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House votes to add nearly $50 million to higher education budget

House votes to add nearly $50 million to higher education budget

Dustin Hurst
March 17, 2012
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March 17, 2012

After two years of funding cuts, Idaho’s universities will likely see more money next year.

The Idaho House of Representatives approved the higher education budget Tuesday, pledging nearly $50 million more funding for universities in 2013. The total budget for the Idaho’s four-year schools is $446 million, though only $227 million is state money.

The budget includes more than $18 million in new state money.

The state’s universities asked for $480 million for fiscal year 2013, but that amount wasn’t supported by Gov. Butch Otter or the budget committee. The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee actually went beyond Otter’s spending recommendation, allotting $1 million more in state funds than the amount recommended by the governor.

The total funding increase in the spending plan is $49.6 million, or 12.5 percent.

For 2012, lawmakers appropriated $209 million in state funds for universities and a total budget of $396.7 million. That figure represented a $7.6 million state funding reduction from 2011.

The 2013 appropriation includes increases for building occupancy costs, as well as $2 million in funding for research, part of Otter’s Idaho Global Entrepreneurial Mission initiative.

Budget committee member Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, supported the budget, but also said it doesn’t do enough to restore the millions in lost higher education funding during the past few years. In a pre-lunch analogy, Ringo likened the budget to giving a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to someone who’s been undernourished for several years.

Alas, she said, any new funding for colleges is progress. “It’s a welcome sight after some years,” Ringo said.

Rep. Lenore Hardy Barrett, R-Challis, took umbrage with Ringo’s remarks, saying she felt the state treated higher education fairly. “I get tired of people saying we don’t treat education right,” Barrett said. “I think we treat them very well.”

The measure now heads to the Senate.

Community colleges could also see more funding next year thanks to the budget committee’s work. The panel approved spending $4.7 million more on this expense in 2013, which represents a 20 percent increase from this year. That spending plan will likely receive a Senate floor hearing Monday.

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