State support for higher education is slipping with one large exception at the University of Delaware. One department, actually one individual, at the university is slated for a 38% increase according to the latest draft of the state budget. This is in contrast to the state contribution for university operating expenses falling from about 21% in 2000 to about 12%, according to the University’s 2015 Investment Office Annual Report.
The currently proposed 2017 Fiscal Year proposed budget consists of fifty-nine pages of tables of budget numbers by department, and two hundred and twenty-six pages of “epilogue” language. The epilogue pages are similar to footnotes and most of it is innocuous and a pretty boring read. It can also be a place where bad policy goes to hide.
This may be the case with Section 285, page 199, which reads:
Section 285. Section 1 of this Act makes an appropriation to Higher Education, University of Delaware (90-01-01) for the College of Arts and Sciences. Of this amount, $290,000 shall be allocated to the Center for Energy and Environmental Policy for research supervised by Dr. John Byrne as principal investigator
Yes, while other departments struggle as costs rise faster than state contributions, Dr. Byrne is expecting $290,000 to use as he sees fit, not even with direction for what he is researching. The transfer effectively raises the earth sciences budget 38%. Dr. Byrne and the University of Delaware have not responded to requests for comment. A similar transfer was authorized in the last three year’s budgets but was designated more generally to the Center for Energy and Environmental Policy run by Dr. Byrne.
Unlike specific legislative bills there is no acknowledged sponsor of epilogue language. However, Dr. Byrne and State Senator Harris McDowell (D – Wilmington North) have worked together for over a decade. Senator McDowell is Co-Chairman of the Joint Finance Committee that writes the budget, and of the Senate Energy Committee. Dr. Byrne and Senator McDowell jointly chaired the Sustainable Energy Utility (SEU) and its Oversight Committee over the last decade. Dr. Byrne would be expected to consult with Senator McDowell in his role with the Center for Energy and Environmental Policy. The obvious question is Dr. Byrne getting special treatment in the state budget because of his relationship with Senator McDowell. Senator McDowell has not responded to requests for comment.
Senator Greg Lavelle (R – Sharpley) commented, “Based on the fact Dr. Byrne’s name is specifically mentioned in the epilogue language is a unique event, and we will be asking questions”. He went on to say. “It would make one think that authority for use of the funds rests with Dr. Byrne and not the Center for Energy & Environmental Policy”, or the University.
David T. Stevenson, Policy Director
Center for Economic Policy