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Higher-ed budget sails through Senate

Sen. Dan Foreman, R-Moscow, waits for the State of the State address inside the House chambers at the state Capitol building Jan. 9, 2017, in Boise. (Otto Kitsinger / AP)
Sen. Dan Foreman, R-Moscow, waits for the State of the State address inside the House chambers at the state Capitol building Jan. 9, 2017, in Boise. (Otto Kitsinger / AP)

BOISE – Citing the “left wing” ideology and inappropriate “political agenda” of Idaho’s public colleges and universities, two conservative senators voted against state funding for the institutions Monday.

Sen. Dan Foreman, R-Moscow, voted against the fiscal 2019 college and university budget, which includes funding for the University of Idaho.

Unlike last year, when he was the only senator to oppose the college and university budget, Foreman was joined this year by Sen. Steve Vick, R-Dalton Gardens.

“I was talking with a student at one of our public universities,” Vick said during Monday’s brief floor debate. “She said her (sociology) professor spent the first 45 minutes on the first day of class telling her what a rotten person President Trump was and how unfortunate it was for the country that he’d been elected. I think our universities have gotten a little too involved in a political agenda and less in educating students. I’ll be voting no.”

Foreman said he agreed with Vick entirely.

“It’s wrong to take public dollars to push a political agenda,” he said. “I think UI does that – and it’s a left-wing, exceedingly liberal agenda. I don’t object to a liberal viewpoint, but I want to see balance.”

The 2019 budget calls for $576.8 million in total funding for the state’s four public colleges and universities. That includes $295.8 million in general fund support and $281 million in tuition and other dedicated and federal funding sources.

The budget represents a 3 percent, $8.7 million increase in taxpayer support.

Specific line items include $186,400 and two full-time positions for Lewis-Clark State College, to hire a social work professor and a career counselor and provide salary competitiveness for existing counselors.

The University of Idaho, which has a self-funded health insurance program, will receive $1.2 million to offset the cost of a two-month premium holiday that was approved for other state agencies.

As he did last year, Foreman cited “waste” as another major reason for opposing the budget.

“I view myself as a steward of the public dollar,” he said. “I’m not necessarily against some of the things in the budget, but they can fund them internally. And this idea that ‘it’s for education, it’s for UI, you have to approve it’ – that’s a dangerous concept. I wouldn’t be doing my job if I just approved it.”

UI is the largest employer in Foreman’s district.

In a statement released Monday afternoon, UI President Chuck Staben said state investment in higher education “is an important part of economic development for our state and increases access and success for Idaho’s students. As president, I’m disappointed that legislators would not support such a worthwhile investment.”

The college and university budget passed on a 33-2 vote; it now goes to the House for further action.

 

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