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Monday, August 19, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Idaho

University of Idaho president proposes pay increase, tuition freeze

University of Idaho President Chuck Staben made waves in Boise last week by asking lawmakers to fully fund the 3 percent raises proposed for university employees next year – and offering in return to freeze undergraduate resident tuition, which has been rising each year for more than two decades.

Gov. Butch Otter’s budget proposes having the state cover only part of the raises at the university. UI would have to come up with the extra money for raises for employees whose jobs are funded from other sources, including federal funds, grants, student tuition and fees, and endowment funds. At UI, that would come to $1.6 million next year. Staben said covering that would require a tuition increase.

“If there were funds to cover that gap, we described an option that we would be willing to put on the table for the state board to consider,” Staben said. “We think it’s a good option, and very supportive of access to higher education in Idaho.”

The heads of the state’s other four-year colleges and universities – Boise State University, Idaho State University and Lewis-Clark State College – made no similar offer. BSU President Bob Kustra didn’t even mention tuition in his budget pitch to lawmakers; tuition is set by the State Board of Education.

“We don’t negotiate individually with the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee,” Kustra told the Idaho Statesman. “That is the job of the State Board of Education.”

According to the Legislative Budget Office, lawmakers came up with the money, called a fund shift, to cover the full costs of required raises at universities in nine of the past 18 years. But they haven’t covered that gap since the economic downturn started in 2008.

Staben has defended his pitch, which came in his first budget presentation to lawmakers since taking over as president at UI in March.

“I was representing the willingness of the University of Idaho to do its part to help parents and students access the transformative value of a University of Idaho education,” he said.

Staben told lawmakers that UI gets about 30 percent of its funding from the state. Tuition and fees cover 24 percent of the university’s budget and a category called sales and services, such as dormitory room and board fees, covers another 13 percent.

The school spends about 75 to 80 percent of its budget on employees, he said. “And this has a major impact upon the proposed employee salary increase.”

Current in-state tuition at UI is $4,784 per year for a full-time student, plus $2,000 in fees.

‘When in doubt, vote no’

Idaho pays its bills for firefighting after the fact – about a year and a half after the fact, when other agencies responsible for part of the costs have paid up and the net cost to the state is known. So when the latest firefighting bill came before the House last week, it passed easily, 68-1. The one dissenter? Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens.

The bill was for $17.5 million in firefighting costs that were still outstanding at the end of fiscal year 2014, which was July 1, along with small amounts for hazardous cleanup and pest surveys.

Barbieri said it wasn’t that he doesn’t want the state to pay its bills, but he said, “There’s some question about the endowment contribution there.” He said he wondered “how much of that was used for endowment land, and whether the endowment fund should be paying for its own” firefighting costs, as opposed to the state general fund. Barbieri said since he doesn’t serve on the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, he didn’t know the details. “So when in doubt, vote no.”

Not just for roads

Idaho’s last NRA license plate was discontinued for lack of sales, but the National Rifle Association’s Boise lobbyist, Dakota Moore, said that’s because the money from the sale of the specialty plates all went to Idaho road funding. A new proposed “Friends of the NRA” plate will route proceeds to the NRA’s nonprofit arm, so he’s predicting it’ll be an easier sell.

The House Transportation Committee approved the new specialty plate bill, HB 16, last week; it’s sponsored by Rep. Sage Dixon, R-Ponderay, on behalf of the NRA. Under the bill, $22 of the initial fee for the plate and $12 from each annual renewal would go to the Friends of the NRA’s Idaho grant fund instead of to the state highway fund.

The previous NRA plate was discontinued in 2012 after fewer than 300 sold.

Boise reporter Betsy Z. Russell posts updates on the Eye on Boise blog at blogs/boise.

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