Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Cloudy 30° Cloudy

Eye On Boise

JFAC sets higher ed budget with 8% increase, slightly below Otter’s 8.8% recommendation

Legislative budget writers have set a budget for the state’s four-year colleges and universities – Boise  State University, the University of Idaho, Idaho State University and Lewis-Clark State College – that reflects an 8 percent increase in state funding, slightly below the governor’s proposed 8.8 percent increase. The budget comes to $279.5 million in state general funds, and $556.1 million in total funds, an overall 6.9 percent increase; Gov. Butch Otter’s budget recommendation had a 7 percent overall increase. Not funded: Otter’s proposed $10 million “Tuition Lock” program, aimed at heading off tuition increases during a student’s four-year college career.

Within the budget, Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee members trimmed back funding for the “Complete College Idaho” initiative next year from Otter’s recommended $2.9 million to $2 million; the colleges had requested $13.8 million.  They reduced funding for building occupancy costs from the governor’s recommended $1.4 million to $754,500. And they reduced line items for safety, security and compliance at LCSC from around $200,000 to $71,500; and for the Higher Education Research Council from $300,000 to $200,000. They matched Otter’s recommendations for a new PhD program at BSU in materials science engineering; for an ISU physical therapy program expansion in Meridian; and for a new cybersecurity lab at BSU.

Lawmakers also included five positions and $950,000 in state funding for a cooperative program between the University of Idaho and North Idaho College to allow two-year associate’s degree students in computer science at NIC to go on to complete four-year computer science bachelor’s degrees. That program has been long-sought by North Idaho businesses who say they need graduates with the four-year degree, not just the two-year one.

NIC has reported growing interest in computer science, with 74 students now declaring computer science as their major and entry-level classes filling up and forcing additional sections to be added.

Rep. John Gannon, D-Boise, led an unsuccessful move to add $6.3 million to the higher ed budget to head off any tuition increases to students next year, by using state funds to cover the cost of 3 percent merit raises for university employees and increased employee health insurance costs – which the state is requiring the universities to cover. Under his proposal, developed with Rep. Phylis King, D-Boise, the money would be allocated to the universities to offset the need for tuition increases – but if they do raise tuition, their portion of that money would be reduced to match. “If there was a tuition hike, there would be a corresponding reduction in general fund appropriation, so there would be no incentive to have a tuition increase this year,” Gannon said.

He added, “Even this increase really doesn’t bring us back to where it should be for the colleges and the universities.”

Gannon noted that tuition and fee revenue at Idaho’s four-year colleges and universities has jumped from $129.1 million in fiscal year 2009 to $247.7 million this year. “What we’ve seen happen is a huge tuition increase,” he said. “This is just an enormous burden on these kids.”

“We have a state policy, as you know, of going on, and we’re telling 60 percent of our young people that they need to do that,” Gannon said. “We need to fund that. We need to address the funding of that. … This budget includes enough money so that we would not need to have an increased tax burden on the kids this year.”

He said the result of his budget proposal would be to freeze tuition and fees for one year.

Sen. Dan Johnson, R-Lewiston, said, “I sure appreciate what Rep. Gannon is offering us today.” But he said his review of university budgets shows they’re carrying over unspent tuition and fee revenues from one year to the next. “If we’re charging too much in tuition and fees because we have so much carryover, maybe we need to talk to them about that,” Johnson said. Matt Freeman, executive director of the state Board of Education, told JFAC that the universities are required to maintain a certain percentage amount in reserves. Gannon said he looked into that and found the reserves appropriate, including a reserve ISU is building up to address some serious building maintenance issues.

Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, proposed the successful budget motion; it was developed with Sens. Keough, Mortimer, Lacey, and Reps. Bell, Miller and Malek. Horman said, “I agree that we need to do something, as has been brought forward, about our tuition costs, and I applaud Rep Gannon for the time he has invested in coming up with a solution.” Horman said it’s clear that the governor is concerned about the issue as well. “I believe we do need to have a conversation about what we can do to contain tuition costs,” she said. “I look forward to that conversation in coming months.”

Horman’s substitute motion then passed on a 16-4 vote, which meant that Gannon’s wasn’t considered. The four “no” votes came from Gannon, King, and Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll, R-Cottonwood, and Rep. Jason Monks, R-Meridian.

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

Follow Betsy online: