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Supporters of the University of Rhode Island complain that it doesn't get enough state funding, particularly amid calls for a better educated, more competitive state work force. State financing per URI student has fallen by an inflation-adjusted 47 percent since 2002, one national report said last year.
State Sen. Dawson T. Hodgson, R-North Kingstown, raised the issue in a Jan. 3, 2012, radio interview on WPRO-AM.
Hodgson talked about the state budget as more than a financial document, but, rather, as a statement of values and priorities.
In that vein, he noted, "the amount of money that we put into running our own state legislature is nearly as much as we put into the University of Rhode Island."
We hit the books to see whether the legislature-URI comparison passes the test.
We called Hodgson, who said he would supply figu res the next day. In the meantime, we checked with Robert A. Weygand, URI's vice president of administration and finance, who walked us through university budget documents showing that the state contributed $58.1 million for URI operations this fiscal year.
Weygand said that if you factor in state contributions used to pay debt on voter-approved bonds for some university buildings -- money URI doesn’t see for yearly operations -- the total state contribution would be about $77.3 million.
State Budget Officer Thomas Mullaney told us the part-time legislature was budgeted to receive $37.2 million in state funding this year. Adding in federal funds brings that to $38.8 million. And money not spent last year brings this year’s total budget to about $40.4 million, he said.
The state funding pays for day-to-day operations of the House of Representatives and Senate, mostly for salaries for staff such as legislative pages and researchers.
When we heard from Hodgson by e-mail, he provided figures showing the same $58.1-million that Weygand cited for the state’s contribution to URI and $38.8 million for the legislature.
Any way you crunch the numbers, the state’s contribution to URI is still many millions of dollars more than what it is for the legislature, not nearly the same, as Hodgson said.
Hodgson said the context for his statement on the radio is important, noting that the state’s contribution to URI amounts to little more than 8 percent of the university’s $706-million budget.
"I believe that investing in public higher education must be a priority for sustained economic growth, and I am not satisfied with the value we are getting for our money from our part-time legislature," Hodgson said by e-mail.
Dawson Hodgson said, "The amount of money that we put into running our own state legislature is nearly as much as we put into the University of Rhode Island."
In fact, the state contributes $58 million to URI, roughly $20 million more than the legislature’s budget. That’s not "nearly as much."
Whether Hodgson’s point about budget priorities is valid or not, he got the numbers wrong.
We rate the claim False.
National Science Board, report titled "Diminishing Funding and Rising Expectations: Trends and Challenges for Public Research Universities,"July 18, 2012, accessed on Jan. 10, 2013
Interview, Robert A. Weygand, University of Rhode Island vice president of administration and finance, Jan. 8, 2013
Interview, Thomas Mullaney, Rhode Island State Budget Officer, Jan. 10, 2013
E-mail from state Sen. Dawson T. Hodgson, Jan. 9, 2013
The Providence Journal, article "Lawmakers due for 3.2% increase," July 3, 2012
The Providence Journal, article "Report: URI in peril as state funding erodes," Oct. 1, 2012
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