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Senate Bill 1179 — College and university appropriation

Senate Bill 1179 — College and university appropriation

Fred Birnbaum
March 12, 2021

The Idaho Spending Index examines appropriation bills on several fronts to add some important context to lawmakers’ discussions as the spending bills are considered on the House and Senate floors. As we look at the budget, we consider the following issues:

Does the agency requesting these funds serve a proper role of government? Has wasteful or duplicative spending been identified within the agency, and if so, has that spending been eliminated or corrected? Have budget-writers reviewed existing outlays to look for opportunities to contain spending, e.g., through a base reduction? If there is a maintenance budget, is that maintenance budget appropriate? Are the line items appropriate in type and size, and are they absolutely necessary for serving the public? Does the budget contemplate adding new employees or programs? Does the appropriation increase dependency on the federal government?

Our analysis is intended to provide lawmakers and their constituents with a frame of reference for conservative budgeting, by summarizing whether appropriation measures contain items that are truly  objectionable or legitimate and worthy of support.

Bill Description: College and University, FY22 appropriation

Rating: -2

This is probably the most important budget in terms of determining the future direction of Idaho’s colleges and universities. The slide of our institutions of higher learning from institutions that instruct our young citizens in rigorous learning to social justice bastions has been well documented by the Idaho Freedom Foundation. Two detailed reports have been published documenting how far this ideology has penetrated Boise State University (BSU) and the University of Idaho. Social justice ideology, which preaches that America is fundamentally racist and unjust, has also penetrated Idaho State University and Lewis-Clark State College (LCSC). Among the many examples of it at work are the posting of Black Lives Matter materials on university websites. 

This budget was an attempt by the Joint Finance Appropriation Committee (JFAC) to signal that the Idaho legislature wants the universities to change direction. But it falls short, dramatically so. It is just window dressing.

The bill cuts $409,000 from BSU’s budget but shifts those funds entirely to LCSC. More significantly, universities received a $49.4 million COVID relief supplemental appropriation for Fiscal Year 2021 (FY21), and this bill includes another $32.8 million for FY22 for universities from COVID relief funds.

For example, BSU gets a $409,000 cut in this bill, but that is after getting $20.6 million FY21 appropriation from the federal COVID relief. When you consider that BSU’s total operating budget, including non-appropriated funds that come directly from the federal government, is over $600 million, a cut of less than a half-million dollars is hardly a dent. Furthermore, the bill does not reduce any funding for other colleges and universities for their social justice measures. 

The bill contains two sections of language that purportedly rein in social justice spending by declaring that “no appropriated funds are or will be used to support social justice ideology.” Universities are required to provide a report to this effect. Only 44% of their total operating budgets are appropriated funds, however, so this requirement can be dodged. The other requirement is that universities must detail student fees for programs and activities. It does not require these institutions to do anything to reduce them, just issue a report. 

One final point, a separate budget was voted on in JFAC to provide $49 million in one-time federal COVID funds to colleges and universities. Normally this FY21 supplemental would be a separate bill. The supplemental motion was combined with the college and university budget motion to form one bill and they are therefore rated jointly.

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