The University of North Carolina System is tightening its belt in anticipated billions of lost state tax revenue in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
The budget and finance committee of the UNC System's Board of Governors on Wednesday approved deep cuts to its biennial budget request to the General Assembly.
"We put forward a budget request that shows that we quote 'get it,' " said UNC System Interim President Bill Roper.
The list of budget priorities covers prior requests for the 2020-21 school year and was intended to include arrears for the 2019-20 state budget bill vetoed by Governor Cooper. The revised request does not allow any additional spending beyond base allotments for the current school year, and grows the 2020-21 budget by only 2.9% instead of the previously proposed 6.1%.
Cuts to the Board of Governors' prior list of budget priorities include more than $180 million in operating expenses over two years. These operating expenses had been proposed for new projects or areas of the budget university officials had hoped to grow. UNC System staff say the budget cuts do not account for new line items the System planned to request in the upcoming short session of the legislature.
UNC System Chief Financial Officer Clinton Carter said it would be easier to list the priorities that were not cut out. Those include operating expenses for the new North Carolina School of Science and Math Western Campus in Morganton and the new College of Health and Sciences at UNC Pembroke.
All new construction on campuses will be suspended, saving more than $150 million in capital projects, but the UNC System is still requesting funds for repairs and renovations.
The amended budget also calls for a $45 million COVID-19 relief package to make up for new expenses and lost revenue related to the pandemic.
"We're trying to achieve the right balance between advocating forcefully for the things that are important," Roper said. "But at the same time, not being blind to the realities."
With record unemployment, state lawmakers are facing a bleak revenue picture. Roper warned there is no guarantee that the General Assembly will fulfill the UNC System's funding requests, which go to a full board vote next week.