Austin, Texas — Several Texas senators on Thursday criticized the recent $200,000 raise for Texas basketball coach Rick Barnes, calling it “nuts” and “tone deaf” during a state budget crisis that threatens deep cuts to higher education.
The state is facing a budget shortfall that some estimates put as high as $27 billion. Current spending proposals would cut money for universities and tuition programs for poor students.
Barnes’ raise was approved by university regents Wednesday.
“I think it’s nuts,” said state Sen. Steve Ogden, chairman of the Senate’s budget writing committee.
“It’s not appropriate, not at a time when we’re scraping for money for education,” said Sen. Jeff Wentworth, a member of the Senate higher education committee.
Ogden and Wentworth are Republicans with connections to Texas’ chief rival, Texas A&M University. Texas A&M is in Ogden’s district, and Wentworth is an A&M graduate.
But Democrats with connections to Texas also chimed in.
“It is bad timing,” said higher education committee chairwoman Sen. Judith Zaffirini, a Texas graduate. “They didn’t ask for my advice.”
Sen. Kirk Watson, whose district includes the Texas campus, said the raise suggests regents are “tone deaf” to the budget crisis boiling at the Capitol less than a mile away.
“I’m a big fan of UT basketball and coach Barnes,” Watson said. “But at a time when everyone up here is fighting to come up with money to pay for education, it was disappointing.”
The Texas athletic budget is separate from the academic budget, and Barnes’ raise does not include tax money. Texas officials note that the university’s new $300 million contract with ESPN will send millions of dollars toward academics.