Eastern Kentucky University and other state agencies could be facing an ever steeper cut for the 2008-09 fiscal year than they already are for the last half of the current year.

Gov. Steve Beshear recently announced a 3 percent reduction in state appropriations base for most agencies of state government, including higher education.

Now, state budget director Mary Lassiter and interim President Brad Cowgill of the Council on Postsecondary Education said Beshear’s administration is warning that state agencies also may have as much as 12 percent less money beginning July 1.

A 12 percent cut would amount to nearly $169 million less for universities and community colleges over two years, Cowgill said.

“Obviously, the prospect of losing as much as 15 percent of our state support from one year to the next is daunting,” EKU President Doug Whitlock said in a campus-wide memo sent Monday. “But, if it comes to pass, we will deal with it as a university community in the same fashion as we have handled significant budget reductions in the past. We will do it as a community, recognizing that we are truly in this situation together.

“I will not pretend for one moment that this would not have an impact on our programs and services and the way we do business at this institution,” he said. “That would be disingenuous and you would know it. What I can do is commit to you that we will make every effort — working together — to focus on the core instructional mission and values of this institution and put those at the forefront of our efforts.”

While Whitlock urged the campus community to not be alarmed by the task ahead, he said it is certainly something that needs to approached with a sense of urgency.

He described it as his “highest priority” to address the personnel reductions that will likely be required through attrition.

“This will require us to immediately begin freezing all vacancies and subjecting them to the highest level of scrutiny,” Whitlock said. “We will first look to fill any essential vacancy from within the institution, drawing upon the highly qualified faculty and staff we possess.

“The objective of this process in almost all cases will be a net reduction of filled positions,” he said. “The sooner this process is begun, the greater the likelihood that it will yield the results we want.”

During the coming days, Whitlock said he will be meeting with a variety of groups on campus, including his cabinet, deans, chairs, faculty and staff, to discuss the university’s options in dealing with the issue strategically.

The EKU president sent out another memo Friday in response to Beshear’s initial announcement last week about a critical problem in state revenues and spending that has created a $424 million budgetary shortfall in the current year and a projected gap of $525 million for the first year of the 2008-10 biennium.

The nearly $2.4 million in total reductions during the current year will be met through $1 million in base budget funding for deferred maintenance, $500,000 for recurring contingency, $250,000 for president’s new initiatives fund and $622,800 for personnel and operating budgets.

“My encouragement to each of you as a member of this campus community is to not become alarmed or overly negative about the circumstances with which we must deal,” Whitlock said in the memo. “This is not the first time the commonwealth has faced a budgetary problem that has translated into significant reductions in state appropriations for this institution. We have weathered such cycles before and maintained the strength and vitality of the university. We will this time, as well.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story. Bryan Marshall can be reached at bmarshall@richmondregister.com or 624-6691.

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