The Texas A&M University System Board of Regents reversed course on Tuesday and approved the system's $3.8 billion budget, opting not to pursue a proposed 5 percent cut to the budgets of system institutions.
The regents plunged 11 public universities and nine state agencies into fiscal uncertainty late last week, just a few weeks shy of the next fiscal year. Led by Morris Foster, some regents called for increased accessibility and fiscal responsibility and requested that 5 percent of each institution's budget be given to Chancellor John Sharp, who would then decide if or how to administer the funds.
Other regents worried about the $190 million impact of the cuts and said they did not want to "blindside" the institutions with a fiscal overhaul about two weeks before the beginning of the next fiscal year on Sept. 1.
The proposal was tabled on Thursday, which sent A&M budget officers statewide scrambling to figure out how to account for a potential multimillion dollar budget cut. However, that uncertainty was cleared up Tuesday when the regents unanimously voted to adopt the originally proposed budget during a special meeting conducted by telephone. Regent Judy Morgan was the only member not present for the vote.
In the same motion, the regents moved to create a "debt management plan" for the next fiscal cycle, which will be managed by Sharp.
The only clue to what changed between Thursday and Tuesday was a comment by budget committee chairman Charles Schwartz, who said that, over the weekend, the "regents received additional information from system staff."
The regents had no public comment other than to thank each other, and the special meeting lasted approximately 10 minutes. They did not explain why they wanted a debt management plan or what they wanted the plan to accomplish.
Board chairman Phil Adams did not return a request for comment on Tuesday.
Following the vote, Schwartz, who expressed concern about the 5 percent cut, thanked Foster, its main proponent.
"Whenever a budget is examined, it leads to increased transparency, better process and ultimately better governance by the board," said Schwartz, who was the only regent other than Adams to comment publicly.
Sharp was also thankful, and praised Foster for nearly giving him the responsibility to dole out $190 million in public funds.
"I think all of the staff here will say it's been a good experience for us as well, particularly being able to give an insight into what the CEOs and all the budget staff go through in this process," Sharp told the regents. "Sometimes we forget you all have day jobs and this gave us an opportunity to get into this budget with y'all in a way we would like to do every time."
Following the meeting, Sharp expounded on the debt management plan. He said the plan would be used to give the regents feedback earlier in the budgeting process and would focus on debt repayments.
Although the budgeting process was sidelined and revised by calls for cuts, Sharp said the debt management plan wouldn't necessarily lead to budget reductions.
"I think we can take it and make it more concise for the regents," Sharp said of the budgets. "Debt management is an ongoing thing."