Metro areas are not a priority of state lawmakers, Hunter Morrison said.
By JoANNE VIVIANO
VINDICATOR EDUCATION WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- A state House budget that would slash funding for university programs that assist metropolitan areas is "disproportionate and unfair," the head of Youngstown State University's urban center has said.
Hunter Morrison, director of the Center for Urban & amp; Regional Studies at YSU, said that though a tight economy means all will have to tighten belts, he thinks the House has turned its back on metropolitan areas in a metropolitan state.
"We're taking a disproportionate share of the pain. That ripples through the whole community," he said. "This is an amount of about 25 percent, and it will have a serious effect on the Valley."
What's been proposed is a cut in funding to the Urban University Program, based at Cleveland State University. The program assists metropolitan programs at YSU, CSU, Kent State University, the University of Akron, the University of Toledo, Ohio State University, University of Cincinnati and Wright State University in Dayton.
In comparison, the House has proposed an increase over the governor's recommendation for Agricultural Extension Service programs that also help families and communities but do not center on urban areas, Morrison said.
"There's a complete lack of sensitivity to the urban areas," Morrison said. "It's not just the inner cities that end up benefiting from this, ... but the communities that surround them as well.
"The message is that urban centers don't matter, metropolitan areas don't matter and the priorities are elsewhere."
In fiscal year 2003, the UUP received $5.9 million, having been reduced from an original allocation of $6.5 million.
The budget approved by the House would reduce that amount to $4.8 million in 2004 and $4.7 million in 2005. Gov. Bob Taft has suggested $5.7 million and $5.5 million in his proposed 2004 and 2005 budgets.
The Senate now takes a crack at the budget plan.
Cuts will be felt
If approved, the cuts will trickle down to YSU, where the urban center has provided economic development and planning services to more than 80 government agencies, nonprofit groups, health-care facilities, churches and banks over the past 10 years. It will affect the center's ability to partner with these groups to help real people and address real problems in real communities, Morrison said.
Also hit will be YSU's Center for Human Services Development, falling under the same budget, that offers survey and evaluation services to various social service agencies and government organizations. The centers are funded by the UUP, YSU funds and various grants.
"What the Urban University Program allows the centers at Youngstown State to do is to provide service to Valley communities at, basically, below market value," Morrison said. "What it basically will mean, if the draconian cuts come through, we will end up having to reduce staff and charge more for the services we provide."
UUP funding, he said, "gives the community significant resources with which to address the many changes the Valley faces. ... Our ability to be a full partner [with the community] depends on the state of Ohio being a full partner."
Morrison said the centers are the primary way in which YSU provides services in the Valley. A critical issue in YSU's Centennial Plan is "community engagement," which includes joining partnerships to address social and economic needs in the region.
UUP core funding makes up $221,000 of the center budgets. This core funding would be reduced to $179,000 by fiscal year 2005.
The centers receive an additional $119,000 from UUP in competitive funding.
YSU funds a matching $345,000, and grants account for $847,000 more.
Layoffs, changes in service
The House plan would mean layoffs at the centers and significant changes in services and fees. "If the Senate version is worse," Morrison said, "then we're really in trouble."
Proposed cuts to the UUP are not all that will hurt, Morrison said. The YSU urban and social development centers will be hit by a "double whammy" if the House-approved cuts to overall budgets for higher education are also approved, he said. That would mean the centers would receive less money from the university fund.
Further, Morrison said, grants could be reduced because many grants are given to the centers based on the current level at which center programs serve the community.
"Our biggest concern is that the clients and communities we've been serving will be the hardest hit by this," Morrison said.