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How Trump’s Deep Budget Cuts Might Affect Maine Universities

Linda Coan O'Kresik
Bangor Daily News
Students walk across the University of Maine campus, in Orono, through a 2017 spring snowstorm.

ORONO, Maine — Maine’s public university system and its army of researchers are keeping a close eye on the federal budget after many federal agencies that support university research and projects were targeted for significant cuts under President Donald Trump’s preliminary budget.

“We have been studying it,” James Page, chancellor of the University of Maine System, said Monday while addressing the UMS board of trustees. “Its impact on higher ed is extraordinary.”

Page cited the possible end of the Sea Grant program, plans to strip money from the Pell Grant surplus, reduced funding for federal work studies, as well as the elimination of the national endowments for arts and humanities.

Page said each campus has been asked to quantify the impacts the cuts could have on students, researchers and institutions. Those numbers will be gathered and organized at the system level.

At the system’s flagship campus in Orono, spokeswoman Margaret Nagle said UMaine officials still are waiting to find out how Trump’s proposed cuts might affect the school’s programs.

“It is still early in the federal budget process and there are no specifics on what or how funding cuts might affect University of Maine projects and programs,” Nagle said in a recent email. “We are concerned about the potential impact that cuts to federal agencies may have on UMaine academic, research and service programs, and are closely monitoring legislative action on the federal budget proposals.”

The University of Maine System likely will use that data to inform the state’s congressional delegation about the likely impacts of the budget if early predictions hold true, according to Page.

“It will likely be summer before we see exactly what pieces are going to be in place,” he said, adding that it’s unlikely everything will go through in its current form. Until then, campuses can look to the past to predict what the cuts might put at risk.

In fiscal year 2016, the University of Maine received more than $47.5 million from federal agencies, many of which are poised for deep cuts under Trump’s early federal budget proposal.

The Department of Agriculture, which sees a 21-percent reduction under the proposed budget, doled out the largest share of support for UMaine endeavors in FY16 — about $6.25 million toward 57 projects. The agency, through the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, also gave about $3.1 million to support the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, plus another $4.8 million to the Maine Agriculture and Forestry Experiment Station.

The Department of Commerce, which funded 40 UMaine projects to the tune of nearly $5.4 million, faces a 16 percent budget reduction.

Also on the long list of proposed cuts are the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities, which could be eliminated outright under the proposed budget.

During FY 16, the university received a pair of grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities totaling about $77,000. One allowed the Maine Folklife Center to collaborate with the American Folklore Society on a project to build a National Folklore Archives Database. The other project used data from the Holocaust to visualize the effects of genocide.

The departments of Defense, Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs each would see their funding boosted in the proposed budget. UMaine received five grants totaling just shy of $5 million in FY 16 from the Department of Defense, plus a smaller $15,000 grant from Homeland Security.

At this early stage of the budget process, the White House hasn’t been clear about what its plans are for some programs and agencies, such as the National Science Foundation, which hasn’t been mentioned in budget documents to this point. NSF finances about 11,000 research, education and training projects across the country each year. In FY 16, the foundation funded 51 UMaine projects to the tune of $19.5 million.

One project funded was a push to promote Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. NSF put $300,000 toward that effort.

The university’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center, which is in the midst of a long-term push to develop a floating wind turbine farm off the Maine coast, sn’t aware of any cuts under the proposed budget that would affect that project, according to spokesman Josh Plourde.

“We are staying the course,” Plourde said in an email Thursday.

The center is in line for up to $40 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Energy, an agency facing a smaller 6 percent cut to its budget, down to about $28 billion from $29.7 billion. Among the cuts proposed are about $900 million from the Office of Science, as well as the eliminations of weatherization and advanced technology vehicle manufacturing programs.

“Whatever the budget outcome,” Nagle said, “UMaine’s investigators will continue to work hard to solicit federal support for their research, outreach and creative activities that benefit the people and economy of Maine.”

This story appears through a media partnership with Bangor Daily News.