'Fiscal cliff' bill passed, but CMU still expects future budget cuts

Despite a last-minute agreement between President Barack Obama and congressional leaders to avoid the "fiscal cliff," future budget battles on Capitol Hill could have an adverse affect on higher education funding.

The fiscal cliff deal leaves funding for higher education untouched and extends the American Opportunity Tax Credit for five years. The AOTC allows for a tax deduction of up to $2,500 annually for education expenses.

However, higher education funding isn’t out of eyesight for budget-cutters in Washington just yet. CMU officials are concerned funding for many federal programs might be cut in upcoming budget battles over the debt ceiling and automatic spending cuts due in a couple months.

“We’re always concerned about federal funding – there’s a lot at stake when it comes to our federal grants,” said David Burdette, vice president of finance and administrative services. “As for what we can do about it, (Vice President of Development and External Relations) Kathy Wilbur keeps an eye out for us. We rely on our representatives to represent us well.”

Director of Federal Programs and Government Relations Toby Roth said CMU can expect cuts when leaders in both parties strike a deal by March to avert another economic catastrophe.

“I think cuts are sure to come. Our country doesn’t have enough revenue to cover the debt. In order to strike a deal, unfortunately, education tends to be one of the big cuts to the budget,” he said.

Without the fiscal cliff bill's passage, many programs are critical to higher education would have been the victim of between a 7.6 and 8.2 percent decrease in funding. Party leaders agreed to push back those automatic cuts, along with others, to March, meaning lawmakers will have to address them in the coming weeks.

“Things become more difficult with a reduced budget," Roth said. "Research faculty will feel the hit from educational cuts. Grants will also become more competitive. Scholarships will become more competitive.”

When it comes to political activity, lobbying and gathering federal funds, Roth said CMU is doing all that it can.

“There’s only so much we can do. (Wilbur and I) talk to legislators frequently and bring them to campus. We bring people from Lansing to show the work we’re doing and the benefits our research can offer,” he said.

According to an Aug. 21 Central Michigan Life article, CMU spent $110,805 on lobbying state lawmakers in Lansing in 2011.

But, those efforts only go so far. Regardless of the efforts made by administrators, CMU is still in danger of the same budget cuts as other universities.

“This is the problem we face," Roth said. "These cuts aren’t being chosen from certain universities; (they are) across-the-board.”


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