Members of the Idaho House, despite arduous opposition from Democrats and a lone Republican, joined with the Idaho Senate in approving next year's budget for colleges and universities in the state. The appropriation reduces funding by $32 million, but still sends approximately $218 million in general fund money to institutions of higher education. The budget now heads to the desk of Gov. Butch Otter for his consideration.
House Democrats, joined by Moscow Republican Tom Trail, firmly opposed the appropriation because they believe that recessionary times call for more funding to education for retraining of displaced workers. Rep. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, spoke against the bill. Burgoyne told lawmakers that the cuts won't only be felt by students, but would also have "a negative ripple effects through the economy." Burgoyne was joined by Rep. Branden Durst, D-Boise, who said that if the Legislature is trying to run the state like a business, which he believes some members are, then the state should continually invest in programs that will aid in developing a talented and skilled workforce.
"We are making the state less attractive to businesses," said Durst.
Some Democrats saw the cuts as a backward step in attracting students to the state. House Assistant Minority Leader James Ruchti, D-Pocatello, whose district encompasses the campus of Idaho State University (ISU), said that with the reductions in funding, ISU will have a difficult time in competing with other universities in the region, including Brigham Young University-Idaho in Rexburg and Utah State University in Logan.
Trail, the only Republican lawmaker to speak in opposition of the budget, said that the university in his district, the University of Idaho, is losing top-notch professors, researchers, and graduate students at a rapid pace because the Legislature is not properly funding school programs.
"I think we are really going down the wrong road here by inadequately supporting higher education," said Trail.
Republicans countered the arguments by Democrats by pointing out some of the high points of the education in Idaho. Rep. Dennis Lake, R-Blackfoot, said that though Democrats pointed out the reductions in funding to the schools, they failed to mention that tuition in Idaho ranks as the 15th cheapest in the nation, which aids in making education accessible to state residents. Lake also asked lawmakers to look to the future of higher education, which he believes, will have less state influence.
"I suspect that we will eventually not support universities with general fund dollars," said Lake. He reported that several public universities across the country are no longer receiving state dollars to support programs.
Rep. Cliff Bayer, R-Boise, a research scientist who has worked within the higher education system in the state, said that according to research, there is no direct correlation between budget cuts by state legislatures and increases in student fees or tuition.
"I don’t want to see tuition gouged either," said Bayer.