Legislative budget writers set one of the state’s most significant budgets this morning, for the state’s colleges and universities. The successful motion shows a 3.8 percent increase in state general funds – well below Gov. Butch Otter’s recommendation for a 5 percent hike – and a 4.4 percent increase in total funds. The biggest difference between the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee’s action and the governor’s budget recommendation concerns a request for $6.8 million for “performance funding” that the state Board of Education would begin doling out to the universities based on new performance measures. The governor recommended half that amount; the joint committee didn’t provide any funds for that.
“I think a majority feel like it may be a good idea, but it’s not fully fleshed out,” said JFAC Co-Chair Dean Cameron, R-Rupert. “It seemed a little premature to put money in it when there’s so many other demands and needs.”
That was partly offset in the approved budget by funneling an additional $1,365,400 into the enrollment workload adjustment for the colleges and universities – which they identified as their No. 1 funding priority. That brings the EWA funding for next year to $5 million, up from the governor’s recommended level of $3.6 million. The State Board of Education is charged with allocating those funds through a formula. “The university was very, very happy with that, and I think the distribution will be done fairly,” said Sen. Roy Lacey, D-Pocatello.
Sen. Dan Johnson, R-Lewiston, offered a competing budget motion that left out that additional enrollment workload boost. “I don’t see the need” to exceed the governor’s recommendation and even the universities’ original request for that line item, he said. “It’s just not something I can support.” But his proposal was voted down, 5-15.
The EWA formula is keyed to enrollment increases at the various state universities; they’ve been complaining for years about past years’ installments that weren’t funded and never were made up, though they still have the additional students. Said Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, “Their first priority is workload adjustment – that gives them the greatest deal of flexibility.”
Rep. Jeff Thompson, R-Idaho Falls, who with Lacey proposed the successful budget motion, said, “I believe that this motion is straightforward.” The approved higher ed budget totals $236.5 million in state general funds, $465.9 million in total funds. It includes $2.5 million in occupancy costs for new buildings at BSU, ISU and the U of I, as did the governor’s recommendation. Like his proposal, it leaves out a slew of other requests from the universities, from $9.5 million to address funding equity issues to $2 million for a new “Complete College Idaho” initiative to address remediation, retention and completion rates for students.
Also not funded was a request for $400,000 to add a second-year law school program in Boise for the University of Idaho. “I have a strong sense that there’s support for the concept, but perhaps not this year,” said Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow. “I would just like to remind the body that this is something that we need to be thinking about. … The fact is, this is Idaho’s public law school. … I think the dean made a good point that we are having to import lawyers that are prepared someplace else, because we don’t have the capacity here in Idaho.”