Proposed reductions in state funding to Idaho’s public universities and colleges totaling $32 million for the next fiscal year cleared the Idaho Senate and now face an Idaho House vote. Senators voted 26 to 9 for the reductions to higher education, which would receive $218 million in state general fund spending.
“This is a tough budget,” said Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls. “As I looked at the cuts that were made to this budget, it took my breath away.” He said leaders at state universities have had a positive attitude to the proposed budget for the next fiscal year and that they will work within the budget. “Our universities and colleges are being asked to make a sacrifice and being asked to do with less. That is not an easy situation for them.”
The reductions are too large, according to Sen. Diane Bilyeu, D-Pocatello. “We have cut the universities and the college a tremendous amount over the last two years,” she said. Higher education has faced a $67 million reduction during the past two years. That total includes a reduction of close to $10 million for a livestock research center run by the University of Idaho. Bilyeu said the reductions are leading to tuition and fee increases for students, which could mortgage the state’s future. “I have a real concern for our students, and I think many of them … have to take out loans and so they are left with an indebtedness,” she said. Tuition and fees at Idaho’s four public institutions of higher learning could go up by 8 to 12 percent next year, based on recommendations from universities to the State Board of Education.
Mortimer said the reductions in state funding for higher ed are needed, given the decline in tax revenues. “We are balancing the budget,” he said. “We will try and do better.”
Senators also approved budgets for the next fiscal year, which begins in July, for Professional-Technical Education, the Department of Financial Management, and the governor’s executive office.