The Georgia Board of Regents is expected to announce Friday morning that State Rep. Hank Huckaby will succeed Chancellor Erroll B. Davis, who retires June 30 after five years at the helm of the 300,000-student system. By state law, the board must wait 14 days after naming finalists to officially vote on an appointment.
If approved, Huckaby will take over as the 35-campus system grapples with several years of deep budget reductions that have led to layoffs and program cuts at the state's colleges. The schools are absorbing $200 million in state cuts this year alone.
Huckaby did not return calls and emails from The Associated Press seeking comment.
The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because the decision had not yet been formally announced.
Huckaby retired in 2006 as the senior vice president for finance and administration at UGA, where he oversaw the university's $1 billion budget. He also served under two governors: as head of the state Office of Planning and Budget for former Gov. Zell Miller from 1991 to 1995 and as the chief financial officer for former Gov. Sonny Perdue's transition team in 2002.
The Watkinsville Republican also headed the Georgia Housing and Finance Authority from 1980 to 1991 and served as commissioner of the state Department of Community Affairs.
"The university system, like other parts of state government, is struggling with how you balance budgets with declining resources, and Hank is a budgetary expert," said Charles Bullock, a political scientist at UGA. "Hank would have a very good understanding of legislators and what their expectations are."
Huckaby was chosen after a national search to replace Davis, a retired utility chairman who has drawn fire from state lawmakers over how the university system has responded to potential budget cuts with what some have called scare tactics. One was to say he'd eliminate the 4-H program to cut costs. Another was saying that tuition would have to increase dramatically to make up for the lack of state funding.
Davis also was an outsider to Georgia and higher education — he was a businessman and former chairman of a multi-billion-dollar utility who had never worked at a college.
With Huckaby, the board gets a Georgia native who has worked in the university system and in state government for years. This year he served on both the House Higher Education Committee and the committee that oversees colleges' budgets.
He also served as one of Gov. Nathan Deal's floor leaders in the House.
What's more, he's seen as a leader who can heal the strained relationship between state lawmakers and the university system.
Legislators criticized the system for steep tuition hikes that, in part, led to the lottery-funded HOPE scholarship program nearly going broke. Critics say the university system is slow to respond to budget cuts and quick to put more financial burden on students.
Lawmakers have accused the board and Davis of not being willing to share the pain of the state's budget woes even as other departments and agencies were making cuts and furloughing employees.