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A UNC budget message

From an editorial Wednesday in the (Raleigh) News & Observer:

A stern cautionary note from state budget director Art Pope to the University of North Carolina system comes down to this: This is my second memo about the state budget. You guys must not have gotten the first one.

Pope told university officials in a Feb. 28 memo that they’re asking for too much money. He noted that to satisfy the university system’s request for a budget increase of $288 million, or 11.3 percent, the state would have to make “major reductions” in other agencies.

The university system is seeking the money as the legislature readies to convene this spring to adjust its two-year budget. Tuition hikes, of which there have been too many over the last dozen years, should not be an option. In fact, tuition should be lowered in order to fulfill the state’s constitutional mandate of an education as close to free “as practicable.”

Nonetheless, it’s fair and appropriate for Pope to question the UNC system’s budget request. Peter Hans, chairman of the UNC system’s Board of Governors, gave exactly the right response in saying he and the board “welcome tough questions about how the university proposes to spend public dollars.”

The UNC system is too valuable to a breathtakingly large cross section of North Carolina families not to be well funded. But it must cooperate with Pope because of the practical political reality of the moment and because he has a right as budget director to raise reasonable questions and to encourage the system to have perspective on the needs of the state as a whole.

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