Budget, pension plan are center stage at winter Staff Forum

The budget and the university pension plan were at the top of Chancellor's Blumenthal's remarks--and foremost on staff members' minds--at the noontime winter Staff Forum Tuesday.

"Let me say that I know how hard people are working with the increased demands on our time, and I want you to know how much I appreciate it, the senior management appreciates it, and the campus as a whole appreciates it, as well," Blumenthal began.

After noting recent successes such as the Scholarship Benefit Dinner, which raised more than $165,000 for scholarships, and Dining Services' recent win of a $5,000 grant, Blumenthal plunged directly into the budget.

"Unfortunately, right now, we can't avoid the uncertainty we're living in," he said, noting that universities across the nation are struggling to remain afloat in the global economic meltdown. For example, he said, Brandeis University is considering closing its museum and selling its artwork.

"Nevertheless, we're not sitting on our hands here," Blumenthal said.

Executive Vice Chancellor David Kliger is evaluating two aspects of the campus budget. The first is determining how to implement mid-year budget cuts to the campus totaling approximately $6 million.

EVC Kliger will consult with the Committee on Planning and Budget and principal officers over the next few weeks before determining the reduction that will be assigned to each division, Blumenthal said.

The other aspect is planning for a yet-to-be-determined permanent budget reduction that will be implemented for 2009-10.

"The exact magnitude of this cut will be dependent on the state budget as well as mandated cost increases," said Blumenthal.

By mid-March, Kliger hopes to finalize a proposal for implementing strategic, targeted reductions across campus to be implemented in the next fiscal year.

That said, the chancellor emphasized that the campus will focus its resources to maintain quality and momentum; it will protect critical core missions, continue to make strategic hires, invest in philanthropy and a comprehensive campaign, and continue to strengthen its presence in Silicon Valley.

Regarding pensions, the Regents voted to resume contributions in April 2010, said Blumenthal.

This will start with a 4 percent employer contribution and a 2 percent employee contribution (though contributions from union represented employees are subject to collective bargaining).

Initially, this will have no impact on employee net take-home pay because funds will be redirected from the mandatory employee contributions currently going into the UC Defined Contribution Plan.

Staff asked questions on topics including shared governance of the pension plan, changes to the Arts & Lectures program, approaches to budget cuts, union negotiations, and how the state budget situation will affect campus construction.

The Digital Arts building is still under construction, and the campus already received almost all the money for it that was promised by the state, Blumenthal said. But the renovation and addition project to McHenry Library may be stalled because of a freeze on state money for capital projects. Construction of the Biomedical Sciences Building may also be delayed.