The first discussions on Georgia's budget began in the legislature Tuesday, with Chancellor Errol B. Davis telling lawmakers a tuition hike is likely for Georgia's universities.
Cuts to the University System of Georgia would leave a shortfall that will need to be filled in part by tuition dollars.
Davis said the Board of Regents would need to boost tuition by 30 percent to completely replace the state funds it was losing in Gov. Nathan Deal's budget plan — though he emphasized that would not happen. The Regents will look to reduce costs in other areas and will consider a tuition hike only after the state adopts its budget later this year.
Rep. Doug Collins, R- Gainesville, secretary of the House Appropriations Committee and one of Deal's floor leaders, said the governor has proposed making deeper cuts to the University System of Georgia than other schools. Deal has proposed an almost 10 percent cut for the university system.
"The university system is looking at cuts they're going to have to make. The governor has made it very clear that his priorities are K-12 education ... I believe the governor working with the House and the Senate is going to come through and provide the help where it needs to be in making sure our kids are getting the education they need," Collins said.
Philip Wilheit of Gainesville, who Deal recently appointed to the Board of Regents, said a leaner budget will be a challenge for the state's universities.
"I don't think there's any doubt that in education, as across the board in this budget, we're going to have to make some pretty serious cuts for survival," Wilheit said. "The Regents are going to have to figure out how we can work better, smarter, and for less money."
Last year, the Board of Regents hiked tuition by up to a $1,000 more for students. The increase hit hardest at Georgia Tech, the University of Georgia and Georgia State University, where students now pay $3,535 per semester, a 16 percent increase over last fall.
Collins said the governor plans to make cuts to all departments, but they will not be uniform.
"In the (2011) budget, the average cut is about 4 percent over the different agencies," Collins said. "Of course that's not every agency. Education is less than some others. He doesn't take a hatchet approach to it."
The appropriations committees in the House of Representatives and Senate will be meeting through Thursday with various departments to consider how to cut the 2011 and 2012 budgets.
Collins thinks the budget hearings are off to a good start. Despite it being another tough budgeting year, there seems to be a sense of cooperation.
"I think (Tuesday) could best be defined as all the departments saying, we know we have a funding shortage but everybody's willing to work and make it as good as it possibly can be," Collins said. "I think we had a good day of discussion and we're looking forward to getting into more of the departments tomorrow."
To begin the budget hearing, Deal outlined his $18.2 billion spending plan.
Deal said Tuesday there are reasons to be optimistic; the number of Georgians working has increased and consumer confidence is up.
But the state is also facing the loss of about $1 billion in federal stimulus money for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Deal said state agencies will be asked to take an average cut of 7 percent for fiscal year 2012. That comes on top of three years of back-to-back cuts.
Associated Press contributed to this report