. Matthew B. W.

    I believe the state funds are down to 12.5 percent of USC’s budget (at least, after the newest budget cuts).

  14. Kathryn Fenner

    @Doug– I hate athletics. Loathe them, resent them, etc…but I understand they are a separate financial entity from the Universities and actually contribute more to the bottom line than they cost…

    and if you want top quality executives, you have to pay them, or they go to industry. Same reason computer science professors make more than philosophy professors–availability of higher-paying substitute employment…

    Innovista was a great idea, except for its narrow focus on acceptable industries and the “build it and they will come” initial marketing strategy that wasted precious time and ran it into the recession economy. There are still useful, well-constructed buildings that will not go vacant long after a recovery.

  15. Matthew B. W.

    Kathryn, not only do Athletics contribute more than they cost, they provide more money to the University than all of the state appropriations. Another tid-bit I picked up today is that the additional cuts in state appropriations for the next fiscal year is exactly (to the dollar) the amount the University is getting from the stimulus money. Of course, the year after that the stimulus money will be gone, but the budget cuts will remain (and probably increase).

  16. Doug Ross


    A great idea can only be measured by the results. Innovista has been a total failure at the expense of taxpayer dollars that could have been spent on more pressing (and less politically motivated) needs.

    When people spend other people’s money, the motivation to succeed and the avoidance of risk is much lower than in the private sector. Give me $1000 and I’ll go gamble it in Las Vegas for you. And there’s no accountability for the people who made the decisions (and the ongoing mismanagement). Who else can blow $150 million and keep his job?

  17. David

    I hate athletics. Loathe them, resent them, etc…

    So does America. Why do something athletic when you can watch TV?

  18. Brad Warthen

    But, Doug — I don’t want you to go to Vegas. I have no desire for you to go to Vegas. I DO want Innovista. So I’d rather put my money toward THAT than send you to Vegas. Sorry.

  19. Doug Ross

    Vegas has a better return on investment. At least in Vegas, I can stop losing money whenever I want. They keep pouring tax dollars into Innovista just to save face.

  20. Kathryn Fenner

    @ David– I exercise at least an hour a day, no thinks to any school athletics program—despite being ridiculously tall, I am useless in sports. So are a lot of people, and University athletics are not much University and a lot of ringers brought in just to play the sport.

    When I attended my husband’s reunion at Harvard, I was truly startled to discover that the nice young men of no particular heft who were carrying our luggage were members of the football team. Apparently Harvard takes the notion of student athletes seriously–you have to be admitted on your academics before you can join a team.

    Of course Harvard has more money than Brazil, so….

    @ Doug–The “house” that takes a cut in Vegas is probably not the sort of folk I like to give my money to….

  21. David

    All the reason to not care for them or have no interest in them.

    But to hate, loathe and resent?

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