ctnewsjunkie file photo
Geno Auriemma (ctnewsjunkie file photo)

HARTFORD, CT — University of Connecticut women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma told the Hartford Courant that he would give up his $2.4 million salary next year to help balance the state budget.

“I’ll give up what the state pays me, what the taxpayers are paying me, but guess what? I pay my taxes and I don’t care how much money it costs for me to have good schools where I live in Manchester,” Auriemma told the Courant.  “My [adult] kids don’t go to school there. I can afford it. I want to be proud of our town’s education system. Why is it that older people turn their back on education when somebody paid for their kids when they were in school? We’ve lost sight of what we have to do for other people.”

The University of Connecticut denied CTNewsJunkie’s request for an interview with Auriemma, saying they would let his comments to the Courant speak for themselves.

However, those comments raise more questions than answers.

What good would giving up $2.4 million actually have on the budget debate or the state pension fund? Connecticut is facing a $3.5 billion deficit over the next two years largely due to a drop in income tax receipts and its failure to invest over a period of decades in its pension fund.

Republican legislative leaders say their budget cut $244 million over two years from the university. University of Connecticut President Susan Herbst said it’s closer to $309 million because it requires the university to pick up part of the fringe benefits that aren’t currently part of their budget.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who has promised to veto the Republican budget, is expected to hold a press conference at UConn’s Avery Point campus in Groton to discuss the potential impact of the Republican budget bill.

“Listen, there are things in the Republican budget that I could absolutely support — some of the assistance for local government, for instance,” Malloy said last week. “On the other hand, violating tax laws I can’t agree with, violating labor laws I can’t agree with. Knee-capping UConn I can’t agree with. Sorry.”

That doesn’t mean his budget proposal and the proposal from Democratic legislators would spare the university. Those budgets just propose cutting them about $100 million over two years and would not change how fringe benefits are paid for employees making over $100,000 a year.

Senate Republican President Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said Auriemma is a great guy and he understands his desire to protect the institution, but the response to the cuts has been “disproportional.”

“I believe he believes in UConn, but that’s not the question before us,” Fasano said. “The question before us is the overall budget.”

By voting in favor of the Republican budget, Fasano and a majority of the legislature don’t believe the state can support the spending at the university at the moment. Fasano said they’re just asking them to dial it back for two years as the state catches up on getting its fiscal house in order.

Auriemma, who did a voiceover for a video being used to oppose the Republican budget cuts, said, “This doesn’t mean [UConn] shouldn’t be free from cuts. That’s unrealistic.”

Earlier this year, Auriemma gave the keynote address at a rally of 2,000 Connecticut Realtors.

The 63-year-old coach, who is registered as an unaffiliated voter in Manchester, said if he was in his mid-20s he “wouldn’t live here (in Connecticut).”

Auriemma told the Realtors that he had no intention of running for elected office. During the same speech he gave them a sense of what he experienced when he first arrived at UConn.

He said he was shocked that Connecticut was “the richest state in the country and we had this piece of [expletive] university.”

“There was garbage all over the campus,” Auriemma said.

Over time, Auriemma said, not only did the basketball program become a national powerhouse, but the state’s flagship university built Gampel Pavilion, other new buildings, and “the campus started to look beautiful.”

“And all of a sudden you couldn’t find a piece of a paper on campus,” Auriemma said.

In that same speech, Auriemma spoke about how the roof at Gampel Pavilion, where his team practices this time of year, is leaking.

“It’s just like becoming the original field house I coached in. And guess what, everybody thought, ‘It’s OK.’ Oh, really. The number one team in America is playing in a place that leaks, and the roof is falling apart? But it’s OK. We’re going to win anyway. Don’t worry about it,” Auriemma said.

He also said the XL Center in Hartford was the worst building his team plays in.

In April, during Husky Day at the state Capitol, Auriemma told lawmakers to be great.

“You know, you never get another job if you’re not great in the one you have,” he told the House chamber. “So be great at the job you have. Those of you that are angling for something more, the only way you get to be something more is if you are great at what you have.”

Auriemma’s involvement in the budget conversation is much different than the one former men’s basketball coach Jim Calhoun had back in 2009 when the state faced an even larger two-year $8 billion budget deficit.

During a post-game interview when he was asked if he would give up some of his then $1.6 million state salary, Calhoun said “not a dime back.”