A demand by some lawmakers for equal spending at the state’s three universities could doom taxpayer financing to construct new buildings at ASU Polytechnic.
The Senate Finance Committee approved a measure Wednesday to let Arizona State University borrow $103 million for the east Mesa campus at the former Williams Air Force Base. The legislation backs that with $7.5 million a year for ASU to repay the borrowed sum.
But the package has some new stipulations. It also would provide equal borrowing authority for the University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University, even though those schools have no plans to develop a similar campus, or for spending the money. In all, the package would cost $309 million.
ASU lobbyist Matt Salmon said he fears the effort to provide equity for all the state universities, with its large price tag, could prove too big and sink the entire proposal.
That would mean no money for anyone, and, more to the point, no money for Polytechnic.
The equity proposal led by Senate President Ken Bennett, R-Prescott, surprised some legislators. House Speaker Jim Weiers, R-Phoenix, said he and his staff were studying the implications.
Legislators outside the East Valley and with no stake in ASU Polytechnic want a piece of the spending pie.
Senate Majority Leader Tim Bee, R-Tucson, noted that the GOP-proposed budget has no money for some UA priorities, such as cash to help lure and retain top faculty.
“At the same time, we’re asking taxpayers (from around the state) to commit to this building at ASU,’’ he said. “As a southern Arizona lawmaker, it is important that our taxpayer dollars go home.”
The fight also has divided Maricopa County legislators.
A major supporter of Bennett’s plan is Sen. Robert Blendu, R-Litchfield Park.
Blendu told Capitol Media Services he is miffed that ASU doesn’t have a real campus convenient to his legislative district. The closest is ASU West in Phoenix.
Blendu believes that if NAU can borrow $103 million, then it would put a new campus in his region.
“It will provide some competition,’’ he said.
NAU already has signed an agreement with the Maricopa County Community College District, allowing it to offer programs at the district’s 10 colleges.
Polytechnic has 4,865 students and offers 33 degree programs. The $103 million would build new classrooms.
By contrast, UA lobbyist Greg Fahey pointed out that the House-approved budget has only $1.2 million for UASouth, its smaller campus in Sierra Vista. And that is onetime funding.
There is no money budgeted for projects at NAU. Its lobbyist, Sam Polito, said older structures at the school’s Flagstaff campus need repairs.