The governor’s proposal to fund $15 million in new research grants through the Higher Education Research Council for research projects specifically aimed at economic development wasn’t even discussed as the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee set the budget for the state’s four-year colleges and universities this morning. All three proposals on the budget, which were hotly debated by committee members on other issues, set aside just $1.56 million for that purpose, rather than $15 million. There’s already money in the base budget for the HERC, so that brings the research grants for next year up to $3 million.
The issue that caused the scuffling in the joint committee was occupancy costs for new higher ed buildings. One proposal was to fund some; another was to fund more; a third was to fund none. Lawmakers split, and in the end, voted unanimously for the proposal to fund some. They agreed that they need a more firm policy in the future on funding occupancy costs for such buildings.
The budget that was approved sets the state funding for four-year colleges and universities next year at $264.2 million, an 8.4 percent increase from this year. Gov. Otter had called for spending $275.7 million, a 13.1 percent increase, but that included the one-time boost for research grants.