CHEYENNE — The University of Wyoming Board of Trustees is requesting $5.3 million in annual pay raises for faculty at a time when UW and other state agencies are being asked to identify budget cuts because of concerns about state revenue.
The supplemental budget request for an average 3 percent raise and employer-paid benefits in fiscal year 2014 was approved unanimously by the board on Thursday. The pay raises would be awarded based on merit.
Money for the salary increase must be approved by Gov. Matt Mead and the Legislature, which meets early next year.
Mead has asked all state agencies to prepare 8-percent budget cuts because low natural gas prices will mean less revenue flowing into state coffers. UW, which is the state’s only four-year public university, would face a $15.7 million cut.
The state has not granted across-the-board pay raises to most state employees, including those at UW, in the last three years because of the recession and the struggling economy.
But UW officials argue the university cannot go another year without pay raises for certain faculty and UW Medical Education employees.
“UW has lost ground in its ability to provide competitive salaries and retain the best faculty and staff,” Janet Lowe, interim vice president for fiscal administration at UW, said in summarizing the request for the trustees. “The number of faculty members leaving the institution for more attractive offers at other schools is climbing.”
Mead doesn’t plan to submit his budget to the Legislature until Dec. 1, said Mary Kay Hill of Mead’s office. That budget will be based on a report in October by the state’s Consensus Revenue Estimating Group that will help show what resources will be available.
“Gov. Mead understands the reasons behind the UW budget request. He is not taking anything off the table at this point,” Hill said.
So far this year, 21 faculty members have left UW for employment elsewhere, most going to other universities.
According to UW statistics, 13 faculty members the university wanted to keep left in each of the previous two years for jobs they sought or were recruited for elsewhere.
UW President Tom Buchanan said the 3 percent raise still isn’t enough to bring UW salaries to where they need to be in comparison to regional faculty salary surveys.
“I think the request this year is most likely to be the first request in a multi-year package of requests,” Buchanan said.
Considering the state’s fiscal uncertainty, Buchanan said the university’s request for pay raises is an “appropriate initial target.”
Future proposed salary increases at the university might be greater than 3 percent, he said, “but certainly contingent upon, I’m going to say, the reaction and the decisions of the Legislature this year with regard to this request.”
Sen. Phil Nicholas, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said he hadn’t studied UW’s budget request but he said lawmakers are sensitive to the need to compensate state employees.
“Legislatively we need to find a way to provide for state salary increases at the same time continue to look for budget reductions,” Nicholas said.
He said it’s possible to do both, but he noted there are many factors to consider in setting state salaries, such as the going market rate for each position regionally and, in some cases, nationally.
In addition to the salary request, the trustees are seeking $60 million to renovate and expand the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences facilities on campus.
About $45 million in state money and private donations have been set aside for the project, which is expected to cost about $105 million.
But even as the project is still being conceived, it’s clear that additional money will be needed for more faculty and space in order for the college to become nationally and internationally recognized for its engineering studies, trustee David Bostrom said.