Senate approves 15 percent cut to higher education, Governor, House, likely to approve as well

The state Senate approved a 15-percent cut of public funding for state universities Tuesday, bringing the budget closer to balance but angering some educational authorities.

CMU will receive about $68 million next year as part of the agreement which will be approved by the state House and signed by Gov. Rick Snyder, said Kathy Wilbur, vice president of development and external relations.

“We’re happy (the cut) is not worse,” Wilbur said.

She said a more severe cut in state aid was possible. At one point, universities providing benefits to unmarried domestic partners were to receive an additional 5 percent cut in funding. The language remains in the bill as intended for implementation, but the penalty has been removed.

University funding from the state will now partially be taken from the state aid fund, which was renamed the education fund in the budget. K-12 education and community colleges are also funded from this account.

Doug Pratt, director of public affairs for the Michigan Education Association, said this shift will result in budgetary constraints at all three levels of education, and the budget agreement will deflate the surplus in the School Aid Fund.

“It’s pretty difficult and hard enough to fund higher education,” Pratt said. “It’s going to mean fewer resources driven to students, fewer resources and staff, it is a systematic disinvestment in education.”

Pratt said the investment in education is crucial to attracting businesses to the state as opposed to lower taxes.

Wilbur said she is concerned by the shift in the university’s funding source because it could potentially mean an adversarial relationship between universities, community colleges and K-12 schools.

But, she said, the education fund is more “rich and robust” than the general fund.

“It’s probably a better place to be,” Wilbur said. “The challenge with it is it sets up a more antagonistic relationship between higher education and K-12 and the community colleges, and we hardly need more antagonism, they are our natural partners.”

Wilbur said she does not know what next year’s state funding will look like, but the current budget set up boilerplate language which would allow for a formula that may include per-pupil funding, something she and University President George Ross strongly advocate.

She said the governor said these cuts were a result of a low revenue stream and plans to “hold him to that.”

“Obviously, what we will advocate for is that there will be no cuts like this in the future, and we’ll recover from (this),” Wilbur said. “It’s very dependent on how the state revenues will look (next year).”

State Rep. Kevin Cotter, R-Mount Pleasant, said the budget is a result of compromises and he is happy and satisfied with the result.

Cotter said this budget was created as part of an annual effort with recommendations and projections for the next fiscal year, beginning Oct. 1, 2012.

“It’s dependent on a few factors, like if the economy continues to improve,” he said.

He said he appreciates the patience and recommendations of his constituents, because the budget that will be signed will be much better than the initial proposal.

“This budget is doable, and soundly balanced on real numbers.”

While Cotter is satisfied with the budget, the MEA is “absolutely not,” Pratt said.

“The simple fact is without slashing business taxes by 1.8 billion, these cuts wouldn’t have been necessary,” Pratt said.


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