JFAC increases college and university budget

JFAC higher education
Legislative budget-writers approved spending plans for colleges, universities and community colleges Thursday.

Idaho colleges and universities are set to get a 4.4 percent increase, under the 2013-14 spending plan legislative budget writers set Thursday.

The budget, which includes state general fund money and dedicated funds, totals $465.9 million, up from $446.3 million.

The budget includes a 3.8 percent increase in state general fund spending.

Although Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee members approved the higher education budget, it still must pass the full House and Senate before going to Gov. Butch Otter’s desk.

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Sen. Dan Johnson, R-Lewiston

Even though Idaho’s higher education institutions are set to receive more money, university officials didn’t get everything they asked for. Collectively, colleges sought an 11.5 percent budget increase. Several requests – including $9.5 million for funding equity, $6.8 million for performance funding and $2 million for Complete College Idaho  – were left on the cutting room floor.

JFAC members briefly considered two spending plans. Sen. Dan Johnson, R-Lewiston, pushed a slightly less expensive budget that mirrored elements of Otter’s recommendation.

“This just matches what the agencies requested and what the governor recommended,” Johnson said. “There is no recommendation for additional money.”

Johnson’s plan failed 5-15.

Idaho Falls Republican Rep. Jeff Thompson pushed for the 4.4 percent increase, which was approved 19-1 moments later. He called the budget “straightforward” and included $2.5 million for building occupancy costs and a $5 million increase in nondiscretionary general fund money for enrollment increases.

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Rep. Jeff Thompson, R-Idaho Falls

Even though she backed Thompson’s budget, Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, expressed concern that budget writers nixed a $400,000 request for University of Idaho’s College of Law in Boise.

“The fact is, this is an Idaho public law school and there have been articles published… indicating people going into the area of law are upset over the size of loans they finish law school with,” Ringo said. “(This) public law school offers a more affordable route for those student to go.”

Also Thursday, JFAC passed an overall 8.8 percent budget increase for community colleges. The $30.8 million budget is built almost exclusively with state general fund money, and is an increase over the $28.3 million budget from this year.

JFAC members kicked off a busy week of budget setting Monday when they approved a 2.2 percent general fund budget increase for public schools.