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News >  Idaho

Idaho lawmakers approve modest budget increase for higher ed

UPDATED: Tue., Feb. 28, 2017, 10 p.m.

The Idaho Legislature’s joint budget committee debates higher education budgets on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017. (Betsy Z. Russell)
The Idaho Legislature’s joint budget committee debates higher education budgets on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017. (Betsy Z. Russell)

BOISE – A modest budget increase of 2.7 percent for Idaho’s four-year colleges and universities won unanimous approval from legislative budget writers on Tuesday.

The budget is slightly above Gov. Butch Otter’s recommendation of a 2.2 percent increase in state general funds. In total funds, the budget is nearly identical to the governor’s recommendation, increasing by just 1.2 percent from this year.

Lawmakers on the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee made a series of changes from Otter’s proposal, including shifts designed to make percentage increases for each institution closer to even.

“We really worked hard to reach consensus, trying to equalize and make it fair throughout the various universities, including Lewis-Clark,” said Sen. Mark Nye, D-Pocatello.

The budget bill, proposed by Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, was crafted by a group of JFAC members that also included Reps. Steve Miller, R-Fairfield, and Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise; and Sens. Fred Martin, R-Boise, and Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls.

“We had a very large, engaged working group working on these motions,” Horman said. “We have done a lot of homework here and asked some good questions. One of the issues that always comes up is equity between the institutions, and to the extent that you see differences in this budget, that is the reason.”

Idaho’s public four-year colleges and universities are the University of Idaho in Moscow; Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston; Boise State University; and Idaho State University in Pocatello.

Lawmakers agreed with Otter’s proposal to fund a long list of selected requests from universities, with three changes: They added $200,000 in one-time funding to Idaho State University for the planning and design of the Center for Education Innovation in partnership with the College of Southern Idaho; they allocated $582,000 and two positions to the University of Idaho for the first phase of its planned library investment; and they added $133,900 to Otter’s $204,600 proposal for Lewis-Clark State College to expand advising and career readiness, including its Work Scholars Program.

Wintrow noted that Otter has appointed a task force on higher education to guide future funding allocations and priorities. “I look forward to when the task force meets … and we can increase that percentage more, because education is such an important investment in our future,” she said.

The higher education budget won unanimous support from the joint committee. It still needs approval in the House and Senate and the governor’s signature to become law, but budget bills rarely change once they’re set by the joint committee. The budget for next year is $287.1 million in state general funds, $563.3 million total.

That’s in addition to a $35 million statewide college campus building program that Otter’s proposing; lawmakers haven’t yet taken up that request, which is in the state’s Permanent Building Fund budget.

JFAC also set the budget for community colleges, including North Idaho College, on Tuesday, settling on a figure that’s just $128,700 higher than the governor’s recommendation, thanks to that amount being added for the College of Western Idaho to better reflect its increasing enrollment.

Wintrow said, “We’re just trying to be fair and equalize the balance out for everyone.”

The $39.4 million general fund budget for community colleges for next year reflects a 6.7 percent increase over this year; the small addition was enough to bump up the percentage from Otter’s recommended 6.4 percent increase.

At an earlier budget hearing, College of Western Idaho President Bert Glandon said his fast-growing college is “desperate” for more state funding, as its enrollment has swelled from 1,200 students in 2009 to nearly 25,000 this year.

The budget covers Idaho’s three community colleges, CWI in the Treasure Valley, NIC in Coeur d’Alene and the College of Southern Idaho in Twin Falls. The budget includes only the state funding and state liquor fund distributions to the colleges. Nearly 70 percent of Idaho’s community college funding comes from local property taxpayers.

At NIC, as recommended by the governor, the budget for next year includes funding for a Title IX coordinator and for technology to help students with disabilities access materials, including curriculum materials.

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