COLUMBIA -- State agency heads are being told to pare their current budgets by 5 percent to 10 percent in planning for the next fiscal year.
The cuts are a contingency to deal with declining state tax revenue and a souring economy.
State Rep. Chip Limehouse, R-Charles- ton, who chairs the Higher Education Subcommittee in the House, said Wednesday he is trying to make college presidents prepare for a worst-case scenario. He said he hopes such a plan will not be necessary.
Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg, also serves on the Ways and Means Committee. She said all state agency heads are being told to prepare for budget cuts in the year that will begin July 1.
"I'd rather the agency heads make decisions about what to cut than to leave it to our subcommittees," Cobb-Hunter said.
Clemson University president Jim Barker delivered his proposal for a $20 million increase in state appropriations for his university's operations. He said it might require a 25 percent increase in tuition if the university's board decided to make up the shortfall with increased student fees.
Clemson's tuition and fees total $10,370 per year. A 25 percent tuition increase would boost that figure to $12,963.
Barker was not suggesting Clemson would invoke such a large student fee increase; just that it would take that much to make up for a 5 percent cut and provide the additional $20 million.
Put differently, he said a 5 percent budget cut without offsetting revenue could require the closing of one of the university's five colleges.
"We'd rather do anything than raise tuition -- except lower the quality of a Clemson education," Barker said.
The state universities were hit by sharp cuts in state appropriations in the recession that hit South Carolina's economy after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Some say they have not had their state funding restored to 2001 levels. For Winthrop University, that gap is $1.9 million annually.
Winthrop spokeswoman Rebecca Masters described its budget proposal for next year as a "catch up" request.
All the state universities are experiencing growth and trying to cope with aging facilities. The University of South Carolina on Tuesday proposed adding $20 million in state appropriations for operations. USC and Clemson each proposed $65 million to pay for renovations or new facilities.
One of the items the two research universities proposed was a third year of funding -- $4.8 million apiece -- to hire new and replacement faculty. The hiring of hundreds of new faculty members is transforming both campuses and will shape the institutions for a generation.
Having the money "has really made us more competitive in recruiting new faculty," Barker said.
South Carolina State University also proposed additional funding next year of $108 million. The historically black institution in Orangeburg was the only state college that did not increase its tuition this year. Its board cut spending 5 percent to balance the budget.
"We can't pass that on to our students," chief financial officer John Smalls said.
Limehouse did not question whether there would be spending reductions -- just how much.
"Right now, it looks like a $40 million deficit, and the economy does not look rosy," Limehouse said. "We are trying to keep these institutions user-friendly."