Budget requests far exceed proposal for UD, DSU

 

DOVER — Delaware’s three public higher education institutions are asking for a combined $178.9 million for capital projects, $159.4 million more than the governor recommended in January.

Gov. John Carney’s budget proposal calls for giving $6.5 million each to the University of Delaware, Delaware State University and Delaware Technical Community College, but they say it’s not enough, with UD officials imploring legislators “to reach deep into the sofa cushions and help us the best you can.”

The 12 members of the Joint Committee on Capital Improvement heard the formal appeals Wednesday, part of the regular budget markup process, although the amounts officially requested are far larger than usual.

DSU is seeking an added $93.5 million for various campus renovations, while UD is hoping to get another $60 million for a biopharmaceutical facility. DelTech’s request is comparatively small, with the institution wanting to increase its total by $5.9 million.

The appeals from DelTech and the two four-year schools would, if granted, mark a large jump in the governor’s recommended capital budget of $677.5 million. However, legislators are exceedingly unlikely to even come close to what DSU and UD are asking, especially given that the state has traditionally allocated the same amount of money to each institution.

Each institution has received $28.3 million in capital funding from the state over the past six years.

The requests do make things harder for the Joint Committee on Capital Improvement, which will meet again today and be followed by the Joint Finance Committee the next two weeks. After JFC concludes its meetings, the lawmakers charged with writing the annual bond bill will know exactly how much money they have to spend and can begin allocating it to state agencies and other recipients.

Unlike last year, legislators have money — about $100 million more than when the governor made his proposed budget. Whether that money goes to nonprofits that had their funding reduced last year, to new programs and initiatives or to capital needs remains to be seen, but the executive branch has advocated for using it on facility maintenance and construction, which are one-time costs.

In the eyes of University of Delaware administrators, those funds would be well-served by helping construct the planned Biopharmaceutical Innovation Building, to be located on the STAR Campus.

Describing the chance to build the facility as “one of those transformational, game-changer moments,” UD President Dennis Assanis urged lawmakers to help support an initiative he said will create 1,500 to 2,000 jobs in the biopharmaceutical field.

“Economic development in this state, if we do it right, will be a benefit to everybody in this state for the rest of our lives, and that’s what we’re after,” Executive Vice President and Treasurer Alan Brangman said.

Construction of the building will cost $156 million, according to the university, which plans to finance $96 million through donations and bonds.

In addition to creating jobs, the facility could result in lower drug prices for consumers, Dr. Assanis told the committee Wednesday.

Reaction appeared mixed, with Rep. Joe Miro, R-Pike Creek Valley, stating “If we do not it, someone else is going to do it,” while others questioned whether Delawareans would be better served if the General Assembly puts money toward state facilities.

Skeptical lawmakers wondered if the university would come back with another large need next year even if they do provide the requested sum.

“There’s stunning backlog this committee is faced with,” Sen. Bryan Townsend, D-Newark, said, noting the University of Delaware has an endowment of around $1.3 billion.

“The reality is we have not come every year with an opportunity like this,” Dr. Assanis replied.

He urged lawmakers to prioritize UD over state agencies, saying entities like the Department of Correction come before budget-writing lawmakers on an annual basis with needs that can often be pushed back a year.

In response, Sen. Townsend argued the state cannot afford to wait for many of those things, pointing to the February 2017 riot at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center that left a correctional officer dead.

The committee spent less time on DSU, despite the university’s larger request. The additional $93.5 million it is seeking would cover a variety of deferred maintenance, from HVAC to roads to lights and more.

“It’s just taking care of your car. If you don’t take care of it when it first starts to rattle, then it becomes a bigger problem later,” interim President Wilma Mishoe said after the hearing, calling campus conditions “serious.”

While both four-year universities have bonding authority, administrators from each institution said they are just about maxed out in that regard.

DelTech’s request is almost pocket change compared to what UD and DSU are seeking. The added $5.9 million would go to minor capital improvements, technology, a parking garage, renovations on a building on the Georgetown Campus and work on the college’s Child Development Center.

Several lawmakers spoke in favor of DelTech, calling it essential to the state’s education system and economy.

“I’ve always advocated to say that Delaware Tech is a state agency and we have to maintain those facilities,” said Rep. Larry Mitchell, D-Elsmere, who is chief of public safety for the college.

President Mark Brainard noted DelTech’s deferred maintenance exceeds $90 million, a note he has sounded for more than three years. Combined, the three institutions have approximately $840 million in deferred maintenance, according to UD, DSU and DelTech.

Committee co-chair Sen. Dave Sokola, D-Newark, said after Wednesday’s hearings there is “always a chance” legislators will opt to give the institutions different amounts of money, something officials have avoided doing for decades.

Gov. Carney’s administration is not necessarily opposed to splitting funding up unevenly, although that would be the preferred option for very few decision-makers.

With lawmakers unlikely to provide the universities with their requested sums, other areas may suffer, particularly for UD.

“But in reality, if we get less than 60, we’re going to do something less somewhere else. We’ll have to not address the deferred maintenance, we’ll have to give less scholarships for some Delawareans who need it,” Dr. Assanis said.

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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