[post_thumbnail] Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, spoke to her House colleagues in support of a bill allowing for some privatization of services at the state’s universities.

The Idaho House of Representatives has passed a measure that would allow the state’s public universities the flexibility to opt out of utilizing certain state-government provided services and, instead, use the services of private companies and contractors.

House Bill 549, which now goes to the Senate, would not require the schools to shift to private services, but would extend the opportunity to do so where it currently does not exist. The bill passed on a 53 to 14 vote.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, noted that it would allow the State Department of Education to approve withdrawal from using of a state service, but would also allow the board to request that the Idaho Department of Administration (DOA) begin providing a service in situations where it currently does not do so.

Horman added that the bill could possibly enable colleges and universities to reduce their operational costs, which, in turn, could also result in lower tuition costs for students.

“Usually when a state agency asks to not participate in services like this, there is good reason for it,” said House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston. “This has the opportunity to lower the discount afforded to lower income students, I understand that. But there is a problem with our Department of Administration in distributing essential services.” Rusche said that the DOA needs to be investigated over concerns about inefficiencies within the department.

The DOA is one of state government’s larger agencies. It provides and oversees a wide array of essential services to other divisions of the state government. Services ranging from building construction and management to human resource management to product purchasing all take place under the authority of the DOA.

“This bill is in the best interest in cost savings for everyone,” said Rep. Richard Wills, R-Glenns Ferry. “This presents a real opportunity for universities to look at cost savings.”

Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, saw things differently, voting against the measure. “A complete study should be done on how this bill can impact costs of other state agencies,” Boyle told IdahoReporter.com. “The State Board of Education only looks at how higher education is affected, not at the rest of the state agencies. We must look out for all taxpayers across the board.”

Boyle also noted the point that Horman and Rusche had raised about possible future cost savings for students.

“Nothing in this bill requires any higher education savings go to reducing student fees,” Boyle said. “When this bill was in committee, a spokesperson for Boise State University testified that they have their own building project management system that overlaps the state public works department at the DOA. Why does BSU need both? Their buildings are all public buildings, whether or not they have private funding for them. I think they should eliminate the BSU building project management and use that revenue to reduce student fees.”