The Idaho Senate has defeated a measure on a 12-23 vote that would allow the state’s public colleges and 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 passed in the House earlier this month, did not seek to require the schools to shift to private services, but rather, to extend the opportunity to do so where it currently does not exist.
“This bill will add flexibility to our colleges and universities.” Sen. Jim Patrick, R-Twin Falls, said. Patrick noted that just as the bill would allow a college or university to withdraw from using a state-provided service, it also would allow schools to request that the Idaho Department of Administration begin providing a new service, should schools wish to request it.
“This bill will put local people more fully in charge of local decisions,” Patrick stated. He also suggested that the bill could lead to lower operational costs for the state’s colleges and universities, which could in turn lead to lower tuition pricing.
“I hesitate to rise in opposition to this, but at the same time I have grave concerns about the unintended consequences of this bill,” countered Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, during debate. “In the past several years a form of this bill has come to us in one way or another, over and over, but it has never made it this far.”
Cameron added that “what it purports to do is allow local control for universities. Nothing is wrong with a school opting out, but what it does when this happens is that, as we say in the insurance industry, it busts the pool.”
Cameron then outlined what happens when individuals leave an insurance pool, and what he believes House Bill 549 would do to the operations of state government.
“When healthy persons with few health problems leave an insurance pool, you're left with only high-risk people in the pool, and the pool eventually enters in to a death spiral.” Noting that the existing state system of providing services to college campuses “operates for the greater good of the state,” Cameron added that “if BSU, for example, wanted to opt out of state services, they may save money on their immediate budget, but the greater costs to other agencies would be more than BSU’s savings.”
Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell), agreed with Cameron. “There is a mantra of local control, but this is just one piece of state government saying 'I'm more important that the other pieces,’” Rice said. “It’s like the head saying to the foot, I have no need of thee.”
On the other side of issue was Sen Elliot Werk, D-Boise. “When recessions come along, our post-secondary educational institutions get hit the worst,” remarked Werk. “They have been hit, they’re still suffering from the recession and that’s why they’re asking for this bill. I would also remind everyone here that this is a permissive bill. It doesn’t opt anybody out of anything, but rather it allows these institutions to have some flexibilities, to have some options. I will be supporting this bill.”
Plus, said Patrick “I would also note here that this is not an experimental thing. The University of Idaho and our community colleges are already doing this.”