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Budget panel approves big budget increases for universities, colleges

Budget panel approves big budget increases for universities, colleges

Dustin Hurst
March 7, 2016
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March 7, 2016

Members of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee approved steep increases in state spending for Idaho’s public universities and community colleges.

During the process, the budget panel made minor cuts to Gov. Butch Otter’s spending requests, and beat back a Democratic attempt to fend off tuition hikes in the next academic year.

For state universities, including Boise State, University of Idaho and Lewis-Clark State College, JFAC approved $556.1 million in spending for fiscal year 2017. That represents a $35.6 million increase above the 2016 appropriation for universities.

More than $20.7 million of the increased funding will come from state taxpayers. In comparison to 2016, that’s an 8 percent increase. The rest of the money is to come from dedicated funds. Legislators hiked spending from dedicated accounts by 5.7 percent.

JFAC’s budget hikes weren’t nearly as steep as they could have been. Legislators stripped out Otter’s $10 million proposal to help college students lock-in tuition rates at the state’s four-year universities. That plan, which Otter called Tuition Lock and touted earlier this year in his State of the State address, appears dead for this legislation session.

The panel’s majority also beat back Democrats’ attempt to increase spending even further. Rep. John Gannon, D-Boise, motioned to add another $6.3 million to the university budget, money that he said would fund raises for professors and staff. He asserted this would decrease the need for tuition hikes.

Legislators did not vote on the Gannon plan. Instead, they approved the budget, sans Otter’s Tuition Lock, on a 16-to-4 vote. Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll, R-Cottonwood, and Reps. Jason Monks, R-Meridian, Phylis King, D-Boise, and Gannon voted against the spending plan.

Panel members later approved an 8.7 percent state funding increase for Idaho’s three community colleges: North Idaho College in Coeur d’Alene, College of Western Idaho in Nampa and College of Southern Idaho in Twin Falls.

If the House and Senate approve the JFAC spending plan, total community college spending by the state could cost taxpayers $37.5 million in fiscal year 2017.

The community college budget represents a slightly trimmed-down version of Otter’s plan. The governor had asked for $37.8 million in new such spending, which would have been a 9.4 percent total increase over 2016 numbers.

The two budgets now head to the House and Senate for further deliberations.

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