Legislative roundup, 2.12.21: Bill emerges to split higher education budgets

A bill to split the state’s college and university budgets cleared its first legislative hurdle Friday.

On a voice vote, House State Affairs Committee introduced the bill, which would allow the Legislature to vote separately on budgets for Boise State University, the University of Idaho, Idaho State University and Lewis-Clark State College.

It’s the latest chapter in a political tug of war between House conservatives and the state’s higher education leaders — specifically, Boise State President Marlene Tromp.

And the bill’s arrival comes as little surprise. Two weeks ago, during a tense budget presentation, Rep. Ron Nate, R-Rexburg, grilled Tromp about social-justice issues at Boise State, and asked her if she would support splitting out the budgets to spare other institutions from the political backlash directed at Boise State. Previously, the Idaho Freedom Foundation advocated the split-budget approach in a white paper criticizing Boise State.

Friday’s introductory hearing, while brief, was tense.

Rep. Chris Mathias, D-Boise, said the bill was an imprecise response to the Black Lives Matter movement on college campuses. “I don’t know if this is the best way to approach systemic discomfort.”

Rep. Randy Armstrong, R-Inkom, told the committee that he has already spoken to Idaho State University President Kevin Satterlee, who opposes the bill. But Armstrong said he wants to hear more about the issue.

“The only way we can dig deeper into this … is to introduce this as a bill.”

The committee also sparred over process.

The committee debated why the bill was even in State Affairs — a committee with a wide-ranging public policy bailiwick — as opposed to the House Education Committee. Noting that the four-year schools are increasingly dependent on student tuition and fees, rather than state tax dollars, Rep. John Gannon, D-Boise, questioned the rationale for the Legislature “controlling everything” in higher education policy.

“It is the fourth largest (budget) bill that we vote on,” said Rep. Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird, the sponsor of the budget-splitting bill.

The exchange drew a rebuke from Rep. Joe Palmer, R-Meridian. Saying that the bill has nothing to do with the size of higher education budgets, he moved to cut off the debate.

After Friday’s vote, Giddings’ bill could return to the committee for a full hearing.


Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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