Legislative budget writers withstood pressure from Idaho’s richest man on Tuesday and backed the Board of Education’s proposed expansion of University of Idaho engineering education in Boise.
And the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee took the step in a higher education support package for next year that exceeds the tight spending recommendation of Republican Gov. Phil Batt by little more than $500,000.
On a 12-7 vote, the committee endorsed a support package of $168.5 million for the three universities and Lewis-Clark State College. That would be augmented by the $1.8 million lawmakers reallocated from the University of Idaho’s current budget for engineering expansion.
Adoption of what essentially is the new governor’s support level put in place another key piece of his bare-bones $1.35 billion general tax budget for the spending year that begins in July.
Well over half that fiscal blueprint has been handled by the House-Senate committee already. And with an uncommitted cache of about $8 million, budget writers were expected to have little trouble putting together the rest of the 1996 plan.
Expanded engineering education was the entire focus of the hourlong debate in the budget committee a day after potato magnate J.R. Simplot made an appearance. Simplot told lawmakers that lack of a full-scale engineering school in Boise was a major reason Micron Technology Inc. decided against putting its $1.3 billion expansion in the city.
And Micron’s largest stockholder warned that without a full-scale school in Boise, future expansions could be lost as well. He went so far as to call for relocating the University of Idaho engineering school from Moscow to Boise.
But committee members, even those who had backed an independent engineering school in Boise, recognized that a state as small as Idaho can afford only one engineering school.
The only option for expansion, they reasoned, is through the University of Idaho program in Boise run in cooperation with Boise State.
To pay the bill, the panel adopted the governor’s proposal to reallocate to the engineering expansion $1.8 million the University of Idaho was inadvertently given to cover an additional pay period it did not have to make this year. Members then added another $200,000 to the pot that will be split evenly between expanding Idaho’s engineering courses and augmenting Boise State’s lower level courses so students can progress to the engineering curriculum on a more orderly basis.
“Let’s forget about Micron” expansion this time around, Republican Sen. Jerry Thorne of Nampa told his colleagues. “It’s lost. No reason crying over that. But let’s build for the next Micron. More will come.”
But unlike Batt’s higher education budget proposal, the committee specifically earmarked cash in the package for a 5 percent pay raise and accommodating increased student enrollment.
The committee also made just minor departures from the governor’s blueprint in backing $28,000 for expansion of statewide access to computerized information and $15,000 in cash for the state match in the Americorps program.
The state is getting $416,000 in return to finance dozens of volunteers in a variety of programs statewide.