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2010 April 6 - 12:00 am

MONEY TREE: Idaho Higher Ed To Absorb $67 Million in Budget Cuts

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Lawmakers plan to give Idaho’s four-year public universities about $32.1 million less in total funding next year, further slashing the state share of costs for higher education.

The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee agreed on a budget that proposes spending roughly $377.7 million on the University of Idaho, Idaho State University, Boise State University and Lewis-Clark State College.

The budget plan for higher education in the next fiscal year wields a loss of nearly 8 percent in total funding, which includes state general funds, endowment money, one-time federal stimulus cash and student tuition and fees.

The state’s general fund portion would drop about 14.1 percent and, combined with previous losses, mean Idaho will be spending about $67.6 million less in tax revenue on higher education than it did two years ago.

Lawmakers on the budget panel approved spending about $25 million on Idaho’s three community colleges in the next fiscal year, or about $3.6 million less compared with this year, for a 12.6 percent decrease.

The budget was stripped of a proposed infusion of cash to help the state’s newest community college handle a dramatic enrollment increase. The governor’s budget recommendation included more than $1 million for enrollment growth at the College of Western Idaho, which was narrowly backed by voters in Ada and Canyon counties in 2007 and opened last January.

“Hopefully when we come back next year our situation is different and we can catch up on enrollment growth at all the institutions,” said Sen. Dean Cameron, a Republican and co-chair of the legislative budget panel.

The committee rejected a proposal from Rep. Shirley Ringo who proposed pulling about $5.7 million from a $25 million reserve fund created for facility emergencies at K-12 public schools and using the money to shield universities from the full brunt of the proposed budget cuts.

“Certainly it doesn’t make a huge differences but it would help,” said Ringo, who pointed out administrators at the University of Idaho in her district have looked for every possible way to absorb funding cuts.

The university announced plans to furlough 2,600 employees during the next four months to save about $1.2 million and help offset state funding shortfalls before the end of the current fiscal year on June 30.

“I’m sure, again, that any discussions that could be had on how to best use their resources have been made,” she said.

Idaho’s public universities and colleges have been directed to scale back more than $30 million in current spending to help the state offset revenue declines. Higher education leaders told lawmakers earlier this year that they have absorbed funding losses so far with larger class sizes and fewer course degree offerings. But they warned more cuts could delay the state’s economic recovery by crippling efforts to churn out educated workers and retrain the unemployed.

The presidents of Idaho’s public universities are seeking student tuition and fee increases between 9.9 percent and 12.4 percent for next year, proposals the state Board of Education is expected to decide on next month.

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