|House Puts its Stamp on
Higher ed will be impacted by cuts
Graham Garner - Idaho State Journal
BOISE A decision to cut higher education's budgets by 10 percent this upcoming year came one step closer to reality Monday.
Idaho's House of Representatives voted 52-17 on Monday to approve the budget proposal, which would reduce Idaho State University's 2002-2003 budget by roughly $7 million and lead to the elimination of 75 positions on campus.
Lawmakers argued for more than an hour whether to continue with the proposed budget or to change it by using reserve account money to patch up the holes.
"Is it more important to protect our education system today, or to retain reserves of about $97 million?" said Rep. Ken Robison, D-Boise. "Idaho should be expanding higher education, not shrinking it."
Assistant Minority Leader Donna Boe, D-Pocatello, said the cuts would dramatically cripple university programs and staffs that have taken years to establish.
"What we cut back in education now is going to take more than a year or two to restore," Boe said. "It could take as long as a decade."
University officials agree the cuts will have more than a temporary effect.
"I think when you take a cut in higher ed the size universities have taken this year, it will indeed take some time to get back to where we were," said Kent Tingey, ISU vice president for institutional advancement. "When you have fewer professors and class sections, it impacts the whole process."
Some legislators have proposed throughout the budget process that the state use portions of the remaining $26 million in the state reserve fund and the $54 million in the state's tobacco settlement fund to offset state agency budget cuts.
Boe drafted a bill that would have delayed for two years the individual income tax cut approved last year, a measure similar to one proposed this year in Florida by Gov. Jeb Bush. House Revenue and Taxation Chairwoman Dolores Crow, R-Nampa, originally agreed to give the bill a hearing, but has since rescinded that statement because of the approaching close of the 2002 session.
The idea behind postponing the tax cut would be to generate enough money in the next two years to replace the one-time money used this year.
Though Republican lawmakers agree the cut is severe, they pointed out that universities are not resisting the budget.
"University presidents signed onto this budget. They said they can do this," said Rep. Dennis Lake, R-Blackfoot, who is a member of the budgeting committee.
University officials say they will indeed live with the decision, but do not believe the Legislature should rule out some of the revenue-raising proposals offered by a minority of lawmakers.
"Obviously, the Legislature had difficult circumstances to deal with and Idaho State University will do the best we can with the resources we are allocated," Tingey said. "I have always felt all alternatives and all sources of funding ought to be considered."
Republicans are leery to use one-time money from savings, fearing a similar financial situation could arise next year and nothing would be left.
"When you promise more than you can deliver, you are about to get in a lot of trouble," said Rep. George Eskridge, R-Gilbert. "This is a responsible budget. It takes into account what we can reasonably deliver."
Democrats blamed the need for cuts this year on decisions last year to grant permanent tax breaks, rather than one-time rebates.
"Don't sit here and whine about how we don't have any money," said House Minority Leader Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum. "We don't have money because we made some irresponsible decisions last year. It is irresponsible to cut back on education."
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